The Ganga Saran Sinha Committee (1968) spelt out the objectives of preschool education very clearly and suggested that priority in services be given to vulnerable groups, such as the economically backward, tribals, and those in the least prestigious caste groups.
The Study Group on the Development of the Preschool Child was set up in 1970 and submitted the report in 1972. The recommendations are really comprehensive. They included integrated services combining education, health, and welfare, and special attention to vulnerable children.
The strategies suggested were to mobilize community support and involvement, employing local women in rural areas, part-time employment of educated women and students, maximum utilization of existing institutions and facilities and adoption of a variety of models. The keynote of the report is in the following statement:
"The first five years are crucial for all forms of development. The effects of a deprived or abundant environment are most telling at this stage and investment in human resources development at a later stage may well prove a waste, if the foundations have been neglected."
The ICDS was inaugurated as a consequence. As we can see, there has been some official interest and plenty of expert advice available from the decade before Independence to the present. And yet we are short on implementation.
The question before us: What must we do to hold the Government to its promises? What can we do as civil society to change the opportunity structure of deprived children, in order to ensure that early childhood education is a right?
In 2006, the WHO had set up a Commission for Social Determinants of Health, with networks for selected areas. The Knowledge Network for ECD met for two Conferences in April and October 2006. The Final Report has just been released (as of July 7. 2007).
I am quoting two excerpts from the report to emphasize the continuity of expressed concern for the young child. The report noted that, "economists now assert, on the basis of available evidence, that investment in early childhood is the most powerful investment a country can make, with returns over the life course many times the size of the original investment."
"While genetic predisposition and biophysical characteristics partially explain how environment and experience shape development, the best evidence leads us to consider the child as a social actor, who shapes and is shaped by his or her environment. This is known as the 'transactional model', which emphasizes that the principal driving force of child development is relationships. Because strong nurturing relationships can make for healthy early childhood development, socio-economic circumstances, despite their importance, are not fate."
Fate is negotiable.
About the Author: Dr. S. Anandalakshmy has a doctorate in Human Development from the University of Wisconsin at Madison. She took up teaching at Lady Irwin College, where she initiated the post-graduate Deptt. in Child Development and headed it until she took over as Director of the College. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org