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Access to Early Childhood Services in India: A Review of Government’s Early Childhood Programmes and Funding Policies

The Indian government recognized the importance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) in the 86th Amendment, 2002, through Article 45 of the Constitution of India. It administers the state to provide care and education, indiscriminately, to children under six years of age. In the Survey conducted by the Economist Intelligence Unit in 2012, India is at the bottom of 45 countries in ECCE quality.

Neuroscience research has confirmed the importance of the early years of childhood because 85% of brain development occurs within the first six years. The study organised by the NCERT on 30,000 children found that the most significant learning outcomes appear in primary schools. Despite numerous schemes and policies, India lags behind in implementation. The Annual Status of Education Report 2020 shows that from four to eight years age group minimum 25% of children do not know ‘age-appropriate’ cognitive and numeracy skills, causing a massive learning deficiency and the ECCE policy failure.

 

Wider Meaning of Care and Education

The UNCRC lays down a binding international legal mandate upon all Governments of the member nations to provide a hoard of rights to children to safeguard their future. Under the Right to Development, children enjoy the right to education to not just the literal meaning of the word “education” but all other facets of care which bring out the education of a child in its true sense are enforced. India teems with the world’s youngest population and experiences a heavy imbalance among children in the field of education and care. To be exact, 32 million children in India have never been to school. Though the Right to Education (RTE) is guaranteed by the Constitution of India, this provision is not a mandate for children under 6 years of age.

 

Linkage of Poverty and Child Care

Although the Indian economy has improved over decades, it has a high child poverty, poor sanitation and  malnutrition with significant infant mortality rate. More than 40% of children in the country are stunted or malnourished. Over 45% of children below 5 year old are underweight in rural India. One-third of the population lives below the International Poverty Line earning less than 100 INR a day. Poverty and childhood care are cross linked. When it is even hard for a family to afford basic needs of food, it is impracticable to provide early childhood care services. The issues of inequalities prevail throughout. Even the richest States like Maharashtra are countering the underweight of one out of three children owing to malnutrition.

ECCE includes maternal health care. The study conducted by the National Family Health Survey from 2005 to 2015 which examined the existing inequality of maternal healthcares namely, Full Antenatal Care, Skilled Attendants at Birth and Postnatal Care, revealed existing socioeconomic gaps across the country in utilisation of maternal health. It showed the SBA index declining significantly from 0.28 in 2005-2006 to 0.09 in 2015-2016 and on the other hand, Full ANC fell from 0.47 to 0.32 over the same period of time. Thus, declining maternal health also witnessed the fall of Early Childhood Care in India.

 

Different Societal Backgrounds of children in India

Social exclusion of selected classes of people in India has never been a new intriguing change. As an example, the dire state of a Dalit child can very well be imagined, but social exclusion is just one of the many reasons which hamper implementation of equitable welfare policies. Other primary reasons are the unavailability of resources to most children, such as great distance, poor roads, no electricity, no incentives and in the very recent times of the pandemic, no access to gadgets or internet services for online education. Gender disparity is yet another reason for inequality of welfare provisionary implementations. Even today, the education of girl children is not considered in many rural places in India. The Annual Status Report, 2018, suggests that over 13.5% of the girls were out of school.

 

Statutory Regulations Governing Child Care and Education

The Constitution of India, under Article 39 directs the state to develop its policy for ensuring children opportunities and facilities and helping them to develop in a healthy manner with freedom and dignity. It also protects childhood and youth against moral and exploitation and material abandonment.

No country can attain economic and social stability without addressing the menace of malnutrition. In 1993, the National Nutrition Policy (NNP) was adopted with the strategy to tackle the problems of malnutrition for the vulnerable groups of children. Though successful in the early stage, the government has suffered from inefficiency and corruption later. As a matter of fact, nearly half of the total child mortality cases of children below 5 years is caused due to malnutrition. In 2012, Dr. Manmohan Singh expressed agitation on the unacceptability of the ‘high level’ of malnutrition despite ‘high growth’ of the GDP while releasing HUNGaMA (Hunger and Malnutrition) Report, 2011. Till today the issues of malnutrition are prevailing in society. According to the Global Nutrition Report 2018, India is also home to 46.6 million under growth and undernutrition children which is third of the total world child population. These statistics are evident enough to prove the failure of the NNP. Although in 2013, NPC was revised and the government identifies health, nutrition, development, education  and survival  as the basic right to all the children of the country, even today these rights are hindered and unavailable to the majority of underprivileged children.

 

Public Expenditure for ECCE by the State

The National Early Child Care and Education (ECCE) Policy including the National ECCE Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards for ECCE was passed and adopted by the Government of India in 2013. In the Union Budget of 2020-2021, the Indian government has allocated 4,036.49 crore INR for the social services sectors including all the programs under ECCE. In addition, the National Nutrition Mission (NNM) was allocated an annual budget of 3,700 crore INR in the fiscal year. As a matter of fact, though the ECCE Policy is of great importance many States still face the shortage of funds and overall, there is a requirement of increasing the allocation by 1.4%. It also gains gravity by virtue of its legal intent given in its Resolution, that is, equitable opportunities to promote optimal development of young children. Further, the Government has reduced the budgetary allocations for many educational policies overtime, such as the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyaan which reflects the importance that the Indian administration gives to Education.

 

Reasons for the Failing ECCE programme

Under the ECCE, programmes going hand-in-hand such as the National Health Policy, 2002, the National Nutrition Policy, 1993 and the National Plan of Action for Children, 2005 have been formulated. The same has also been reaffirmed by the Dakar Framework for Action and the Moscow Framework for Action. Looking at the results that these programmes have produced makes it look like all of these ideas exist only in pen and paper with negligible existence in the practical life though they had launched off with a goal of 12 years of rigorous implementation.

Moreover, there is no implementation of SEL, that is Social and Emotional Learning. This facet is a game changer for overcoming emotional or cultural barriers prevalent among children which often lead to social exclusion and a drop from education. The National Education Policy, 2020 highlights the importance of SEL but unfortunately none of the NCERT curriculum incorporates material related to it. An urgent need to implement the SEL has been reiterated by The Annual Status of Education Report, 2019.

The Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is one of the largest public programs under ECCE Policy runned in the Anganwadi Centers across the country. However, it suffers from a fundamental lack in implementing standard quality pre-school services. Many places still do not have Anganwadis and many children are not enrolled for the same, depriving them of their right to ECCE. The government data shows only 8.22 lakh Government linked Anganwadi Centers are operational in  rural areas of the country.

 

Conclusive Remarks

For a long time, India has been known as one of those countries which are rich sources of cheap labour. The great population is the prime factor contributing to this feature. Looking closely, this says a lot about the priority given to “quantity” rather than “quality” of individuals. Unsurprisingly, Indian heads of families often consider producing more children so that they can serve as helping hands of the families once they grow up. Looking at the present prospect of this idea, it increases the financial burden of the family and looking at the future prospect, it is needless to say the level of unemployment the youth of India is facing currently. Thus, either ways, the population of India as well as the Government needs to focus on a smaller number of kids and exposing kids to high standards of early healthcare and education besides maternal care. The success of all the consequent education programmes depends upon the success of this basic programme.


 

ABOUT THE AUTHORS

 

 

 

 

Debarati Pal, 1st year law student at NUSRL, Ranchi.
Dipendu Das, 1st year law student at NUSRL, Ranchi

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