The socioeconomic disparities in early childhood development from the perspective of policy (NEP 2020)

Numerous aspects of a child’s early development depend on his/her household’s socioeconomic status. The socioeconomic status of the family decides the child’s ability to avail of fair opportunities for food, housing, education and other necessities. There is a large body of scholarly work that shows the stark socioeconomic divide that exists in accessing pre-primary education for girls and marginalised communities such as SC/ST which inadvertently hampers their cognitive development.

Initiatives such as the “Balika Shiksha” scheme, which has significantly increased girls’ enrollment in early education, and the “Early Childhood Education” program in Tamil Nadu, which has boosted the participation of marginalized children, demonstrate ongoing efforts to reduce socio-economic disparities. The introduction of the NEP-2020 further emphasizes the importance of equal access to education, starting right from early childhood.

The policy recognizes the importance of children aged 3-6 years having the universal right to high-quality early childhood care and education by 2030. This seeks to give the children an equal opportunity to access Pre-primary education, regardless of their sex or economic status at home. This will ensure a positive transition from early years to Class 1.

The purview of the National Education Policy 2020 to overcome socioeconomic disparity in early childhood development.

Language, cognitive, motor, socioemotional, and regulatory abilities and capacities are all developed in an interactive manner during the early years. Physical development, socioemotional growth, and a desire to learn are key areas of a child’s overall growth that lay the pathway for their early years to be well-rounded. Missing early developmental milestones could result in long-term health and social repercussions. Additionally, according to the National Education Policy (NEP), investment in early childhood education fosters children’s success in the areas of cognitive, socioemotional-ethical, physical and motor, communication, early language, literacy, and numeracy development.

The policy entails providing quality ECCE to young children, particularly those from socio-economically disadvantaged backgrounds. The aim is to facilitate comprehensive access to ECCE across the country, primarily in socioeconomically disadvantaged areas and districts.  The NEP also calls for strengthening the number of Angadwadi centers, equipped with excellent infrastructure, quality instructors and a stimulating learning environment with the aim to improve early childhood access.

The importance of early identification and intervention of socioeconomic disparities in early childhood

If suspected delays in children can be identified early, it can prove to be instrumental in timely and effective interventions. This will minimise the long-term consequences of socio-economic disparities. Socioeconomic disparities like lack of quality healthcare and nutrition, absence of early years education or patriarchal ideologies can often lead to developmental delays, poor health and deteriorating academic performance. Early identification involves recognising these inequities as soon as possible to address and counteract their impact.

Strategies like screening and assessment to identify children at risk, collecting data on socioeconomic factors like family income, etc., and collaborating with families to identify the cause will make it easier to understand where intervention is needed. Basically, identification and corrective measures should focus on development milestones, which are key indicators to assess disparities. Targeted interventions, once identified, can help bridge this gap and support the child’s overall development.

Early identification of socioeconomic gaps in the initial stages is based on timely intervention that is essential for a child to flourish and reach developmental milestones. It thus, requires stakeholders such as policymakers, educationists, societies where these children live and healthcare givers to ensure that all children have equal chances and resources despite their social backgrounds. Reduction of these disparities contributes towards an equitable society with every child having an opportunity to fulfil their full potential.

By Mrs. Damayanti Bhattacharya, Principal, Jasudben ML School & Bloomingdales Pre-Primary.

This article appeared in Women On Top online portal on 23rd June 2024

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