Early Childhood Education: Ideas, Concepts and Practices in Rural Setting of Gurgaon(Haryana)
This is an ethnographic study carried out with an aim to gain in-depth understanding of the ways in which differing ideas about Early Childhood Education(ECE) are reflected in socio- cultural context that are "still developing" or "undergoing rapid social change". The goal of the study was to identify the ways that educators, parents and community can better prepare their children for formal schooling, while preserving the integrity of locally valued ways of raising children. Therefore it was attempted to understand and study linkages/interface between policy- program directives, practices and adults conceptions.
The study was carried out in rural setting of Gurgaon Block of Haryana State.
The sample comprised of:
• The National and State policy documents.
• Four Anganwadi centers from four different villages of Gurgaon block. Within the pre-school setting five children from each Anganwadi Center (age group-3to 6years) were randomly selected as focused children.
• Adults: Parents (40 parents): The sample constituted of forty parents i.e. 20 mothers and 20 fathers (ten from each village). They were native of same village. Four Anganwadi Workers (AWWs), One-Child Development Project Officer (CDPO), One Supervisor and Nine members of Village Education Committee (VEC) were included as the sample.
The tools used for data collection were Semi-Structured Interview Schedules and Observation Checklist along with the field notes.
The Key documents on ECCE both at National and State level were collated, to get an insight into policy makers conceptions on ECCE, their program directives and implementation strategies of those polices. The National Policy Documents were broadly focused and under that the main focus was on State Policy Documents.
The Observations were carried out in each Anganwadi Centers (AWCs) (Preschool setting). The preschool program was observed for seven days starting from 9:30 am to 12:30 pm. In total 84 hrs of Observations were carried out. These observations were aimed to get an idea as to how the pre-school program is transacted in practice. The Semi-Structured Interview schedules helped to understand the adult's conceptions on ECCE. Each interview took 1 hr on an average. The data from all the three sources was analysed qualitatively in simple frequencies. The results of the study have highlighted that Policy and Program principles were not fully reflected in actual practice. Interface was reflected between Policy, Practice and Adult's conceptions on select issues like play way method of teaching, play being an important activity for children, training as an important component for efficient working of Anganwadi Workers (AWWs), upgrading of infrastructural facilities, school readiness, or access to the Center. Some interface was seen in practice and parents conceptions which were not coherent with the policies, these were approval of non-use of Developmentally Appropriate Practices (DAP), teaching of 3R's i.e. reading, writing and arithmetic, non use of indigenous teaching aids and gender discrimination.
It emerges that though policies, practices and conceptions of community lacks the harmony but still it seems that all three of them are working to lay foundation for children that may enable them to maximize their learning potential upon entering the primary school.
The present study tried to study and understand the linkages/ interface between Policy- Program directives on one hand and the extent to which these inclinations for practice appear to be rooted in local cultures and communities on the other.
Over the years increased attention has been paid to the learning styles, the way people learn in different cultural settings. Although the institution we call school, is in many ways similar from country to country but the socialization practices of a society in general and families in particular, do influence the child from an early age. These belief systems directly or indirectly play an important role in the way individuals are taught; and how they learn and what to learn.
Before making inferences about the universal and the right way of teaching across the world, it is necessary to understand that parents and children are living their lives in a context, with cultural, economic, political and social pressures that affect their behaviors, socialization techniques and their day-to-day decisions. Therefore, what is understood as appropriate in one culture may not hold true in the other culture; but that does not mean that the local beliefs and values such as schooling are less successful than they might otherwise be. Schooling, and the curriculum, specifically has been portrayed as both an extension of a society's culture (Reynolds & Skilbeck, 1976) and the most important part of schooling is to make education a meaningful and relevant experience for the child, and linking the educational practices to the culture, structure and policies in which they are embedded.
Therefore what is important in a society is, to socialize children to be competent in changing lifestyles. This does not mean, however, that so called "social intelligence" for traditional society, involving social sensitivity and responsibility needs to be discarded. But what is needed is the addition of cognitive competence to social competence.
Thus in the present study attempts were made to identify the ways in which children can be better prepared for formal schooling at one hand and on the other hand respecting the community values and beliefs concerning the childhood, child rearing and child education.
On the basis of the findings it could be summed up or highlighted as follows.
