Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) is critical in laying the foundation for a child’s lifelong well-being, growth, and development across physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional dimensions. Research indicates that over 85% of a person’s brain development occurs by the age of 6, underlining the importance of care and stimulation during a child’s early years to promote healthy brain development and growth.
Children under the age of 8 tend to follow non-linear, age-based educational trajectories. Therefore, providing high-quality preschool education in an organized setting for children above 3 years of age is one of the critical priorities of NEP 2020. Appropriate ECCE at home for children under the age of 3 includes not only health, safety, and nutrition but also cognitive and emotional care and stimulation of the infant through talking, playing, moving, listening to music and sounds, and stimulating all the senses, particularly sight and touch. The Ministry of Woman and Child Development (MWCD) will develop and disseminate guidelines and practices to enable high-quality ECCE at home for the age group of 0-3.
During the ages of 3 to 8, appropriate and high-quality ECCE provided in institutional environments must be available to all children. In India, ECCE is provided in Early childhood education programs in Anganwadis, Balvatikas, or preschools for children aged 3-6 years, and early primary education programs in schools (Grades 1 and 2) for children aged 6-8 years.
During the ages of 3 to 8, ECCE includes continued attention to health, safety, care, and nutrition. Along with this, self-help skills, motor skills, hygiene, handling separation anxiety, physical development through movement and exercise, expressing and communicating thoughts and feelings to parents and others, being comfortable around peers, sitting for long periods to complete tasks, ethical development, and forming all-round good habits are crucial.
Supervised play-based education, in groups and individually, is particularly important during this age range. Play-based education nurtures and develops a child's innate abilities and capacities of curiosity, creativity, critical thinking, cooperation, teamwork, social interaction, empathy, compassion, inclusiveness, communication, cultural appreciation, playfulness, awareness of the immediate environment, as well as the ability to successfully and respectfully interact with teachers, fellow students, and others.
ECCE during these years also entails the development of early literacy and numeracy, including learning about the alphabet, languages, numbers, counting, colours, shapes, drawing/painting, indoor and outdoor play, puzzles and logical thinking, art, craft, music, and movement. The aim is to build on the developmental outcomes in the domains mentioned above, combined with a focus on early literacy, numeracy, and awareness of one’s environment. The development of foundational literacy and numeracy is particularly important during the age range of 6-8, as it forms the basis for the achievement of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN), which is critical to overall education.
In conclusion, early childhood care and education are crucial in ensuring that children receive adequate care and stimulation to promote healthy brain development and growth. High-quality ECCE must be available to all children in institutional settings from the ages of 3 to 8 years. It is important to focus on the development of foundational literacy and numeracy during this period, along with the overall growth and development of the child across physical, cognitive, and socio-emotional dimensions. Play-based education can be an effective way to nurture and develop a child's abilities and capacities, leading to a lifelong love for learning.