Despite having one of the world’s largest early childhood education and care program named ‘Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS)’ in operation since 1975, the impact of such provisions on children’s later development is still largely unknown in India. Empirical evidence from India suggests that attending preschool makes children more sociable but does not improve their cognitive ability.
Does Early Childhood Education (ECE) matter?
Childhood is the most important phase of human life and the strong foundation made during the early years can lead to improvements in children’s cognitive and social development. It has already been witnessed that ECE contributes substantially to children’s development and well-being and children attending early education programs is associated with improved performance in school1, 2. ECE is considered extremely effective for children from disadvantaged backgrounds as it can narrow the gap in early development between children from different socio-economic classes3.
On the contrary, evidence also suggests that early, extensive, and continuous nonmaternal care may have some development risks for young children and the larger society4, 5. Although ECE may increase cognitive skills at school entry, it may also increase behavioural problems and reduces self-control6. Therefore, there also exist some sort of disagreements regarding the effects of ECE programs on children’s development.
Based on the above backdrop, a study was recently conducted to understand whether attending preschool provide any benefit to children at the later stage of their life. Based on a sample of 1369 first graders, the study took place in India which is home of approximately twenty percent of the world’s child population in the age group of 0-6 years. The key question asked in this context was: do the children who attended preschool possess greater skills at the primary school level? Children’s accumulation of cognitive and social skills was assessed by respective class teachers using twelve indicators such as their attention towards class, ability to remember lessons, friendliness towards peers, etc.
Does attending preschool help Indian children?
The results from the study suggest that the ECE provisions in India are able to contribute to child development, but only partially. Children who attended preschool were found performing better, but this association was not uniform over different skill types. Although attending preschool seems to help children in improving their social skills, there was no such effect with respect to cognitive skills. Furthermore, in contrast to the parental notion about the private preschools being better than the ICDS ones, there was no such evidence found of any of the preschools having a relative edge over the other.
Given the fact that not only preschool attendance but also the quality of the preschool matters, one can hold the quality of preschools in India as responsible for not being able to provide any cognitive incentive to children. The focus of the ICDS programme seems more on the feeding aspects than on promoting behavioural change in childcare practices. The people responsible in these settings are often not very well educated and do not have the required skills to take on this responsibility7( p.30). Besides, the curriculum followed in the private preschools were also criticized for its quality and suitability for children8, 9. Therefore, both types of preschools seem lacking the quality to contribute to children’s cognitive development.
On the other hand, regardless of the quality of care and curriculum, attending preschool allows children to interact and communicate with peers and integrate themselves. Normatively, first friendships are established during the preschool years, and the acquisition of social skills such as helping and sharing, etc. during preschool predict later school engagement and academic success10, 11.
Therefore, by providing an improved and more scientific curriculum to the children, ECE provisions in India can help children in greater skill accumulation. Taking into account that parents mainly send their children to preschool for early education and school readiness12, emphasizing on the educational component of the ICDS programme could attract more parents towards it. Given the fact that the ICDS programme is mainly targeting the marginalized section of the society, expanding its coverage and improving the quality of service provisions would certainly help children from the disadvantaged backgrounds to build a strong foundation.
Weiland, C. & Yoshikawa, H. (2013). Impacts of a prekindergarten program on children’s mathematics, language, literacy, executive function, and emotional skills. Child Development, 84(6), 2112–2130.
DeCicca, P. & Smith, J. D. (2011). The long-run impacts of early childhood education: Evidence from a failed policy experiment. National Bureau of Economic Research. Working Paper 17085.
UNICEF (2016). The state of the world’s children: A fare chance for every child. Retrieved from: https://www.unicef.org/publications/files/UNICEF_SOWC_2016.pdf
Belsky, J. (2002). Quantity counts: Amount of child care and children’s socioeconomic development. Development and Behavioural Pediatrics, 23(3): 167-170.
Belsky, J. (2001). Developmental risks (still) associated with early child care. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry & Allied Discipline, 42(7): 845—859.
Magnuson, K. A., Ruhm, C. J. & Waldfogel, J. (2004). Does prekindergarten improve school preparation and performance?. NBER Working Paper No. 10452
UNESCO (2006). Select issues concerning ECCE India. Paper commissioned for the EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007, Strong foundations: early childhood care and education.
Kaul, V. & Sankar, D. (2009). Early childhood care and education in India’. New Delhi: NUEPA.
Swaminathan, M. (1998). The First Five Years: A Critical Perspective on Early Childhood Care and Education in India. New Delhi: SAGE.
Howes, C., Hamilton, C. E., & Philipsen, L. C. (1998). Stability and continuity of child-caregiver and child-peer relationships. Child Development, 69, 418–426.
Ladd, G. W., Price, J. M., & Hart, C. H. (1988). Predicting preschoolers’ peer status from their playground behaviors. Child Development, 59, 986–992.
Ghosh, S. (2019). Inequalities in demand and access to early childhood education in India. International Journal of Early Childhood. DOI: 1007/s13158-019-00241-8
About the Author:
Dr. Saikat Ghosh is a Postdoctoral Researcher at the Leibniz Institute for Educational Trajectories (LifBi), Germany where he is leading a project focusing on early childhood education in India. He is a former ISS Graduate (2011-12) and awarded his Ph.D. from the University of Bamberg in 2018. His research interest centers on poverty, education, inequality, and social policy analysis with a particular focus on developing countries. Formerly, he has worked for the Bamberg Graduate School of Social Sciences (BAGSS), Germany, UNU-WIDER, Helsinki, and the State Government of West Bengal, India.