Early childhood is a critical developmental stage for a child. It is the period of physical, cognitive, emotional, social growth of a human life. It is more than a preparation for primary stage. As it is a significant and meaningful stage, proper care and educational support must be needed to a child. Early childhood care and education (ECCE) is the transition to formal primary schooling. It needs much care to a child up to the age of eight. The first six of life are very crucial and foundational stage of human life because it is in this stage rapid development of brain occurs and this development helps a child to contribute till the end of a human being. To promote human resource development, gender equality and social cohesion ECCE is one of the best investments. The ethics of social reform, the importance of childhood, transmitting values, and a sense of professionalism are the four themes of ECCE.
The main aim of ECCE is to facilitate optimum development of the child’s full potential and lay the foundation for all round development and lifelong learning. While parents and home have the main responsibility of the welfare of a child, a strong partnership between the community and the ECCE centers is important for the well being of the child and in achieving the following objectives (ECCE curriculum framework).
Over 85% of a child’s brain development occurs prior to the age of six (6), indicating the critical importance of appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in a child’s early years for healthy brain development and growth. It is therefore, in this stage it is very necessary to care and support to a child by parents or the teachers. It is expected that by 2030, all children entering Grade1 will be school ready.
The NEP 2020 has given importance on Early Childhood Care Education. It is stated in NEP 20 that ECCE ideally consists of flexible, multifaceted, multi-level, play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based learning about, e.g. alphabets, languages, numbers, counting, colours, shapes, indoor and outdoor play, puzzles and logical thinking, problem solving, drawing, painting, and other visual art, craft, drama and puppetry, music and movement. It also includes a focus on developing social capacities, sensitivity, good behavior, courtsy, ethics, personal and public cleanliness teamwork and cooperation. The overall aim of ECCE will be to attain optimal outcomes in the domains of physical and motor development, cognitive development, socio emotional ethical development, cultural/ artistic development and the development of communication and early language, literacy and numeracy (NEP 2020).
As an early childhood teacher, the role is not only limited to teaching the child or the students. A healthy environment is highly demanded in caring a child in the foundational stage. They are the building blocks of learning. Not only the teachers at school, but the parents also responsible to take care of their child creating a healthy and safe environment to develop the child’s mental, physical, emotional, social and cognitive development. Children’s positivity, happiness and playful activities are developed at school. As a facilitator he/she can motivate the learners by using different techniques and strategies at foundational stage. For example storytelling, activity-based learning, drawing, painting can motivate a child to learn more. They always like to play and listen to stories and folk tales. Especially at early childhood the teacher has to give up the traditional role of a teacher. He/she must be create positivity and focus on abstaining from negative activities. It’s important to imbibe values among the children.
Foundational literacy and numeracy is an urgent and necessary prerequisite to learning and as the highest priority of our state (NEP20). The ability to read and write and perform basic operations with numbers is a necessary foundation and an indispensable prerequisite for all future school and lifelong learning. Foundational literacy is the building adequate literacy and numeracy skills during the foundational stage of school education. It is very important for the learners at the early age to ‘learn to read’ and can ‘read to learn’. Therefore, in this age both literacy and numeracy are the two important areas of the early schooling. Based on the importance of early childhood education Ministry of Education has launched a mission named NIPUN( National initiative for Proficiency in reading with understanding and Numeracy) Bharat on 5th of July 2021 by hon’ble Minister of Education Sri Ramesh Pokhriyal. In the early stage of literacy the key components are oral language development, Decoding, Reading fluency, Reading Comprehension and writing. And the key components of numeracy are Pre-number concepts, Number operations, Shapes and spatial understanding, Measurement and Data handling. Therefore, in the early childhood years are the critical stage for holistic development of the child. According to Dr. Alvardo, Academic Programme director of early childhood development at National University, it is an important time in child’s lives because it is when they first learn how to interact with others, including peers, teachers and parents and also begin to develop interests that will say with them throughout their lives. It is the responsibility of the teachers to know the likes and dislikes of a child to make teaching effective and joyful. There are some curricular issues too like multilingualism, inclusion; multi-age grouping, gender equality etc. therefore, must be appointed well prepared and oriented teachers for ECCE.
There are some challenges too that a teacher has to face in teaching a child in the foundational stage. Finding the right balance between working one-on-one with children and managing the larger group as a whole is a challenge for a teacher. Therefore, the teacher must be given interest on the need of the child. The teachers can fascinate the children by applying different activities, games, art etc so that they can enjoy and create interests on learning. The teachers of early childhood must be trained and oriented so that they can face the challenges of teaching them. As it is a multidisciplinary field that relies on insights from several fields like human development, psychology, sociology and medicine, particularly neuroscience. Government has launched several courses on ECCE for teachers. There are also online platforms too like SWAYAM for Early Childhood Care and Education. A certificate course, Diploma courses are also going on under different institutes. Focus on the goals of ECCE, the teachers must be well prepared and resourceful in developing the child in the foundational stage.