It emerged from the study that the program executers did not have awareness and knowledge about the policies related to ECCE. Thus, reflecting that those who are working at the grassroot level do not have any idea about the conceptions operating at the National level. So if these policies do not seep in at the grassroot level then expecting the kind of results being highlighted in various policy documents is out of the question.
Therefore, the need is to broaden the vision of program executers, by restructuring their training modules so that they can look beyond their prescribed task.
The findings highlighted that the workers had all the resources and expertise to make ECCE program a quality program. Due to lack of motivation, low wages and unrealistic job charts, they could not bring out the best from the program. Therefore the need is to organize regular "Motivational workshops" for the workers that could trigger them to do things in interesting ways and also the need is to link training content and methodology with the realities of field situations.
The education takes place in socio- cultural, economic and pedagogical contents. Often, improving educational performance implies simultaneous attention to the community's role in Education. If a government programme designed to aid the poor fails, it is always the result of lack of community support. Thus mobilization of community is an integral part of an ECCE Program but the results have highlighted limited involvement of community. Therefore, it requires a climate in which the "ethos of accountability" to prevail and the onus should be on service providers as well as on users.
The present study has reflected the major gaps between policies and practices. The basic reason for failure to translate policy into action appears to be the adoption of fragmented approach and divided responsibilities with no concrete action plan in place. This has led over time not only to the limited concrete actions but also lack of coordination. It seems coordination, commitment and efforts are needed at National, State and local levels. Also there is a need to integrate bureaucratic structures and cutting across various sectors of specialized compartmentalization in its process of implementation.
Quality of service is variable in nature due to growing commercialization of preschool and parental aspirations. Therefore there is a need for Regulatory Mechanism for opening and functioning of a pre-school program.
The results of the present study has reflected upon Non Coordination between National and State level working where at National level, the policy makers and ECCE experts emphasize on the importance of less structured aspect of learning in pre- school years and at the State level, Education Department, Haryana on the other hand has provided AWCs the writing workbook so as to enhance children's reading and writing skills, in order to come at par with private schools running in the village. Other than the workbook the department also provided the centers wooden Toy kit, which is not indigenous to thE community, it seemed that the State department ,executers and community as a whole is influenced by private schools. Therefore the need is to improve the quality program by involving NGO's, public and private sectors together and not as competitors.
The results have highlighted interface in T-L methodology and parents conceptions which were not coherent with the policies, like approval of non use of DAP, teaching of 3R's, non use of indigenous teaching aids and gender discrimination.
There is a need to integrate ECCE program with culturally based preferences of parents with the knowledge about universal developmental processes gleamed from research and practice. Thus parents especially mothers need to be given in-depth understanding about child's developmental and learning needs. This may help them to make appropriate choices for their children. Here the role of media and AWWs expertise becomes significant. Thus, the implication is on restructuring of training modules for the workers to make their task more action oriented.
The fact that has emerged from observations and interactions with people and AWWs in general was, the majority of children who are attending these AWCs mainly belonged to the migratory population, thus having different linguistic background. This means that the dialect spoken at home by these children is different from the dialect spoken at the center. It is imperative that the AWWs accept the importance of using native language for pre-school children as a necessary tool for enhancement of their linguistic competence. It not only gives sense of acceptance to children but they also feel more emotionally secured, especially in the first few weeks Therefore, efforts are needed to train AWWs to sensitize them to linguistic variability in the class and need to convince them to accept multilingual nature of classroom as an asset rather than burden.
The study has reflected that community's preference for sons to daughters. The living status of family does not matter in the biased preference for boy child. The interactions with locals reflected that "In Haryana the practice of sex selection abortion is almost widespread and selective abortions are very common".
We can't deny the fact that gender perceptions are societal constructs which are dependent upon socio- cultural practices, in which the children, adolescents and youths grow up. Therefore the need is to change the discriminatory practices with active cooperation of all concerned stakeholders, family, the community and social activists and others. Also there is an urgent need to increase the awareness, knowledge and perceptions of people and women in particular about the important role a woman can play in family life.
In a nutshell we can enunciate that "westernized" ways of seeing coexists with the indigenous views. Therefore in order to bridge the gap between the two it is needed that the preschool programs, in fact whole education system to be made more holistic, qualitative, socially and economically productive and relevant to the fast changing socio- economic environment.