How PM’s EAC brings the focus back on the ECCE
- The study has been authored by Ashish Jhalani, co-author of the State of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) in India’ report released by the PM's Economic Advisory Council.
Let us first recognise that there is a fundamental challenge in early education years, that has been severely underestimated in the education planning strategy of India.
Perhaps that is why the Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council released a report titled The State of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) in India in December, 2021. The report points out that effective implementation of FLN can potentially grow our Gross Domestic Product (GDP) by 7.39%, when the benefits are calculated over 20 years. This implies that FLN investments will contribute $3.8 trillion to India’s GDP of $ 19.3 trillion.
These numbers may be new, but the realisation is not. The contribution of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) to the overall development of the country has been well known. Lack of focus on the quality of FLN has prevented generations of children from becoming productive citizens of the economy, leading to massive economic and social losses.
Yet, human nature can be quite bewildering;
1) We know many things to be true that we don't want to accept fully-- like global warming for instance.
2) We know many habits to be harmful but we don't discontinue- - like buying single use plastic.
3) We also see many things being done improperly but changing them is too cumbersome.
ECCE is a victim of all three.
What is worrisome is also that the performance of children is not just low, it is seen to be falling over the last few years. There are wide variations across the country with some states like Kerala, Himachal Pradesh and Haryana clearly outperforming states like Bihar, Madhya Pradesh and Jharkhand.
For the first time ever, we have included an index on FLN in the report. The FLN Index offers an evidence-based perspective of factors contributing to low learning outcomes in early grades. The idea is to first measure, so we can then manage. The Index is built on a framework that takes into account 41 key indicators across five domains:
Access to Education
The FLN index gives a clear picture of regional differences across states and Union Territories across primary and pre-primary levels.
It is a useful tool to inform policy at a central level, and offer states a lens to improve learning outcomes for children. A large number of schools in rural areas do not have the necessary infrastructure to support the use of technology, including computers, internet, electricity, there also exists challenges in terms of the quality of resources that have flooded the system today. Most of the resources seems to an extension of the rote learning pedagogy that exists in the classrooms. The FLN index places the entire country on a common measuring scale, offering clear areas of improvement and interventions to bridge these gaps.
With India’s decision makers now focussed on ECCE, the entire chain of education will benefit. ECCE acts as the base upon which all future learning is built. It’s relevance in improving not just the future learning capacities but also influencing economic, social and developmental factors over the long term have been established beyond doubt.
1.Investing in ECCE is one of the most cost-efficient and powerful strategies to remedy achieve sustainable socio-economic development.
Illiteracy is expensive: While India has made significant progress in improving literacy over the years, it is still home to 313 million illiterate people, 59 percent of whom are women. The economic impact of this is staggering; UNESCO studies demonstrate that illiteracy costs emerging economies 1.2 percent of their GDP- by way of lost earnings and business productivity. In terms of numbers, illiteracy potentially costs India ₹ 3,930 crore per year.
2. If we don't build enough pre-schools, we will simply have to build more prisons.
Learning in the foundational years (3 years of preschool followed by 2 years of grade 1&2) must be done properly. The vicious cycle of low quality teacher development, lack of monitoring and support and inadequate research further leads to a complex cycle of low expectations, poor implementation and low quality of real learning in the classroom.
This leads to children falling behind, unable to ever catch up, even if supported by the so called ‘remediation programmers’.
ECCE interventions have proven to have a significant impact on improving child and adolescent mental health and promoting holistic well-being in low and middle income countries, though to adolescence and adulthood,
3. Children’s well-being unites communities constructive
When an entire community is engaged in ECCE, teachers, parents, caregivers and local champions, there is a sense of progress and purpose that unites everyone. Training caregivers to support children cognitively and emotionally, elevates their status and respect in society. The contribution of an informed teacher is invaluable to the emotional health, self-awareness and achievement levels of children.
Improvement in FLN thus has the potential to be a game changer for India. This data-driven practice with measurable outcomes, if done well, can help the economy ride new highs of development.
(The study has been authored by Ashish Jhalani, co-author of the State of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy (FLN) in India’ report released by the PM's Economic Advisory Council.)