Objective: Every child in the age range of 3-6 years has access
to free, safe, high quality, developmentally appropriate care
and education by 2025.
The learning process for a child commences immediately at birth. Evidence
from neuroscience shows that over 85% of a child’s cumulative brain
development occurs prior to the age of 6, indicating the critical importance
of developmentally appropriate care and stimulation of the brain in a child’s
early years to promote sustained and healthy brain development and growth.
Indeed, analysis of brain scans of children who encountered various levels of
neglect or deprivation in their early years revealed unfortunate deﬁciencies
in the development of critical areas of the brain, and corresponding adverse
effects on cognitive and emotional processing. Excellent care, nurture,
nutrition, physical activity, psycho-social environment, and cognitive and
emotional stimulation during a child’s ﬁrst six years are thus considered
extremely critical for ensuring proper brain development and, consequently,
desired learning curves over a person’s lifetime.
This evidence from cognitive science is fully borne out by numerous national
and international studies on the learning outcomes of children having
various levels of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE). A study
conducted by the National Council of Educational Research and Training
(NCERT) titled “The impact of pre-school education on retention in primary
grades” (1992) on 30,000 children illustrated strong and direct correlations
between exposure to pre-school education and retention rates, attendance
rates, and most signiﬁcantly learning outcomes in primary school and beyond.
Various global studies have also revealed longer-term impacts: quality preschool
education is strongly correlated with higher incomes and rates of home
ownership, and lower rates of unemployment, crime, and arrest. In terms of the
growth of the national economy, it has been estimated that the development
of a strong ECCE programme is among the very best investments that India
could make, with an expected return of `10 or more for every `1 invested. In
summary, it is recognised that investment in ECCE gives the best chance for
children to grow up into good, moral, thoughtful, creative, empathetic, and
productive human beings.
Studies tracking student learning outcomes clearly demonstrate that children
who start out behind tend to stay behind throughout their school years. At
the current time, there is a severe learning crisis in India, where children are
enrolled in primary school but are failing to attain even basic skills such as
foundational literacy and numeracy. A major part of this crisis appears to be
occurring well before children even enter Grade 1. Far too many 6+ year olds are
entering Grade 1 with very limited ECCE. Furthermore, far too many children
are enrolling in Grade 1 before the age of 6, due to a lack of any suitable preprimary
options; these are often the children that remain the most behind in
primary school and beyond. In fact, during the academic year 2016-17, over 70
lakh children were enrolled in Grade 1 prior to the age of 6 (Uniﬁed District
Information System for Education (U-DISE) 2016-17).
This tragic deﬁciency in grade school-preparedness is particularly marked
between advantaged and disadvantaged groups. This is because students from
more advantaged families have greater access to role models, print awareness,
language ﬂuency in the school language, and strong learning environments
at home, in addition to better nutrition, healthcare, and of course access to
pre-school education. Investment in ECCE has the potential to give all young
children such access in an engaging and holistic way, thereby allowing all
children to participate and ﬂourish in the educational system throughout their
lives. ECCE is perhaps the greatest and most powerful equaliser.
For all these reasons - from brain development to school-preparedness,
improved learning outcomes, equality and justice, employability, and the
prosperity and economic growth of the country - India absolutely must invest
in accessible and quality ECCE for all children.
What does quality ECCE entail? During the ages prior to 3 years, quality ECCE
includes the health and nutrition of both the mother and the child, but also
crucially includes cognitive and emotional stimulation of the infant through
talking, playing, moving, listening to music and sounds, and stimulating all
the other senses particularly sight and touch. Exposure to languages, numbers,
and simple problem-solving is also considered important during this period.
From 3 to 6 years of age, ECCE includes continued healthcare and nutrition,
but also crucially self-help skills (such as “getting ready on one’s own”), motor
skills, cleanliness, the handling of separation anxiety, being comfortable around
one’s peers, moral development (such as knowing the difference between
“right” and “wrong”), physical development through movement and exercise,
expressing and communicating thoughts and feelings to parents and others,
sitting for longer periods of time in order to work on and complete a task,
and generally forming all-round good habits.
Supervised play-based education, in groups and individually, is considered
particularly important during this age range to naturally build up the child’s
innate abilities and all-important lifelong skills of cooperation, teamwork,
social interaction, compassion, equity, inclusiveness, communication,
cultural appreciation, playfulness, curiosity, creativity, as well as the ability
to successfully and respectfully interact with teachers, fellow students, staff,
and others. ECCE during these years also entails learning about alphabets,
languages, numbers, counting, colours, shapes, drawing/painting, indoor
and outdoor play, puzzles and logical thinking, visual art, craft, drama,
puppetry, music, and movement.
