Musings of a Pioneer – Playschool Learning for Toddlers (Part 2)

…Till we were struck by a miniscule virus – the Covid 19.

It is important for the child to continue to have the additional support in their most important brain development phase – the two to four-year-old age bracket – when the brain develops rapidly to almost 80 percent of a fully developed brain.

It is important for the child to have external support to develop cognitive, linguistic, social, emotional, and motor skills.

It is important for the toddler to be exposed to a peer group and caregivers other than parents, whom they could observe and imitate for holistic development to happen.

It is important for the child to be in a more conducive environment at school where they could indulge in their favourite pastimes in a non-judgemental atmosphere.

It is also important for the child to continue to have an environment where they can interact socially with their peer group.

This environment is now being denied to the children of this age bracket of two to four years. Many young parents have put forth arguments that they will keep their toddlers indoors for at least a year, or till the time a vaccine is developed and available in the market to battle the corona virus.

The argument also goes on to say that one year in the life of a human is immaterial – the child can be educated by them at home without the intervention of physical school and even a virtual school. One year in a lifespan of 70 years does sound immaterial till the time one looks at that year in the life of a two or three-year-old, or even a 10-year-old.

A good many parents feel that the child is best protected at home and not in the environs of a playschool where it may be difficult to maintain the hygiene protocols demanded of this virus. Many playschools have stepped in and designed their own live interactive online sessions so that the early learning of the wards is not affected – this is not the best solution as anyone can see, but it is the second best. The educators in this sector are innovating under the circumstances.

But many parents have protested – not only will they not send their own children to such online sessions – they have also started online protests asking the government to ban online methods of learning on the grounds of addiction of the child to the screen.

This brings me to another major stakeholder in this triangle of parent, playschool, and the government with the toddler at the centre of this triangle. Most countries provide this early learning through government and private initiatives. Preschools are an accepted norm in the USA, England, Europe, and South East Asia. In fact, governments play an important role in early education, where the child is mostly taught through games and play.

Herein lies the challenge for toddlers in our country, specifically those in the age group of two to three years. The government, a major stakeholder in the education setup, does not recognise this age bracket. Their policy is for early learning to start only from three years onwards – due to which the child of two to three years of age misses out on early learning at a crucial stage in a child’s development.

This is where the matter rests today. The government does not recognise the educator for a child two to three years old, and hence is doing nothing to ensure that this sector reopens and the educator and the associated caregivers survive; the parent is wary of sending their child to a physical space; the educator is trying to nurture the interest of the child in these times through live online interactive sessions – the second best solution after physical space – which once again many of the parents are not even willing to explore on the grounds of addiction of the child to the screen.

Though no official numbers are available, we have as many as 34 births each minute giving us 1.8 crores children every year. This sector was taking care of the early learning of almost 1.8 crores little children at any given point of time, taking care of the age bracket from two till four years of age, assuming even 50% enrolment.

Where does it leave the 3.6 crores odd children who are currently in the two to four-year age bracket and the 1.8 crores or maybe even more children likely to be born till the pandemic lasts? And where does it leave the further 1.8 crores odd children born every year if the government does not recognise the need for early learning for the two to three-year-old children?

This is a question to be answered by two of the players in the triangle – the parent and the government. Let these children not come back two decades later and demand a reply from their own parents and the government as to why they were not provided with the right stimulus at a stage in their lives, when it was most required, and which was their right. More importantly, when this learning was being provided to children their age across the globe.

A collateral damage due to the opinion of two major stakeholders is the survival itself of the early learning caregivers. It was already struggling due to the government policy and has now found itself on the brink of collapse.

The sector also provides employment – almost entirely women-centric. A back of the envelope calculation based on my own experience of being associated with the playschool and day care being run by my daughter and wife tells me that this sector must be employing around 7 lakh skilled and unskilled women across the country.

I close the article with another quote. Marva Collins, American educator said, “Once children learn how to learn, nothing is going to narrow their mind.”

Let our toddlers learn how to learn.

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