Caring for the youngest

Vinaya Patil
Monday, 4 September 2017

We need to look after our youngest citizens for a bright future, believes Early Childhood Association that recently hosted a day-long conference in the city

Children are the future of a nation, we often hear. Former president — the late Dr APJ Abdul Kalam — was one such person of vision, who expressed much interest in investing in the right development of a child and had innumerable interactions with students across India on many occasions.

However, while much is said and believed, what is lacking is the understanding that work doesn’t begin only in primary school. It begins much earlier. Research shows that early childhood education lays the foundation for lifelong learning and development. Everything around us is changing rapidly and so must education. Society needs new kinds of education that addresses the need of our planet, where education fosters overall development, promotes care and compassion in children, to help them grow, be responsible citizens and contribute to a more purposeful tomorrow.

One such initiative is being taken by Early Childhood Association (ECA) to bring together stakeholders in the field of early childhood care and education on one common platform. In accordance with their vision, a day-long conference was held in the city on Saturday, September 2, at the Sheraton Grand. Called PIECE — Pune International Early Childhood Edufest — the conference brought together people from across the globe to share their expertise, knowledge and experiences for collective learning.  

“The problem is not that we don’t want to care for our children, people just need to know how. Parents, teachers, the government — all stakeholders in the future of our children — go about it on a trial-by-fire basis, learning each time as the child grows up. But we need a more structured, uniform way to do this. At the Early Childhood Association of India, that is our mission — to help the country invest in taking care of its youngest citizens,” Dr Swati Popat Vats, president, Early Childhood Association said.

The sessions on Saturday covered varied topics ranging from ‘Next Gen Teacher Education’ by Farzana Dohadwala, International Baccalaureate advisor for South Asia; ‘Inclusion and Integration’ by Manjushree Patil, founder of Aatman Academy; and ‘Design Thinking in Teaching and Assessment’ by Leslie Falconer from Mother Goose Time (USA). An overview of global practices in pre-school education was discussed to support and empower school teachers and spread awareness about the importance of quality education in early years. “It’s time we recognised and raised awareness about the vital role of early years’ education. Needless to say, this topic has become more prevalent and relevant than ever,” Vats says.

Early Childhood Association (ECA) in India was established in June 2011 in Mumbai by Vats, also the president of The Podar Education. “The vision of the association is to create a common platform for all preschools, educators, students, parents and the corporate world. ECA advocates and discusses quality development in a child’s early years,” she explains.

Comprising over 6,000 members, the ECA has 22 centres across India. “Even anganwadis and balwadis are involved and the conference is always held at an affluent location so that these teachers from underprivileged sections get the opportunity to feel one among everyone. Participants coming from very financially weak backgrounds are not charged,” Vats tells us.

PIECE 2017 put educators and entrepreneurs from various backgrounds together and helped them update themselves with latest techniques of learnings. Besides national and international speakers, the conference witnessed over 600 educationists, parents and teachers from across India.

Speaking of the issues, Vats says, “There is no regulatory body for anything to do with childhood. People say things need to be regulated. But who will do it? There is a clash of departments in the government and a lack of coordination. It is time to invest in early childhood and have a ministry for it,” she believes, saying that our government could easily follow the Dubai or Singapore model to begin with. 

ECA is pushing for the cause along with conducting its routine activities to ensure quality early childhood education. As part of its activities, it recently conducted a survey that involved 40,000 parents across India. “With the entire Blue Whale panic, the survey was about use of screens among children where we tried to tell parents that children need more personal communication than screens,” Vats explains.

Talking about the major gaps in early childhood education, Vats says, “Safety, parent-school partnership and teacher training are the three major areas that need much improvement.”

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