Early intervention in education makes a positive difference that brings long lasting effects on child development. In most of the public schools in Pakistan katchi classes has been remained as a means to get children acquaint with school setting; since no education policy made any difference to ECE so far. This need shows a growing awareness of how to identify target groups for ECE-intervention and how to pay focus on ECE teachers’ education along with assessment and evaluation methods in early learning.
Pakistan is committed to Dakar Framework of Action, the first goal of which is to expand and improve ECE for all children, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged. The Education Policy 1998-2010 developed a policy naming National Plan of Action (NPA) to support education with special emphasis on early education for initiating steps in ECE such as; to grow the concept of holistic development and provision of additional budget and recruitment of teachers. Though, these steps were smart and progressive to meet commitment of Dakar Framework of action nevertheless, implementation process has not started yet due to scarcity of the resources and lack of proper planning. Regarding this, the NEP 1998-2010 clearly states that historically ECE has not been formally recognized by the public education in Pakistan. The traditional ‘katchi’ class in most of the public sector schools has remained a familiarization stage towards formal schooling for un-admitted, young children. A small portion of the Grade I National Curriculum is taught to this group which is inadequate to meet the ECE set standards globally. Thus, a great number of children ages 3-5 are out of the school in overall country. The current report of Pakistan Education Statistics shows 53% NER at ECE level which demands for an urgent ECE Program in general public education. Pakistan being a signatory of Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) on education, committed to bring ECE age children under primary education in the schools.
UNESCO report shows, province wise ratio of 3-5 years age children out of the school in provinces; that is 50% in Punjab, 78% in Baluchistan, 61% in Sindh and 65% in KP. Considering these facts, 2001-2015 National Plan of Action for EFA (2001-2015) develops a complete action plan for mainstreaming ECE in formal education system. The action plan suggests to sensitize stakeholders along with assurance of allocation of funds in schools. Moreover, the action plan suggests to encourage and involve private sector in ECE development initiatives. The emerging public school condition identifies the need of a comprehensive ECE plan considering three Need Improvement Areas across the country which are; (i) improved governance, (ii) Wider level participation & active Engagement of Local Community and (iii) quality ECE Education.
1. Governance and Management
Weak governance has been remained the major cause of low quality education in all levels in the country. The education system has been suffered due to various reasons such as lack of professional will, political interference, favoritism and lack of a professional approach.
ECE is holistic approach that needs adequate knowledge of all stakeholders along with good management of resources at school and department level. The need of district level ECE plan along with an action plan by involving School Principals, ECE teachers, District Education Department and PTCs is crucial. Adding that, the school Principals must possess a high level of professional will and enthusiasm to bring effective ECE system in school. However, following are some essential steps to ensure effective ECE mechanism in a public school system.
• Circle ADOs must have adequate administrative powers and mobility for their assigned tasks in schools.
• Delegation of power from education department to school principal and teachers is effective to bring improvement in governance at school level.
• Recruitment and appointments of (ECE Diploma holders) teachers in ECE class
• Distribution of sufficient resources for effective governance
• Better allocation and management of human and material resources at school level.
• Consistent and meaningful communication and strong coordination between community and managers.
