New Delhi, Sept. 20: The Union cabinet today approved draft policy guidelines that call for teaching children in the vernacular in playschools across the country.
The proposal is part of the Centre’s early childhood care and education (ECCE) policy that aims to regulate the mushrooming pre-school segment.
The guidelines are for all playschools and day-care centres in all states and empower the women and child development ministry to monitor them through state councils.
However, since education is a state subject, it is not clear if the Centre can enforce the proposal through a cabinet clearance. The Right to Education law could be enforced in states because it deals with a fundamental right.
Sources said that if a state voluntarily agreed to operationalise the pre-school proposals, the policy is expected to have punitive provisions.
Under the draft policy governing the education of children up to 6 years, registration and accreditation of all playschools is mandatory. It also gives pointers for a standardised curriculum that, sources said, will have to be play-based, experiential and child-friendly and ensure all-round development.
Sources said one proposal in the policy was to make a state’s vernacular/mother tongue the primary language of interaction in all ECCE programmes, with English being one of the languages in the syllabus.
Some teachers in Calcutta have expressed scepticism at this proposal. Sunirmal Chakravarthi, the principal of La Martiniere for Boys, said: “Every time the government dabbles in education, I’m a little scared. Rulings such as these are very confusing.
“There are two things that you need to consider. First, all playhouse teachers may not be fluent in the vernacular. The Montessori training they undergo is not in the vernacular, then why should the medium of instruction be the vernacular?
“However, I do understand that kids need to know the vernacular along with English. But most kids are sent to playhouses by their parents to learn English. The vernacular they already learn at home. In fact, the vernacular is the first language they learn.”
Most playschools are in urban areas and the children going to them speak different languages, Chakravarthi added. “You need a common medium of instruction, which is why retaining English as the medium of instruction is important,” he said.
The principal of Kangaroo Kids, in Calcutta’s New Alipore, expressed surprise. Mallika Verma said: “When children come to us at the playschool, they are already fluent in the vernacular. Hindi and Bengali automatically become part of the curriculum because we are constantly translating things to the children for the first two years.”
“Also, these children will move on to higher levels where the medium is not always the vernacular. In this age and time when the world is a global village, we aspire to make our future generation global citizens. Also, it is always good to know more than one language.”
Among the other guidelines laid down in the draft policy are pointers to the kind of play material to be given to the children and the minimum land specifications required to start such schools so that there is a proper play area.
“All kids deserve basic facilities. These regulations will help keep a check on creches that don’t meet the standards essential for a child’s development. A playing area, food and a healthy environment are a must,” said Ritu Bajaj, who runs a day-care centre with about 10 kids in Gurgaon, called Tiny Tots.
“This (the policy) was long overdue. It makes sense to have a guiding policy for child-care centres so there is some sort of regulation in the sector. Nowadays, playschools are mushrooming daily without any care for the child’s needs. With this policy in place, states have a basic framework to work on,” said Nina Bhatnagar, the co-owner of Pebbles, a nursery school in Noida.
A ministry official said most playschools worked on an ad hoc basis and there was no monitoring of the curriculum or the quality of teachers or of the environment provided to the children. “Early childhood is the most crucial period in a child’s life. This is when the development rate is high and a child’s foundations are formed,” an official said.
“This policy lays down specifications about children’s toys and play materials, and the amount of space and the furniture the playschools should have. It fixes the minimum qualifications one requires to be appointed a teacher or instructor in such schools.”
Ministry sources said there were plans to review the draft guidelines every five years. Around Rs 2,500 crore has been earmarked for the ECCE in the 12th five-year plan under the Integrated Child Development Scheme.