Keeping in mind the essential need for people to learn and share about early learning in the digital age, we at EdTechReview started a series of posts around trends and issues in early education last week, and reached out to school leaders having success stories in early childhood education.
The second post in the series collects inputs from the President of Podar Education Network - Ms. Swati Popat; who talks about the factors which set them apart in this early learning space.
1. What are the emerging trends you notice in early childhood education (in India or globally)?
In India the trend is that more and more preschool owners are now ensuring/adopting an early childhood philosophy to their program. So one can see schools advertising themselves as Reggio inspired, or Steiner, EYFS, etc. Globally the trend is to move away from heavy academics and focus more on play. Another global trend that I hope will be seen in India soon are 'Forest Schools'. These are schools in the outdoors, with no walls or roof, children are in the outdoors, usually in parks and forest areas.
2. What are some of the major challenges of early learning and running a preschool (chain) in a country like India?
a. First challenge is to appoint quality teachers, either you do not get trained teachers so one has to invest in their training and if we do get then we have to maintain high salaries or else we will face attrition.
b. The second challenge is fees and is linked to the first one, if one wants to have a global quality preschool then one has to have trained, quality teachers who have to be paid high salaries (naturally) and then a higher teacher child ratio needs to be maintained. To do this preschools have to charge higher fees which is not acceptable to parents in India because they bear the full fee unlike their counterparts in most countries where the government subsidizes the fees.
3. How do you think your schools differ from others?
Our schools differ from other schools on the following points:
i. We are the only preschool chain who has based their curriculum, training and practices on brain research, after all if 98% of the child's brain develops in the first five years then it is important that all our practices in the preschools years are brain compatible and not brain antagonistic.
ii. we are the first and only preschool chain to use the EYFS curriculum of the government of UK, it has 7 defined areas of learning and the assessment is linked to the 7 areas.
iii. Because we have our own teacher training institute (Podar Institute of Education) the quality of our teachers is excellent.
iv. we stress on high standards of child safety in all aspects, be it infrastructure, body safety, fire safety etc
v. we have a unique philosophy- KIDUCATION- which means education from the point of view of the child. Hence we were able to convince parents to do away with cursive writing, redundant red and blue line books and many more progressive changes
4. What are your plans for expansion (in India or abroad)?
At present we have 280 centers in India and we will expand to newer territories like north east, Delhi, NCR. We have 2 centers in UAE (called Little Wonders) and we will be expanding there too.
5. How does your chain of schools utilize the power of technology for improved early education?
a. Technology is something that we have embraced from the very beginning but with caution especially for the early years. So we do use iPads but not for reactive senseless games but for full integrated projects with our kindergarteners, do have a look at our Mahatma Gandhi project on iPad.
b. We now have sensory rooms in our preschools, photos attached, this is a new concept in technology use in our schools and the reason for introducing it is that children are constantly in brightly lit spaces with cacophony of sounds. The technology gadgets that they usually use control the flow of the interaction and thus they are unable to experience the world with their other senses. In our sensory rooms called sensory spas, children are able to use these gadgets to design their own games, at their own pace and feel a sense of relaxation and achievement- a unique combination.
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