Over 85% of cumulative brain
development occurs prior to the age of six.
How should India best deliver quality ECCE? The most current research in
ECCE shows that children under the age of 8 do not tend to follow the linear,
age-based educational trajectories that are prescribed to them by policy or
by any preset timelines for curriculum; as a result, a large proportion of
children in pre-school and Grades 1 and 2 are not receiving developmentally
appropriate education suited to their needs. It is only at about the age of 8
that children adapt to more prescripted learning.
Therefore, it is important that children of ages 3-8 have access to a ﬂexible,
multifaceted, multilevel, play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based
education. It also becomes natural then to view this period, from up to
three years of pre-school (ages 3-6) to the end of Grade 2 (age 8), as a single
pedagogical unit called the “Foundational Stage”. It is necessary, therefore,
to develop and establish such an integrated foundational curricular and
pedagogical framework, and corresponding teacher preparation, for this
critical Foundational Stage of a child’s development.
At the current time, most early childhood education is delivered in the
form of Anganwadis and private pre-schools, with a very small proportion
coming from pre-schools run by NGOs and other organisations. Where
well supported, the Anganwadi system of pre-primary education, under the
aegis of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), has worked with
great success in many parts of India, especially with respect to healthcare
for mothers and infants. These centres have truly helped support parents
and build communities; they have served to provide critical nutrition and
health awareness, immunisation, basic health check-ups, and referrals and
connections to local public health systems, thus preparing crores of children
for healthy development and therefore far more productive lives. However,
while providing some essential cognitive stimulation, play, and day care, most
Anganwadis have remained relatively light on the educational aspects of ECCE.
Anganwadis are currently quite deﬁcient in supplies and infrastructure for
education; as a result, they tend to contain more children in the 2-4 year age
range and fewer in the educationally critical 4-6 year age range; they also have
few teachers trained in or specially dedicated to early childhood education.
Meanwhile, private and other pre-schools have largely functioned as downward
extensions of primary school. Though providing better infrastructure and
learning supplies for children, they consist primarily of formal teaching
and rote memorisation, with high Pupil Teacher Ratios (PTRs) and limited
developmentally appropriate play-based and activity-based learning; they
too generally contain teachers untrained in early childhood education. They
generally are very limited on the health aspects, and do not usually cater to
younger children in the age range of 0-4 years.
A recent “Early Childhood Education Impact” study (2017) undertaken by
Ambedkar University, Delhi, showed that a signiﬁcant proportion of children
in India who completed pre-primary education, public or private, did not have
the needed school readiness competencies when they joined primary school.
Thus, in addition to problems of access, quality related deﬁciencies such as
developementally inappropriate curriculum, the lack of qualiﬁed and trained
educators, and less-than-optimal pedagogy have remained major challenges
for many if not most existing early childhood learning programmes.
The Policy therefore focuses on developing an excellent curricular and
pedagogical framework for early childhood education by NCERT in accordance
with the above guidelines, which would be delivered through a signiﬁcantly
expanded and strengthened system of early childhood educational institutions,
consisting of Anganwadis, pre-primary schools/sections co-located with
existing primary schools, and stand-alone pre-schools, all of which will employ
workers/teachers specially trained in the curriculum and pedagogy of ECCE.
The numerous rich traditions of India over millennia in ECCE, involving art,
stories, poetry, songs, gatherings of relatives, and more, that exist throughout
India must also be incorporated in the curricular and pedagogical framework
of ECCE to impart a sense of local relevance, enjoyment, excitement, culture,
and sense of identity and community. The traditional roles of families in
raising, nurturing, and educating children also must be strongly supported
and integrated. In particular, family leave policies that afford women and men
the ability to tend to their children in their earliest years of life are critical in
enabling families to fulﬁl these traditional roles.
To reinforce the public system’s commitment to provide quality early childhood
care and education to all children before the age of 6, the Policy suggests that
ECCE be included as an integral part of the RTE Act. The 86th Amendment
of the Constitution in 2002 in fact provided an unambiguous commitment
for universalisation of ECCE by directing the “State to provide ECCE to all
children until they complete the age of six years”. Section 11 of the RTE Act also
already discussed the possible public provision of early childhood education:
“With a view to prepare children above the age of three years for elementary
education and to provide ECCE 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”. For the sake of the
country and her children, it is time to ensure that these critical commitments
for attaining quality ECCE for all are fulﬁlled as early as possible.
Speciﬁc policy initiatives to attain quality early childhood education for all
by 2025 will be as follows:
P1.1. Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Education:
The mandate of the NCERT will be expanded to include the development of
a Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early Childhood Education, in
accordance with the above principles and guidelines.
