- ECCE is enshrined in the Indian Constitution (article 21-A) to provide free and compulsory education for all children up to 14 years of age.
- Yet, its implementation remains tentative for many reasons, primary of which is the absence of a clear government guideline regarding which Ministry is tasked with policymaking and implementation.
- In 1986, the government announced a National Policy of Education (NPE), which viewed ECCE as an important input.
- In 2002, the government passed the 86th Constitutional Amendment, comprising two insertions: Article 21-A which made the Right to Education (RTE) of a child between six to 14 years, a fundamental right; and Article 51A(k) that assigned the “fundamental duty” of educating a child to their parent or guardian.
- Additionally, the old Article 45 was substituted by a new one through the same Constitutional amendment which introduced the concept of ECCE and provided for a directive to the State to bring into effect the mandate of providing ECCE to children up to 6 years of age.
- It is mandated under the Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education (RTE) Act 2009.
- In 2020 the Ministry of Education (MoE) released the National Education Policy (NEP) 2020, which rekindles the aspirations for ECCE.
RTE Act 2009:
- The Right of Children to Free and Compulsory Education Act 2009 (or the RTE Act) was enacted in 2009 and its primary objective is a verbatim reiteration of the aim of Article 21 of the Constitution.
- It imposed an enforceable duty or legislative mandate upon the respective Central and State governments to provide ECCE under section 11, as provided for under non-enforceable Article 45 of the Constitution.
- The Preamble of the RTE Bill refers to Article 45 as one of the components of the RTE Act.
- In turn, this created a corresponding enforceable right of the citizens to demand ECCE in the law, as a matter of statutory right.
Governing Ministry issues:
- RTE Act provide for rulemaking powers of the Union government as well as the appropriate Ministry for the implementation of the law.
- The Ministries can administer and act only on the subject matters specifically allocated to them.
- The matter of “elementary education” has been allocated to the MoE through the Department of School Education and Literacy.
- However, there is no mention in the Government of India (Allocation of Business) Rules 1961 about the MoE being tasked to provide ECCE.
- It clearly shows that ECCE is not an allocated business of the MoE.
- Indeed, ECCE is a subject matter that relates to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (MoWCD) through the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) and the deployment of Anganwadi Centres (AWCs) that implements it.
- Multitude of services related to early childhood care (i.e., health, nutrition, and immunisation, among others), the component of education has often been given low priority across the country
- Duplicity: Neither the MoWCD nor the MoE has a clear demarcation of each other’s subject matters and have passed the responsibility of ECCE to the other.
- ECCE in India has long suffered from scarce funding—in 2020-21, the public expenditure on early childhood care and education was a mere 0.1 percent of GDP.
- ICDS is poorly governed and implemented such as deficiency in the number of AWCs and in the infrastructure and skilled workforce of the centres that are striving to remain operational.
- There is no fund allocation to MoWCD specifically for ECCE that requires to be reviewed by CAG.
- Non-recognition of MoWCD’s role for ECCE under the RTE Act, no budgetary allocation
- Budgetary allocation for the RTE Act is taken from the Samagra Siksha Scheme –
which is an umbrella program for school education extending from pre-school to grade 12 that focuses on school effectiveness, access, and learning outcomes.
- According to MoWCD, ICDS has four pillars: early childhood care education and development; care and nutrition counselling; health services; community mobilisation awareness, advocacy and information; and education and communication.
- The Ministry’s own data shows that there has been no significant spending on the first component, i.e. ECCE.
- Failure of the government to implement the letter and spirit of Section 11 of the RTE in relation to ECCE (the Bombay High Court, in Dr. Jagannath S/o Shamrao Patil v. Union of India & Ors)
- NEP 2020 outlines the following strategies:
- strengthening and expansion of AWCs
- co-location of AWCs in primary schools
- co-location of pre-primary grades in existing primary schools
- increased standalone pre-primary schools
- Recognise which Ministry has been allocated to provide for ECCE
- the responsibilities of pre-school education or ECE can be undertaken by the MoE but the overall charge of ECCE should be retained with the MoWCD.
- An important distinction also needs to be clarified between legislation and policy. NEP 2020 is a policy document and mostly directional or aspirational in nature. In order to operationalise the spirit of the policy, legislative changes are needed to both the RTE Act as well as the business conduct rules.
- Recognise and popularise the concept of ECCE being a vital part of the RTE Act including budgetary allocation specifically for ECCE, repeal of overlapping and diverging schemes including SSS as well as ICDS.
- It will create justiciability: i.e., the right of an aggrieved person to approach Court(s) while holding concerned ministry accountable for its inactions, ineffective implementation, and non-compliances in providing ECCE.
- The National Education Policy 2020 has come at the right time and provides a beacon of hope that adequate attention will henceforth be paid to ECCE.
- However, NEP remains essentially an aspirational policy, and not an enforceable legislation.
- For substantive changes to happen in the domain of ECCE, the country’s lawmakers need to step up and, first, revisit Section 11 of the RTE Act considering the increased advocacy for ECCE.
- It is also crucial to understand that while ECCE adopts a more holistic approach to the overall development of younger children, the mandate and expertise of delivering education lies with the MoE and not MoWCD.
- This would need to be adequately translated into practice, not just through laws but also through adequate financing and standardised policies.
Source: Orf Online