March 2014 – How little is right?

I have never quite understood the urgency of parents to put children in school. Its common to see school advertising the age of joining as 2 years. They boast of an “organized, structured and researched curriculum” and are very proud of the “syllabus” they follow. If you look closely almost every kindergarten school out there is an experiment.

Everyone seems to be very confident of what they are doing with the kids and have their own systems and methods of doing things. Infact most pre school chains boast of a “standardized curriculum”. Everyone seems to be doing things their own way and at times the so called “systems and processes” they follow can be quite contradictory. There are several reasons for this and one of the biggest reasons is the lack of clarity on governmental policies and regulations on pre primary education. This has given a free hand to innumerable enterprising individuals to start their own version of a preschool.

It is a known fact that the most impressionable age of children is between 0-7 years. This is the age in which the maximum learning can happen and on the contrary the maximum damage can be done. If we had to take a leaf from some our past there are some pertinent lessons for us to delve into.

The Gurukul system that was prominent in India a millennium ago admitted children who were 7 or 8 years of age. The logic was, that they would spend the first few years of their lives learning about their own culture, traditions, family values etc. in the first phase of their lives and once they joined the Gurukul they would learn about the world and how to survive in it effectively.

The Madrasa system for example that was at the pinnacle of world education for almost a 1000 years lasting up to the 16th century encouraged organized learning for children only after the age of 7. The madrasa’s taught everything from religion to astronomy to art to philosophy to medicine. Yet this system relied on the fact that the parents/home should be teaching children in the first 7 or 8 years.

If we look at more modern legends of education like Rudolf Steiner, Maria Montessori or John Dewey all of them insisted that the formative years between 3-7 should be spent in playing, doing things that are unstructured and without instructions or teaching.

Somehow everyone seems to be in a hurry to teach children to perform tricks of reading and writing and math’s and fool ourselves into believing we are providing education to them. It is scary to say the least as to how damaging organized curriculum and structure can be for children below 6 years and more so below 4 years.

The HRD ministry is trying to bring in the National Early Childhood Care and Education Policy (ECCE) which I hope will become actionable soon, but what is the need of the hour is the sensitivity of educators to take responsibility of the influence they are having on children and their future. Organized learning for preprimary children is a very sensitive area and we need to tread carefully. The more relaxed we are with our systems and processes of engagement with the children and the less worried we are about outcomes the better will be the childs development.