The Framework will consist of two parts:
a. The ﬁrst part will be a framework of guidelines for 0-3 year olds - intended
for parents as well as Anganwadi teachers/workers - for appropriate
cognitive stimulation of infants and young children in this age range.
The guidelines would include how to make simple low-cost learning aids
(such as baby rattles using a plastic bottle and colorful hard candy; simple
melodic and percussion instruments that can be hit with sticks; hats
and boats made from folding newspaper; etc.); these could form craft
exercises for children in Anganwadis, and also be distributed to parents
in the community.
b. The second part will be an educational framework for 3-8 year olds
(Foundational Stage) - intended for parents as well as for Anganwadis, preprimary
schools, and Grades 1 and 2 - consisting of a ﬂexible, multilevel,
play-based, activity-based, and discovery-based system of learning that
aims to teach young children alphabets, numbers, basic communication
in the local language/mother tongue and other languages, colours, shapes,
sounds, movement, games, elements of drawing, painting, music, and
the local arts, as well as various socio-emotional skills such as curiosity,
patience, teamwork, cooperation, interaction, and empathy required for
school-preparedness. The framework would also include suggestions
regarding exercises, puzzles, colouring books, connect-the-dots drawings,
stories, rhymes, songs, games, etc. that would help in developing children
in the Foundational Stage in a holistic way.
Because children learn languages most quickly during the period of
0-3 years and during the Foundational Stage of 3-8 years - and because
learning languages is an extremely important aspect of children’s cognitive
development-a key part of the Framework will be aimed at instilling excellent
multilingual skills in children as early as is possible and developmentally
The National Curriculum Framework (NCF), and State and local variations
of the Framework, will also extensively incorporate the numerous rich
traditions of India with respect to ECCE - including national as well as more
localised arts, songs, stories, rhymes, puzzles, riddles, games, knowledge,
customs, and innovations.
P1.2. Significant expansion and strengthening of facilities for early childhood
education: The new Curricular and Pedagogical Framework for Early
Childhood Education will be delivered to children up to the age of 6 via a four pronged
a. Strengthening and expansion of the Anganwadi system to include
a robust education component: Anganwadi Centres will be heavily
built up to deal with the educational needs of children up to the age of
6. In particular, Anganwadi workers trained in techniques of cognitive
stimulation for infants and of play-based and multilevel education for
3-6 year olds will be stationed across the country, so that there is at least
one such worker at every Anganwadi. Each Anganwadi will be provided
with excellent educational material as per the curricular and pedagogical
framework for early childhood education. Additional quality centres will
also be built around the country as needed to ensure that every mother
and child has free and easy access to Anganwadi Centres. Anganwadis will
aim to become outstanding educational centres that also contain a strong
health and nutrition component.
b. Co-locating Angawadis with primary schools: When possible, co-locating
Anganwadis with existing primary schools will provide further beneﬁts to
parents and children, both from the comprehensive services provided by
the Anganwadi and the improved opportunity for children to learn in a
cohesive educational environment with their siblings and peers at primary
schools. Co-location of Anganwadis and primary schools will be considered
a high priority during location planning for new Anganwadis and primary
schools, as this will help to build better and stronger school communities.
c. Co-locating pre-schools with primary schools where possible:
Alternatively, up to three years of quality pre-school for ages 3-6 will be
added to existing or new primary schools. Such composite schools will also
be supported by a package of health, nutrition, and growth-monitoring
services, especially for the pre-school students. The care and educational
requirements of 0-3 year olds in the region would continue to be handled
by neighborhood Anganwadis in such cases.
d. Building stand-alone pre-schools: High quality stand-alone pre-schools
will be built in areas where existing Anganwadis and primary schools are
not able to take on the educational requirements of children in the age
range of 3-6 years. Such pre-schools would again be supported by the health,
nutrition, and growth-monitoring services as required for children in this
All four of the above approaches will be implemented in accordance with local
needs and feasibility of geography and infrastructure. Overall, the goal will be
to ensure that every child of 0-6 years has free and easy access to quality ECCE.
This will require suitable monitoring of quality and outcomes for each of the
four methods and in each State.
Due to the equalising nature of ECCE, special attention and high priority will
be given to those districts or locations that are particularly socio-economically
Because of the multi-level, play-based nature of the curriculum and pedagogy
framework for early childhood education in the age range 3-8 years, no hard
separation of ages in this range would be required for Anganwadis and preschools
(including when they are co-located with primary schools), except as
needed for social reasons or due to limitations of institutional infrastructure.
