Preschools in India were not regulated in the past; there were no norms or rules they needed to adhere to. This meant that over the years, early education quality had very varied and divergent perspectives. All kinds of experiments were passed off as innovations in early childhood learning. Preschools used fancy terminologies of various pedagogies without having much understanding of their philosophies. With all good intent, many passionate entrepreneurs created their own interpretations of the renowned education thinkers Montessori, Stainer, Dewey or Krishnamurthy. The problem was never with their intent the problem was with their execution without deeper understanding and impact analysis.
While a few schools stood out as centres of excellence, the preschool space was largely experimental, and all kinds of experiments were marketed and promoted. Like all other consumers, the parents know very little and easily fall for the promotions. This led to the mushrooming of mass early-learning factories. All kinds of stories were sold, and parents bought them. There were preschools inspired by Finland that admitted kids as young as 2, whereas the ground reality is that kids don’t go to school in Finland till they are 7. Montessori schools took pride in giving grades to children, going completely against the very philosophy and idea of play. The focus of many schools was on infrastructure. In contrast, the vital requirement for a preschool is the quality of experiences the child gets, which normally has nothing to do with fancy infrastructure. The more natural the environment, the more children can benefit, but fancy floors and colour-painted walls replaced the mud fields and wooden toys.
Despite all their follies, the preschool industry thrived in India until 2020. Two things changed their world – the Pandemic & NEP. Post-pandemic parents realized the importance of school and the need for children to socialise and interact with other children. This is a good sign for the future of early learning; tech can never replace the real world.
NEP 2020, for the first time, has given focus and outlined recommendations for early childhood care and education for ages three and onwards. NEP focuses on children’s physical and motor, cognitive, socio-emotional-ethical, cultural/artistic, communication and early language, literacy, and numeracy development skills. There is a strong message in this recommendation, literacy & numeracy for early learning are at the fringe; the focus is on nurturing young lives, not teaching them. Children need to learn skills that will enable them to interact and live better in their world and environments.
The post-pandemic world & the NEP recommendations have created a great opportunity for early learning centres to realign theirs. Early learning is all about creating environments that encourage children to enjoy the process of learning.