Efforts to bring about novel methods of teaching should be accentuated now more than ever. The pandemic has not just shut schools but social spaces where children could previously thrive and blossom. Owing to the pandemic, children are boxed up into restricted physical spaces as parents are busy maintaining the work-home dichotomy. Consequently, children are turning towards TV, gaming, laptops and smartphones, whiling away precious hours. For some children, this phase could mean a steady waste of their learning years. Early Childhood Association (ECA) charts a new plan through which children can be rooted firmly into the continuum of learning and growing in a way that does not meddle with their mental well-being. In this article is also attached are Safety Guidelines prepared by Early Childhood Association keeping in mind the imminent reopening of preschools and day-cares.
“We are guilty of many errors and many faults, but our worse crime is abandoning the children, neglecting the fountain of life. Many of the things we need can wait. The child cannot. Right now is the time his/her bones have been formed, his/her blood is being made, and his/her senses are being developed. To him/ her we cannot answer ‘Tomorrow’, his/her name is today”, said Gabriela Mistral – the Chilean poet-diplomat, educator and feminist.
This quote perfectly surmises the need of the hour in terms of early childhood education and this letter is an attempt to find a solution and bring clarity on the raging confusion today, among parents, schools and policy makers, regarding lockdown and post covid planning for our young children and about the necessity of ensuring that young children stay connected to their preschools and anganwadis even if remotely.
Preschools and anganwadis are closed. Children are missing out on their inoculations, their one mid day meal, their nurturing and stimulation that they receive with activities like singing, dancing, physical development and socio-emotional skills. We can understand that children below the age of 10 should be kept safe at home but why are we trying to keep them away from all the activities that they thrive on? Parents are busy with dual responsibilities- working and taking care of the home. How much time do you think they would be able to give to the young children? Children are watching all kinds of inappropriate content on television and mobile phones.
Our National ECCE Policy conforms to the vision of holistic and integrated development of the child with focus on care and early learning at each sub stage of the development continuum in order to support all round and holistic development of children. The policy recognizes that young children are the best cared for their family environment but in a country of widespread diversity and stratification many families need supportive measures for the optimal development of the child, especially during this Covid-19 pandemic.
It is important that young children of our country get their cognitive, social, emotional and language stimulation that they require. It is not always easy or possible for parents to provide the same due to many issues like living alone, for burdened by too many responsibilities and the new fear of Corona.
In this scenario if there is an edutainment program on television for children or if the preschools or balwadis arrange for a video chat with the children and engage them in age appropriate activities it would have a positive impact on the mental health of the children and would be a support to the parents too.
Neuroscience has proven that 90% of the brain develops in the first five years of life. What does that mean? It means it’s the first five years that lay the foundation for life and Children go through a period of rapid learning in the first five years. Our children since the last two months and for the next six months will be cooped up at home with very little stimulation.
Their brains are making new connections that will one day become the blueprint for their life. And during this period, if they don’t receive the right kind of care or learning, they will grow up with a few life and learning deficits…. and that is something what we need to work together to avoid.
Every year, the Annual Status of Education Report highlights abysmal student learning outcomes in primary schools in rural India. The root cause of this is prevalent lack of quality education during early years. When our entire early years population will not attend preschools and anganwadis for a whole year, can you imagine the impact on their mental, physical and cognitive health. We are depriving them from a ‘head start’ in life and learning?
Today we are planning for every sector..except the early childhood sector. We say, “children are the future” – and that’s true – but there’s a fundamental problem with that idea. It suggests that… they’re just kids now, but later, when they become the future, we can start taking care of them…with a better economy, a better job climate. But that’s wrong. Their brain development is happening NOW.
The most embedded parts of their personality – attitudes and moral values, their emotional tendencies, their learning abilities, how they will deal with people, how they will deal with situations, good or bad – they are all a product of experiences that our young children will receive now…during this Covid-19 pandemic. It is time that policy makers and government officials realise that we cannot let the foundation of our future be deprived of the required stimulation and connection that they were receiving from their preschools or anganwadis.
Early Childhood Association strongly recommends that preschools and anganwadis should use a developmentally appropriate and healthy way of connecting everyday with the young children. Sing songs, narrate stories, play games, teach yoga, laugh, exchange smiles, count objects, name colours, guess letters and so much more can be achieved through just one hour of ‘face-time’ on a video chat platform.
The Do’s during Lockdown:
Early Childhood Association strongly recommends that the connection between the teacher and the child should continue even during the lockdown and till preschools or day-cares open. This is important because teachers can convey many messages and educate them about–
- Eating healthy.
- Sleeping well.
- Not watching too much TV, or watching inappropriate videos or games on mobile phones.
- Help them understand and dispel fear about corona.
Teachers can help engage children in socio-emotional and physical activities-
- By helping them video chat with their peers.
- By telling them stories
- By singing rhymes
- By engaging them in doing yoga activities
- By teaching them through stories developed by ECA about physical distancing, wearing masks and new hygiene rules
- Teachers can play games like guess the sound; whose makes this sound etc.
An engaging video chat like this, for an hour every day, is not harmful to children.
(Ref: Website kids health medical experts- Time spent with screens (like a TV, tablet, or smartphone) can be an opportunity to reinforce learning and promote creative play) Even the American Academy of Paediatricians and W.H.O recommends introducing only “high-quality programming” to children 18 to 24 months of age. Children between the ages of 2 to 5 years should watch only one hour per day of approved programming.
Early Childhood Association urges all state governments to please ensure that our ‘littlest citizens’ are kept actively engaged through ‘face-time’ video chats by their preschools or anganwadis. This one hour of video chat with the children by a trained teacher will achieve and contribute immensely to the foundation of life and learning of our young children. We also recommend that the preschools and anganwadis must also involve the parents by sending them activities that they can do to spend quality time with their children during these stressful times of the Covid-19 pandemic. These activities should not be academic or stressful in any manner but should be supporting parents to tell stories, talk to their child, bond with their child and ensure that the child’s brain is not deprived of the most essential, ‘serve and return’ interactions, crucial for brain development.
Early Childhood Association further recommends to preschools and day-cares to give the home-school connection in three parts-
- Teacher- child connection- through ‘face-time’ video chats.
- Parent-child interaction- give activities that parents can do with their children again ensure no stress on academics. They can be fun videos to watch together on phonics or numbers or games and activities.
- Child independent activities- give yoga, home chores and activities that children can do with minimal help
Early Childhood Association is absolutely against formal teaching for early years on any remote learning platforms. This is not the time to stress on academics, academic achievement or assessing children academically. Focus should be on talking to children about topics that help nurture their thinking skills, emotional skills and social skills. But the connection with children should continue…even if remotely. This kind of engagement will also keep teachers actively engaged and partner with parents.
The Early Childhood sector needs to be taken seriously if we want to come out of this pandemic with happy, resilient children and a robust economy. These video chat engagements are helping children be happy, keeping the teachers employed is contributing to the economical revival of the country. If thousands of preschools around the country close down, it will mean millions of jobs lost of teachers and will lead to economic chaos in many households.
“Sab bachcho ka bhala… desh ka vikas”. During this pandemic, let us not ignore our future.our littlest citizens.
The appeal was sent by Dr. Swati Popat Vats, President; on behalf of ECA National Committee