All Anganwadi Centres and pre-primary schools will be linked, if not
physically then formally/pedagogically, to a primary school in the area, as
the lowest rung in the School Complex (see P7.3.1).
Universal access to quality early
childhood education is perhaps the best
investment that India can make for our
children’s and our nation’s future.
P1.3. Oversight of Early Childhood Education by the Ministry of Human
Resource Development: All aspects of early childhood education will
come under the purview of the Ministry of Human Resource Development
(MHRD), in order to ensure continuity of curriculum and pedagogy from preprimary
school to primary school, and to ensure due attention nationwide
to the foundational aspects of education.
A detailed plan outlining the operational and ﬁnancial implications of the
integration of early childhood education with the school education system
will be developed in consultation with the Ministry of Women and Child
Development (MWCD) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare
(MHFW). This plan will be ﬁnalised by the end of 2019 by a special task force
jointly constituted by the MWCD, MHFW, and MHRD.
At the current time, Anganwadis are under the purview of the MWCD.
Regardless of which ministry is ofﬁcially in charge of running the Anganwadis
(which will be decided jointly by the ministries and the joint task force),
the Policy stresses that the responsibility for planning and implementation
of all ECCE curriculum and pedagogy in Anganwadis and all pre-schools
lie with the MHRD - just as health services in ICDS lie with the MHFW.
This transition would greatly help in optimising and smoothly integrating
the delivery of quality early childhood and foundational education by the
MHRD across Anganwadis, pre-schools, and primary schools.
P1.4. Design of learning-friendly environments: Anganwadis, pre-schools, and
primary schools will all have high quality physical infrastructure that is
conducive to learning. A committee of cognitive scientists, early childhood
education experts, artists, and architects will be formed in each State (or
locality) to design spaces, within the funding allocations, that are truly inviting
and inspiring places to spend time and learn.
The physical environments for early childhood education will be welcoming
and stimulating, with accessible infrastructure, drinking water, and toilets;
they will be safe, clean, and brightly lit. Classrooms will allow ﬂexible seating
arrangements; learning materials will be safe, stimulating, developmentally
appropriate, low cost, and preferably created using environmentally-friendly
and locally-sourced materials. While the teacher/educator will be involved
in the selection and development of learning materials, children could also
participate. Some examples of learning materials are picture cards, puzzles,
dominoes, picture story books, blocks, simple musical instruments, number
towers and rods, puppets, materials for arts and crafts, and colouring books.
Posters, graphics, and art containing alphabets, words, numbers, shapes,
colours, etc. will be placed on walls at the eye levels of children for high quality
stimulation and engagement.
P1.5. Professionalisation of high quality educators for early childhood education:
State Governments will prepare cadres of professionally qualiﬁed educators
for early childhood education, through stage-speciﬁc professional training,
mentoring mechanisms, and career mapping. Necessary facilities will also be
created for the initial professional preparation of these educators and their
Continuous Professional Development (CPD).
Current Anganwadi workers and educators handling the pre-school education
component of the ICDS will be given the opportunity to participate in a
6-month special training programme to enable them to carry out effective
early childhood teaching-learning practices.
Access for children aged 3 - 8 years to a
flexible, multifaceted, multilevel, playbased
and activity-based education is of
P1.6. Instituting an effective and quality regulatory system for ECCE: An effective
quality regulation or accreditation system for ECCE will be instituted as
recommended in the National ECCE Policy (2013). This regulatory system will
cover all pre-school education - private, public, and philanthropic - in order to
ensure compliance with essential quality standards.
P1.7. Generating demand from stakeholders for early childhood education:
In order to generate demand for ECCE, all stakeholders, including policy
makers, parents, teachers, and community members must be well-informed
on how a young child’s needs are so different from what formal education
provides, and why fulﬁlling these needs is so important for a child’s lifelong
learning and development. Large-scale advocacy through public service
messages and media campaigns, direct communication between pre-primary
education programmes and parents, and wide-scale dissemination of simple
methods and materials to enable parents to actively support their children’s
early learning needs will be prioritised and proactively supported.
The mandate of the NCERT will be
expanded to include the development
of a Curricular and Pedagogical
Framework for Early Childhood
Extension of the RTE Act to include early childhood education: Given
the necessity and importance of developmentally-appropriate learning
during a child’s most critical phase of brain development, the availability
of free and compulsory quality pre-primary education for all 3-6 year olds
will be included as an integral part of the RTE Act (see P8.4.1). Here, by
‘compulsory’, it is meant that it will be obligatory for the public system to
provide appropriate and quality educational infrastructure, facilities, and
educators to all children in the age group 3-6 years, with a special emphasis
on reaching the most socio-economically disadvantaged children through