"The goal of early childhood education should be to activate the child's own natural desire to learn" – Maria Montessori.
Derived from German terminology, kindergarten means garden for children. The essence is pretty much there as kindergarten is where children bloom in their initial learning years.
Also known as pre-school, this educational program is specifically designed to prepare the little ones for their formal schooling. This is essential as pre-school prepares kids to transition from home environment to school. Children at kindergarten are moulded by engaging them in various games and activities like drawing, singing, reciting, dancing and more, which help them develop their fine motor skills, a love for learning and build social skills like sharing, making friends, communicating with educators, along with the basic pre-k academics.
"Pre-primary education provides children a solid foundation upon which all learning depends that makes every education stage more efficient and more productive."
In 2013, the Government of India adopted the National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy recognising the importance of investing in early childhood development and pre-primary education and its impact on lifelong growth, learning and breaking the intergenerational cycle of inequity and disadvantage. A National ECCE Curriculum Framework and Quality Standards accompany the policy.
As per UNESCO's blog, many surveys indicate a high enrolment (almost 80 per cent) in some ECCE programmes with wide variations across states, Uttar Pradesh with the lowest participation and Karnataka with the highest.
When children enter primary school without any pre-primary education and experience being in a social environment, without school readiness, it increases the probability of dropping out and not learning up to their full potential. Indian Early Childhood Education Impact Study (IECEI) 2017 reveals that when children have been through a quality early childhood education programme, they are likely to have higher learning levels, especially in the early primary grades.
In July 2020, the new National Education Policy as outlined by the Ministry of Education. As per the NEP 2020, schooling begins with the inclusion of ECCE from age 3. The policy states, "Universal provisioning of quality early childhood development, care, and education must thus be achieved as soon as possible, and no later than 2030, to ensure that all students entering Grade 1 are school ready."
The policy proposes the three years of ECCE and early primary grades (Classes 1 and 2) as a continuum of learning, referring to it as the foundational school stage. The implementation can happen with four recommended models in NEP 2020:
- Anganwadi centres in communities
- Anganwadi centres located within school premises
- Pre-primary sections in schools
- Standalone pre-schools
Since early education has been recognised as a foundation pillar that determines the learning journey for a child's life, the key benefits of early education/kindergarten for children are mentioned below.
- Play-based educational program: Kindergarten schools run on a play-based program. Kids at the school get to learn through fun play-based techniques. Activities are based on children's interest that helps them develop skills and build their individuality. Kids learn about early literacy through play and help them foster a knack for foundational learning concepts.
- Project-based learning: children usually engage in project-based learning techniques in kindergarten. They are guided by early education educators to engage in learning projects, helping them cultivate critical skills like collaboration, sharing, and creative thinking and supporting them to become investigators in their learning. Early education assessment also varies. Early Childhood Teachers are trained in assessing children's learning and development through play-based activities, as most learning happens through play since it is the best way to teach kids in kindergarten.
- Social and Emotional Development: Kindergarten provides opportunities for children's social and emotional development as they get to form friendships with peers of their age. This plays a significant role in the holistic development of children as having healthy and strong friendships help children learn positive social behaviours. The relationship development also helps the child develop communication ability as they learn to talk and interact with peers from their class. Other soft skills that children develop through kindergarten are empathy, care, cooperation and respect. Young children are egocentric, so having solid friendships in the early years help kids develop lifelong social and emotional skills.
- Builds a positive self-image: regularly engaging in activities and participating helps children with a creative outlet. They start to learn about themselves in minor ways like knowing their favourite colour or having a best friend. If children can develop self-confidence at this fragile age, it can help them in the long run. The activities-based nature of kindergarten helps children develop a positive image for themselves and boosts their self-confidence, individuals sense of self, sense of belonging and overall wellbeing.
Impact of the pandemic on kindergarten education and how it adversely affected children
The global coronavirus epidemic shut down schools overnight, and while older students shifted to an online medium of education, learning for the kindergarten struggled to great extents. The National Institute for Early Education Research (NIEER) surveyed the impact of the pandemic on young children and their parents. The findings from the survey reveal that the pandemic resulted in a significant loss of essential learning opportunities for young children. Participation in pre-school programs declined sharply from pre-pandemic levels. Parents' support for learning through book reading and teaching basic skills also fell sharply. So children lost learning opportunities both at home and in pre-school programs. Not surprisingly, parents reported unusually high rates of social-emotional or mental health problems for their young children.
The impact of school closure for the younger kids has adversely affected children and parents on various levels. UNICEF shares the stories of kindergarten educators and parents of kids that conveys the ground reality.
"The world that exists beyond one's family is introduced to a child through kindergarten."
Natia, a kindergarten educator for 13 years, shares, "children make new achievements daily. In children aged 3 to 6, every phase is important as they develop in each phase differently. With every step, children learn to face different obstacles, overcome their fears, and gain the skills that will encourage them to lead a fulfilling life. This learning and the developmental process can only occur in a social environment. home-schooling, individual therapy nor relationships with family members can yield the same results." she further adds, "an unexpected interruption of the process mentioned above, together with de-socialisation, uncertainty, and failed expectations of going back to kindergarten, can cause severe damage to the mental and physical development of a child."
