Early childhood education is an indispensable part of every child’s growing up journey. It is at this juncture that a child learns how to interact with others, especially parents, family and peers which helps in developing interests that will stay on throughout its life. It is also the time when a child learns critical social and emotional skills that go a long way in education and development of the child.
In post-independent India, early childhood care was always given importance in our socio-economic policies. When the Integrated Child Development Scheme was formulated in 1975 pre-school education was a vital component of the program along with providing food, primary healthcare, and immunization and referral services.
In 2013 the Ministry of Women and Child Development came up with the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Curriculum Framework. The Odisha government conceptualized and contextualized their curriculum for children of age group three to six based on this framework. The curriculum is age-specific (3-4 years, 4-5 years and 5-6 years) with themes fixed for every month. This program which has been appreciated and has become the role model for other states is called the Nua Arunima program. The word ‘Arunima’ in Odia means early sunrise.
Taking education to the doorsteps
The pandemic forced the nation to slip into lockdown which hampered early childhood education deeply. Since children could no longer visit the Anganwadi centers physically, dry food rations were delivered at their houses. The ‘Nua Arunima’ program was transformed into the ‘Ghare Ghare Arunima’ program by the Department of Women and Child Development and Malnutrition, in coordination with UNICEF.
In case of any disaster the children are impacted the worst. The Odisha government was quick to realize this and came up with this program where parents can be equipped to be the first teacher within the family. Pictorial calendars are distributed at the residence of every child along with dry ration.
“This program is aimed to propel family involvement in early childhood care, especially fathers. Men-streaming is a component under this program aimed at driving attention of the fathers towards their children’s education since fathers play an equal role in the child’s development. The persisting idea that child rearing is the mother’s duty should be done away with,” said Madhumita Das who is the ECCE consultant for UNICEF Odisha.
Ghare Ghare Arunima is not just limited to education. Early childhood care and education rest on three pillars: Ready Children, Ready Schools and Ready Families. Besides educating the child and improving the physical and social capacities of the schools, it also aims to support parenting and creating a stimulating environment at home. “If there are problems in the family like unemployment, child rearing and participating in the education of children can be therapeutic as well,” says Madhumita Das.
Education based on one’s surroundings
Madhumita Das added, ”The main parameters of assessment of literacy is that children should be able to listen, speak, read and write. The monthly themes start from enabling the child to know about his or her family, relatives and peers. Then it moves to having some understanding of his body parts, different birds and animals, leaves, trees, birds, animals, fruits and so on. The idea is to make the child have an understanding of his surroundings.”
Odisha has varying landscapes. Depending on the location of the place Anganwadi workers are free to tweak the syllabus based on familiar aspects. “The flowers or fruits in the hilly regions may be different from those found in the coastal areas. So the Anganwadi worker is free to interpret and tweak based on his or her surroundings,” says Madhumita Das.
Importance of parental participation in child’s education
At an early age, children’s mental elasticity and acceptance are at the maximum level. Almost 80 percent of the brain is developed at an early stage.
Madhumita Das informed, “In urban areas parents interact with their children which results in a simulative connection with the child. However at rural places, parents go out to work leaving the children at home. This negatively impacts the child since the advancement of the mental capacities of the child is very rapid at this stage.”
Parental involvement with the child like feeding, giving a bath, taking out or giving a ride is important for a child’s development. The foundation of parent and child bonding gets strong. It also boosts the child’s confidence and performance.
The Women and Child Development (WCD) Department thought of facilitating or accelerating the family’s involvement in child growth and development. In Odisha there are 72587 Anganwadi centers where around 16 lakh children are enrolled. They run a program called Batstchalya for children under 3 years of age which is a family based program as well.
Ghare Ghare Arunima calendars
The WCD Department along with UNICEF has been distributing the Ghare Ghare Arunima calendars to every home. These calendars contain a fun filled list of activities which has to be implemented with support from parents and grandparents. Initially they were shared on Whatsapp groups but later printed copies were distributed as well.
These calendars are placed on the walls of the child’s home at the level of his or her height. They are pictorial and colorfully designed to make it attractive to the child and keeping the literacy levels of their parents in mind as well. Parents are asked to transact the calendar every day.
A tele-monitoring process was started by the WCD Department from June 2020 where random calls were made to the beneficiaries to ascertain whether requisite entitlement under ICDS Supplementary Nutrition Programme are reaching them on time and in actual quantity and quality. Enquiries are also made about growth monitoring of children as well as reach and utilization of Ghare Ghare Arunima calendar.
Akshay Nimal who is the Project Manager of ICDS in Odisha, said, “Initially the program was monitored through monthly meetings. From June we are tele-monitoring it under which we are directly contacting the mothers of the beneficiaries and enquiring whether they are transacting the calendars. It has been found that 70.6 percent of the beneficiaries are receiving them.”
The program has been tweeted about and shared across many social media platforms for its innovative teaching methodology. The Principal Secretary of WCD Department, Smt. Anu Garg had also helped in popularizing it. Today almost every state is running similar programs, for instance, the Ghare Ghare Anganwadi program in Gujarat.