Neuro-science has confirmed the crucial role of 0-8 years in child’s holistic development. It is the period of honing and molding of a child wellbeing. Modern research confirms that during the first three years, a child experiences the most rapid growth and development. During this period, optimal learning takes place as a result of interaction with adult and given environment. Research illustrates that conducive learning environment at early childhood level boost creativity, critical thinking, greater engagement and intrinsic motivation towards learning process (Watkins, 2010).
Twentieth century is declared a century of child discovery. Child activities and learning experiences were observed critically by many researchers, psychologist and educationists that resultantly different theories and educational approaches emerged. All these theories provide rich knowledge and information about the importance of early childhood learning and development.
Most of the theorists and researchers talked about the importance of hand-on activities in child learning and development process such as, John Comiuns said, children learn to speak by speaking, write by writing and reason by reasoning.
To add to this Johan Pestalozzi was against cruel punishment and rote learning. He believed that a child learns through participating in a learning process, through meaningful activities and in grouping of various ages so that the elders can help the younger ones. Moreover, he says that teachers must teach in a naturalistic way. This has been identified by Fredrich Froebel the “father of the kindergarten” “child’s garden” who believed that education should produce a pure, faithful, and holy life. He thought that everything in the universe functions in relationship to the God and every individual has a specific purpose that he/she has to fulfill in his life. Froebel used the garden as a metaphor to represent the childhood education. Moreover, he said like a flower blooming from a bud a child also grows according to their laws of development. Therefore, kindergarten education follows the nature of a child and the child natural activities to help him in learning process. In addition, he believed that education should begin from concrete and move to the abstract. The work of John Dewey in ECE adds a significant contribution. He believed that, students should be involved in real-life tasks, challenges and learn by doing.
Besides, much acclaimed and recognized particularly in Pakistan is Maria Montessori approach to schooling that focuses on a carefully prepared environment employing self-correcting manipulative materials. Montessori believed that child learns best by direct sensory experience and early education has a crucial role in a child’s later development.
Furthermore, Jean Piaget’s major contribution has been in helping the teachers and parents to understand how children learn. His view of how children’s minds work and develop has been very powerful, particularly in educational theory. He worked on how children increase their capacity to understand the world that is why he put emphasis on hands-on activities.
On the other hand, Vygotsky talked about the role of adult in scaffolding the learning process by naming it zone of proximal development. He expressed that a child need guidance and support for a specific time to be independent.
Moreover, in 1962 David Wiekart developed High Scope Approach. In high scope MAMACHOLASU (material, manipulation, choice, language and support) ingredients of active learning gives an edge to the child to interact with the available material, manipulate it according to his/her own choice and share his/her learning through language with the support of a train caregiver. The day routine is design in such a way that help child work independently and with peers to explore, experiment, experience and build on his/her learning. All this improve his/her social, emotional, spiritual, cognitive and physical competencies. Such environment contributes in child overall learning and development.
In this approach teacher/caregiver provides a platform where a child gets a chance to discover and experiment in order to assimilate, associate and accommodate learning. This is supported by Bruner (1966) who discuss the child physical stimuli in three modes that are en-active, iconic and symbolic. He shared, that to develop cognitively human use five senses that helps them take a picture of a specific thing and build his competencies to define it with language. That’s why schools should encourage teachers/caregivers to find creative ways or innovative ideas for children to help them enjoy their learning process and develop holistically.
Realizing the pivotal role of early years, the recent educational world has kept the ECE on top priority. Resultantly, different countries are investing a considerable amount of their budget for early childhood development & Education quality improvement.
Pakistan is one of such country that focused this area and developed 2007 ECE curriculum. The curriculum is based on High Scope Approach with nicely defined thematic areas, core competencies, learning outcomes and a detailed view of classroom management and daily routine plan. Unfortunately, even after passing a decade the teachers/caregivers have no access and understanding of the curriculum.
To change the situation and get promising results, our Govt should focus on early childhood education. Provide conducive teaching learning environment and develop the teachers’ competencies and pedagogical skills.
The Govt should provide curriculum copy to all schools and allocate a big chunk of the budget for education especially the early childhood education.
On the other hand, the teachers/ caregivers should realize their role, own their responsibility, and contribute positively. They should work sincerely with children, explore their developmental needs and work on their own knowledge so to deliver the concepts in an effective way with full decorum.
Adding to this, fair and merit based teacher hiring should be ensured by Govt schools.
Moreover, highly qualified teachers should be inducted with attractive packages. The teachers/caregivers should be provided professional development opportunities and monitor for quality assurance.
Govt should introduce educational research wing to explore the needs and impact of early childhood education and come up with strategic way forward.
To sum up, Education is the yardstick of a developed country and early childhood education their first priority. If we want to be called a developed country, we must change our priorities.