In a blog post written by Scott Ozanus for World Bank, the Deputy Chairman and Chief Operating Officer at KPMG addresses this same question. He writes that research has shown that learning gap between advantaged and disadvantaged children can show up as early as nine months of age. Research has also shown that a child's level of math knowledge in preschool also predicts their academic performance at primary and secondary level.
In the blog, he writes, "And data shows early childhood programs can have a profound impact. An overview of 56 studies across 23 countries found impacts on health, education, cognitive ability, and emotional development. A study by Nobel Laureate James Heckman found that participants in an early childhood program in Jamaica had 25% higher wages - 20 years later. Heckman says the return on investment in early childhood is even higher than the stock market from World War II through 2008."
Early Childhood Education in India
As per UNICEF website, early childhood is defined as the period from conception through eight years of age. As per the 2011 census, children in the age group of 0-6 years constitute around 158 million population of India.
The RTE Act (2009), while does not include children below 6 years under its aegis, does include ECE and says, "with a view to prepare children above the age of three years for elementary education and to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years, the appropriate Government may make necessary arrangement for providing free pre-school education for such children."
The 12th Five Year Plan also acknowledges the importance of Early Childhood Education. In 2013, the government of India also approved the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy which also includes the National Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards for ECCE.
The Ministry of Women and Child Development (MWCD) is responsible for the policy on ECCE. MWCD is in charge of a flagship programme introduced by Government in India for Early Childhood Education which is Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) Scheme. ICDS offers six basic services to its beneficiaries which include supplementary nutrition, nutrition and health education, health check-up, pre-school non-formal education, immunization, and referral services. By 2014, 349.82 lakh 3-6 years children were benefitting from the pre-school component of the ICDS.
According to a report by UNICEF, despite the recognition of ECCE by the Government of India, there is still a gap between the number of pre-schoolers and those enrolled in pre-schools.
Considering the research backed assessment that early childhood education significantly affects the academic performance of a child at primary and secondary levels, it is important that an urgent approach be applied to make quality pre-school learning available to children, specially from disadvantaged sections.
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