On the other hand, the story of 5-year-old Liliana and her father David explains the situation of most parents who are working from home and are taking care of their kids' education.
David says that Liliana noticeably lacked social skills before she went to kindergarten. She always preferred spending time with family members and playing with her cousins. Then Liliana's parents decided to send her to kindergarten for encouraging social integration. Just when Liliana started to feel safe in the classroom environment and started developing trust and a good relationship with her teachers & other children, the lockdown began.
With home-schooling in action, it became difficult for parents to pay attention to kids' education and do their remote jobs. David shares how Liliana constantly expects her parents to be involved in her activities when her mother and father are around. Given the situation, he shares it is hard for them to focus on the job.
As a consequence, parents end up giving screens to the kids. David shares, despite his best efforts of sticking to a schedule that had a good time for Liliana, he couldn't prevent screen exposure for entertainment, which he considers undesirable in Liliana's daily routine. David found that it was impossible to combine work with the upbringing process and, at the same time, do everything right.
Despite the many difficulties, David and Liliana's situation is an example of how many parents with remote jobs, kids at home, some with multiple kids struggle to support kids' learning and do their jobs.
The question that arises is that despite parents' best efforts towards child education in the home, is it possible to develop the same skills that are supposed to be acquired in the kindergarten environment?
Educating the pre-schoolers in front of a screen for several hours every day requires constant supervision, technical assistance and convincing, a dire impossibility for many working parents, particularly essential workers and those juggling multiple children.
And even if parents somehow manage to do all of it entirely or to their best and a great extent, the truth is it's impossible to teach the essential skills that kids develop at pre-schools. Kindergarten is a pivotal period that sets the beginning of kids' educational journey and school years. Due to COVID, kids have lost upon the essence of their learning journey, the first step where they learn the basics of everything. If that gets altered due to pandemics, it will have a more significant impact on their educational journey simply because of the variations in their developmental stage.
Scope of technology in kindergarten education
Technology in kindergarten education is beneficial as integrating forms of multimedia can enrich the learning experience for kids. However, the online medium of instruction creates doubt about the personal touch, an essential component of kindergarten education that goes missing.
The needs of pre-school education and learning are unique and complex. The learning pedagogy includes components of play-based, multi-faceted, and inquiry-based learning. These components are facilitated with aspects of care and socialisation to ensure the holistic development of kids. Early education also demands higher parental and teacher engagement levels and requires constant assistance, support, and attention throughout the teaching process. All these components combined require in-person, face-to-face interaction. Thus, virtual education for kindergarten can be challenging, and the sudden shift due to pandemics has caught the educators off-guard. It has led to unforeseen effects on the learnings of kids at the kindergarten level.
Edtech solutions in the kindergarten space like Kutuki, BYJU's Early Learning App, OckyPocky, Kiddopia, PlayShifu, and TinyTapps have been in the news for the fantastic learning solutions they offer for early education. With such edtech solutions, you do not have to worry about the learning gaps due to changes in the instruction medium.
Determining the adoption of technology and to what extent can be a concern for parents, especially when taking care of their kids' Early Education.
This blog by the United States of America's Department Of Education defines guiding principles for using technology with early learners. The blog features Lisa Guernsey, author of Screen Time: How Electronic Media—From Baby Videos to Educational Software—Affects Your Young Child. She shares the principle of using the Three C's to determine when and how to use various techniques for early learners.
Guernsey defies the three C's: the content, the context, and the child's individual needs. She says while incorporating technology for early learners, educators and families should ask themselves the following questions:
Content: Before integrating any multimedia or sharing resources with parents, the provider must analyse how that content would help the kid learn, engage, express, imagine or explore.
Context: The social interaction that happens after and before the kid engages with technology plays a crucial role in determining its need in the first place. Before integrating any form of multimedia or technology, the provider must look into this aspect and see if it complements and does not interrupt children's learning experiences and natural play patterns.
Child's Individual Needs: The most crucial part of education is catering to the needs of every individual. Looking into the personalised needs of children will help the provider understand whether the technology adds to the growth and learning experience. Before introducing any new tech, consider reflecting upon if that technology is an appropriate match with this child's needs, abilities, interests, and development stage.
All in all, it'd be appropriate to say that kindergarten holds importance in a child's life and isn't just another year of child care. It acts as a vital stepping stone to primary education and benefits the child in the first five years of schooling. Many kindergartens may have gone online or shut completely with the pandemic going on. However, kindergarten education must be carried on for kids either by parents at home or virtually by kindergarten institutions. Kindergarten programs stimulate growth and brain development, helping children learn at their pace while preparing them for the "big school". This is the foundation of learning, and getting it right yields immense future benefits.