• Develop public private partnerships for effective mechanism at school and community
• Training of Principals on areas such as; ECE School Management, Record keeping, Effective Liaison between Education Department and School
• Development and Implementation of School Plan and practice
• Formative and ongoing Assessment procedures in ECE system
• Identification and mobilization of local human and material resources
Preparing Principals to Support ECE Teachers
Principal’s capacity building is fundamental need in teaching in terms of impact on child outcomes. School Principal as a key leader has a positive impact on schools challenging circumstances, such as poverty, high teacher turnover, and limited resources. Efficient Principal finds out solutions to overcome problems with active communication and coordination along with education department and community representatives. He /She supports teachers in developing teaching plans and generate resources to cater learning in school. In most of the public schools’ principals and Education Officers are not ready to take responsibility to support ECE teachers, hence they are oblivious of ECE. As a result, public education cannot meet the set targets in ECE. However, Principal preparation systems can be improved to better equip primary school principals to support improvement in teaching and learning, and guide teachers in using curricula and assessments in the earliest grades. In this regard, many NGOs are extending their hands towards government through training and through provision of resources to the schools. Hence an effective ECE system requires following tangible steps to prepare School principals ahead;
1. Training and Capacity Building of principals along with teachers and Parents Teachers Councils (PTC) on ECE and its significance in child development
2. Development of Early Childhood Policy for regulation of ECE age group, budgeting and monitoring action and care rules and regulations
3. Develop a proper structure of ECE program in terms of child/teacher ratio and the teacher’s qualification
4. Develop an outline of essential knowledge, skills, disposition and values that children at different ages can be expected to gain
5. Ensure On-going coordination meetings, orientation sessions, reflective dialogues, feedbacks, table talks, open discussions, ongoing interactions and collaborative meetings among Principal, teachers, PTC and parents as well as with Education officers
6. Develop formative and ongoing assessment mechanism that can be extended from ECE to class 2 and 3 in the light of minimum leaning standards in revised ECE National Curriculum 2007
2. Wider level participation and active Engagement of Local Community
Wider community participation along with strong coordination is essential to educate parents and community on ECE to keep balance between school and home. Reformation and activation of PTC with the involvement of Parent Teacher Committees (PTC) is essential. Other local level bodies such as Mother Support Group and Parents Active Group can play effective role to support parents and teachers in arranging school and home level activities in ECE. Activities such as enrollment and awareness campaigns, door visits, events, reading and story- telling days and get-togethers exceed wider level participation and active engagement of local community in ECE and primary education.
4. Ensure Quality Education
Quality education in early childhood lays a strong foundation for the entire education life of the child. Studies demonstrate that early year experiences have a strong influence on connecting of the brain which results in development of learning domains and capacities. Pre-school environment, experiences, interaction, stimulation and demonstration of love & care affects learning capacity in the school system as well as behavior. It develops physical and mental health and capacity to learn throughout childhood and adult life. Through ECE program 3– 5 aged children can be provided a learning environment to ensure holistic development in the school. A number of 25-30 children of focused age group can be enrolled in one class and facilitate them with ECE High Scope Teaching Approach. The High-Scope approach is Pre-school teaching based on the principles of active learning and positive interactions with adults and peers. High Scope Educational Research Foundation explores that the High-Scope Preschool Curriculum promotes children’s development and provides lasting benefits into adulthood. To initiate a strong ECE system in public schools following measures can be taken urgently;
• Develop public private partnerships for piloting ECE in public schools
• Allocate funds to all primary schools to integrate ECE system with primary education
• Recruit ECE Diploma holder teachers for ECE classes
• Train ECE teachers on the base of revised ECE National Curriculum
• Ensure implementation of the revised ECE National Curriculum in all public schools
• Equip ECE classrooms with learning corners and learning materials along with spacious place for children for play and to carry group activities
• Maintain cleanliness and Improve infrastructure of the classrooms to make schools attractive and conducive
• Ensure the usage of modern technology in ECE classes
• Prepare ECE code of conduct for teachers to develop child friendly culture in the school
• Provide ECE teaching material and guidebooks to teachers to maintain ECE standards
• Develop formative assessment system to evaluate teaching and child learning outcomes
Investing on ECE is instrumental that brings long-lasting effects on future education of the child. Child’s motivation and readiness towards primary schooling have strong links to quality ECE interventions in school. Factor of Low access rates in the public sector are due to absence of delivery of quality education which has convinced parents to shift their children to private schools. Realizing this fact, National Plan of Action for EFA (2001-2015) suggests to encourage private institutions and NGOs to extend their support in early childhood education and primary education. Hence, it can only work through building strong public private partnerships in education.