s Supporting Early Childhood

Supporting Early Childhood Education
Initiatives in West Bengal

The importance of Early Childhood Education is well researched and evident in national and global researches and policy initiatives. In India though ECE is not recognized as a compulsory provision by the Right to Education Act, it nonetheless urges states to provide free pre-school education for children above three years. Despite the recognition of the importance of ECE, and the massive ICDS programme of the GOI, the challenges in implementation still remain. There are still substantial numbers of children not enrolled in preschools. Where enrolled, school readiness levels across states and across models are low particularly in cognitive & language skills. The findings reflect the importance of a developmentally appropriate curriculum for which the broad essentials that emerged are- a democratic, child friendly teacher, trained and mentored not only in age appropriate and play based activities for ECE, but in planning and classroom organization and management of a well-balanced ECE curriculum, supported by appropriate physical infrastructure. In this backdrop, over the last three years, in partnership with UNICEF, Vikramshila, as technical partner provided support to the State Department of Women and Child Development and Social Welfare in developing a child friendly Early Childhood Education curriculum and handbook, Pre-School Education kit, and offered professional development courses for the master trainers across the State. The first 2 phases of work in ECE, has shown good results at the level of creating a standardized curriculum based on international and national policy guidelines, the training and capacity building of 400 SRG and DRG members as well as creating a substantial number of model AWCs. These initiatives have strengthening the functioning of the Anganwadi system. The idea now is to create model AWCs in all districts, ensure capacity of the government functionaries at all levels and build quality control measures to ensure sustainability of good impact that is now visible.

Ensuring Sustainability

Creating Model Lab Centres - Vikramshila as UNICEF’s technical partner continued to provide support to the Department of Social Welfare, West Bengal. The department received a directive from the central government to roll out the curriculum in 1000 Anganwadi centres over the year. Vikramshila supported the state in developing model centres in 8 districts, for the purpose of training the District Resource Group (DRG). The DRG together with Vikramshila supported the remaining districts in developing their model ECE centres with the aim of developing 50 model centres in each district. Last year we created the lab centres at Jalpaiguri, Darjeeling, Malda, Murshidabad, South Dinajpur, West Midnapur, Coochbehar and Kolkata. The AWWs of the remaining 45 centres visited the model centres during their training to see how a model AWC ideally functions. These laboratory model centres will serve as the basis for developing the remaining model centres. Among these 1000 centres around 130 centres are developed with direct support from Vikramshila and the remaining 870 centres have been developed as an indirect outreach of Vikramshila’s technical support. These model centres have been named as Shishu Aloys by the state government. What is unique is the concept behind having these model centres: they have a twin mission – a) to promote school readiness through a developmentally appropriate curriculum and b) a capacity building strategy for supervisors and anganwadi workers. The ultimate objective of the government is to transform all the Anganwadi into Shishu Aloys, but this must be done through a structured process of training and hand holding support. The model centres play an important role during trainings, acting as nodes for experimentation and reflection.

Orientation of AWTCs Efforts were taken to orient the instructors and principals of the Anganwadi Training Centre (AWTC) and Mid-Level Training Centres (MLTC) on the new ECE Curriculum, since they are directly responsible for ongoing academic training and assistance to the supervisors and Anganwadi workers on a continuous basis.