05 Aug Aanganwadis and The National Education Policy 2020
The New Education Policy aims to undertake many steps to improve the state of education in the country. This Education Policy comes more than 30 years after the National Policy on education (NPE) of 1986 that was last modified in 1992. The Policy also aims to increase Educational spending from currently 4.43 percent to 6 percent of the GDP at the earliest.
A crucial aspect that this policy addresses is of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). In the current scenario, it is the aanganwadis that are mandated to provide some form of ECCE to the children under 6 in India. They were set up under the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) scheme in 1975. The goal of Aanganwadis today is to help feed, educate, immunize and care for vulnerable kids and their mothers along with data collection on health and nutrition. India has a network of 1.3 million aaganwadi centres and a strength of more than 2.3 million Anganwadi workers (AWW) and aanganwadi Helpers(AWH).
Early childhood care and education (ECCE) and NEP
The NEP specifically talks about children below 6 years and their preparedness for schooling since 85% of a child’s cumulative brain development occurs prior to the age of 6 and the lack of appropriate care and brain stimulation effects the lifelong prospects of a child.
A special provision to start Balavatika or “Preparatory class” with a qualified ECCE teacher has been added in the Policy. Every child prior to age of 5 years will move to these Balavatikas and will be prepared for primary school. At this stage emphasis will be on play-based learning with a focus on developing cognitive, affective, and psychomotor abilities and early literacy and numeracy.
The existing aaganwadis and pre-achools/ primary schools are being presented as centres for ECCE. For the initial cadre of high-quality ECCE teachers in Anganwadis, current Anganwadi workers/teachers are to be trained. Anganwadi workers/teachers with qualifications of 10+2 and above to be given a 6-month certificate programme in ECCE; and those with lower educational qualifications to be given a one-year diploma programme covering early literacy, numeracy, and other relevant aspects of ECCE.
Another important addition is the inclusion of breakfast along with mid-day meals in the schooling system.
Aaganwadis- Challenges Galore
There are numerous challenges facing the aanganwadi system itself. The AWWs are not regular employees and are payed an honorarium mostly less than the prescribed minimum wage for that state. Their crucial work is further hampered by their enormous workload (Aagnganwadi centres need to maintain approximately 30 registers at a time) and the limited training that they are provided. Many of them are functional illiterates or primary school educated. Vacancy and absenteeism rates are very high in many areas especially those that are most in need of these services.
Lack of Infrastructure at Aagnawadis is another big hurdle and Niti Aayog has published that 41% Aanganwadis have either shortage of space or unsuitable accommodation with less than 50% maintaining good hygiene condition. Some lack water, toilet, and electricity facilities. In extreme cold or hot conditions, requisite heating/ cooling facilities are absent. This is very serious as the children are very small and cannot take care of themselves.
The fact is that the system is riddled with corruption and wasteful resource allocation has impacted the effectiveness of the aaganwadis. One such scenario in past years is where funds were being siphoned off in the name of fake beneficiaries. The Women and Child Development Ministry had found close to 8 lakh false beneficiaries registered across 1.09 lakh aaganwadis in Maharashtra and 14 lakh in Uttar Pradesh in 2018 . These issues with the aaganwadi system need to be addressed at different levels.
The policy points in the right direction as far as ECCE is concerned but implementation will hold the key. It is mentioned that the policy will be implemented in a phased manner but a roadmap and benchmarks for each step needs to be identified and achieved for any part of the policy to translate into reality. Given the existing problems with India’s Aaganwadi system and the controversies surrounding the mid-day meal program, we need to take a cautious and measured approach to make India’s children ready for school. Strengthening the Aagnwadi system by improving the infrastructure could be the first step but improving the condition of the frontline workers through better training, streamlining workload and increase in pay could be more effective. But the systemic corruption that keeps the benefits out of reach for the vulnerable children and in turn impact the future of the nation should be addressed urgently so that reforms undertaken centrally don’t lose their way before reaching the beneficiaries.
ANU LIZA THOMASProgram Manager
Sashakt – Scholarship for Women in Science