New Delhi, Dec. 12: Pre-school kids who have a better understanding of concepts like distance and shape have a higher chance of excelling in studies in later years, a new study has concluded.
Rather than numbers and alphabets, the stress should be on helping children understand these concepts, a key person behind the exercise told The Telegraph.
The Indian Early Childhood Impact Study assessed around 13,000 five-year-olds from Assam, Rajasthan and undivided Andhra Pradesh and then tracked 2,700 of these children till they turned eight after dividing them into four categories based on how they had fared in the assessment.
The low performers continued their poor performance through age six, seven and eight, the study found, indicating a direct correlation between their pre-school readiness and performance in later years.
Those who had performed well in their assessment - which tested them on concepts like distance, space, shape, width, colour and patterns - continued to do well, according to the six-year study. The report came out last week.
"The children whose conceptual understanding is poor before entering school are less likely to outperform the better-performing children," said Venita Kaul, director of the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED) at Ambedkar University and the study's principal investigator.
The CECED, which set the questionnaire to assess the children, had conducted the 2010-16 study in collaboration with Unicef and the ASER Centre, a research unit of the non-government organisation Pratham. ASER conducted the tests.
According to the assessment, 69 per cent of the 13,000 children scored less than 50 per cent despite getting pre-school training at anganwadi centres or through private facilities.
This means an overwhelming majority did not demonstrate the skills required for admission to Class I. In other words, they were not ready yet.
Around 14 per cent of the children assessed were not going to any early childhood-care education centre.
The National Policy on Early Childhood Care and Education, prepared by the women and child development ministry, suggests that four- and five-year-olds should be trained so that they are better prepared before starting Class I.
"We found the anganwadi centres were more focused on rhymes and songs, while private facilities offering early childhood education were focused on teaching the alphabets and numbers. Both methods are wrong," Kaul said.
Kaul said that children should not, according to accepted guidelines, be asked to memorise or coerced into learning something. Rather, she said, the anganwadi centres and private facilities should engage the kids in play and create situations where they learn concepts like shape and distance.
The report said that pre-school learning depended on the household environment too in terms of availability of print, learning support, a family's socio-economic status and the mother's education.
Yagnamurthy Sreekanth, head of the education survey division at the National Council for Educational Research and Training , said parental expectations were partly to blame for a child's low level of school-readiness.
"The parents expect their children to learn numbers, alphabets, arithmetic, etc. The private schools offering early childhood education accordingly provide formal education to children instead of preparing children for formal schooling," Sreekanth said.
He said children coming through the nursery system in private schools have to repeat what they have learnt in Classes I and II.
Kaul said there were no binding regulations for early childhood-care education centres, which meant these centres followed practices they thought were correct.