Tuesday, 17 March 2020

Incorporating the work of India’s pioneer early childhood educators into contemporary preschools.



Dear Educator,
Here is my full keynote given at the ECE conference of Education World In Mumbai - 2020
Incorporating the work of India’s pioneer early childhood educators into contemporary preschools.
Its time to be ‘Glocal’, especially in early childhood education. Its time to know what the latest global research advices about early care and education but it is equally important to understand that at the sensitive age of zero to six years it is the child’s mother tongue and culture that will have a lasting impact on learning (cognitive, socio-emotional) for life.
So while we are aware of Froebel, Maria Montessori and Rudolf Steiner as the leaders in early years education, what we should also be aware about is the history or evolution of early years care and education in our own country.
There were pioneers who took the best of research from around the world and adapted it for Indian culture and children. As early childhood educators it is time we know about their work, incorporate it, benefit from it and celebrate it.
The four pioneer early childhood educators who I feel we should read about and learn from for our contemporary preschool work are: Gijubhai Badeka, Rabindranath Tagore, Tarabai Modak- Anutai Wagh and Mahatma Gandhi. Of course there are many others too but lets begin with understanding their work.
Around the 1920’s the first foundations of early childhood education were being created in our country. Rabindranath Tagore backed the Montessori philosphy and started the Tagore Montessori schools across the country. Meanwhile Gijubhai a lawyer did not want his child to go through the same traditional education in school that he had suffered through. He read up on everything to do with early childhood education and parenting and was greatly impressed with the work of Maria Montessori. He was fondly called ‘Moochali Maa’ (mother with a moustache!) by the children.
Montessori influenced and inspired Gijubhai, but he adopted only those ideas that were possible to be implemented in India. One of the first things we can learn from Gijubhai perhaps is that it is good to be influenced by global practices but Adapt, don’t adopt global practices blindly. In 1920 Gijubhai Badheka set up the first Bal Mandir or early childhood education center.
In most schools the teacher waits for the children to greet them and say, ‘Good morning’, etc. but Gijubhai would greet every child at the door with their name, both at the beginning and end of the school day. It is after all relationships between students and teacher that brings true passion and interest in learning. Be the first to greet children in school, its not always about them saying, “good morning teacher”.
Gijubhai believed that any concert that the children put up to showcase their talents to parents, should be work done completely by the children in school. The kids put up their own annual day show, related to what they have learnt. An annual show should showcase what the children have enjoyed and learned throughout the year, they should be the directors, actors, designers of props etc. Sadly today annual days in schools have become song and dance extravaganza, choreographed by professionals! Maybe its time we rethink about making our end of the year annual concerts more about children.
Gijubhai was against corporal punishment and even created a ‘vanar sena’ a group of children that would look out for children who were beaten at home or by teachers and then report to Gijubhai who would intervene and educate the adults about the negative impacts of corporal punishment. Child Abuse starts at home and we should safeguard children from this because ‘touch should never become trouble’ for a child. The Early Childhood Association recently conducted a survey and found that parents still spank children, its time for a community conscience, its time to say #I will not, to spanking and corporal punishment
In schools.
Most educators and schools have lost track of educational goals in their quest to fill their school with children and their cupboards with student achievement trophies! Its time to revisit this poem written by Gijubhai Badheka and make it our vision and mission statement.
This Will Not Do…In Our School
(Excerpts from Prathmikshalama Shikshak,first  published in 1932, written by Gijubhai Badeka)
1.     It will do if the walls in our school are not covered with paint. It will not do if there is dust and cobwebs in corners.
2.     It will do if the floors are not  covered by carpets.It will not do if there is litter and dirt strewn on them.
3.     It will do if there is not a laboratory full of fancy equipment .It will not do if the little equipment  that is available is not ever used.
4.     It will do if there is not a great big library.It will not do if there are not at least a few books that children would enjoy reading.
5.     It will do if we are not great scholars.It will not do if we cannot give our children due respect, and an environment that encourages their development.
6.     It will do if we are not constantly engaged in ‘teaching’ children. It will not do if we interfere in their activities or threaten or force them to sit down to study.
Tarabai Modak was a social worker from Maharashtra; she also served as a Principal of a Women’s college in Rajkot. Inspired by Gijubhai’s experiments she joined him in his work in his balwadi. Together they started a training college for pre primary teachers in 1925, which proved to be first training college for pre primary teachers in India. And sadly till today India does not have a common Early Childhood Teacher Training Course, like it has the B.Ed. course. The new National Education Policy has included early years but has not defined a common early years teacher training program, whereas we had one as early as 1925!
On hearing a criticism that preschool education was meant only for the rich children, Tarabai took this up as a challenge and conducted a Balwadi in a Harijanwada at Amravati in Maharashtra. In 1936, she started Shishu Vihar Kendra at Bombay, which was a centre of Pre School Educational training. In 1945, she moved to Bordi & founded Gram Bal Shiksha Kendra. Later she moved in 1957 to Kosabad, tribal area.  Tarabai Modak and Sarla Devi Sarabhai (PSE worker) were called one of the two “ Montessori Mothers” as they have Indianized the Montessori education and popularized it.

Tarabai pioneered the concept of balwadi - a centre for preschool children. She started two types of balwadis at Bordi - Central Balwadis and Angan Balwadis. The central balwadis were run for five hours, had all essential educational materials and children were brought from their homes to the balwadis. The angan balwadis on the other hands were conducted in front of the parents in their courtyards; teachers would carry simple material and conduct songs and games on hygiene, cleanliness, oral language etc. Anutai Wagh was a professional colleague of Tarabai Modak and she along with Modak pioneered a programme whose curriculum was indigenous, used low cost teaching aids and was aimed at holistic development.

The concept of anganwadi in the ICDS scheme has been drawn from her work. And the inspiration that we can take from her work is that all children deserve a good education start to their lives. Its time for a public- private partnership to achieve this.

Rabindranath Tagore backed the Montessori pedagogy and established 'Tagore Montessorischools across the country in the 1940s.  Tagore wrote extensively on education and his story, ‘Tota Kahini’ (Parrot’s Training) is a satire on the education system and is sadly still relevant today. In 1929 the first International Montessori Congress was organised in Denmark. Tagore travelled to Denmark to attend this Congress and did you know that Jean Piaget was also part of this Congress! In 1940 when Montessori came to India, Tagore welcomed her with a letter. Tagore believed that education should begin with the training of instincts, emotions, self-reliance and co-operation. Then art, music and play should be introduced.
Today we take so many inspirations from global curriculum methods, but he advocated the following methods of teaching almost a century ago, which I think are so relevant even today for curriculum developers and educational boards designing their curriculum, both nationally and internationally.
      Peripatetic method: He was concerned with the association between body and mind in order to establish a total rhythm and harmony in life. The children should be taught drama and arts as compulsory subjects from the beginning. This is because the children need the opportunity to give expression to their feelings through their bodily movements.
      Activity method: He gave emphasis for activity method. He wanted children to understand the concepts through performing activities. For example to understand a verb “tear”, he used to make the children to tear some papers to master the concept of tearing.
      Environmental approach: He emphasized teaching through environment. He included more number of nature walks to teach the concepts for younger children. He believed in providing first hand experiences to children in their learning process through nature. The modern approach of learning by organizing “nature trails, in the subject of environmental studies are similar to the ideas of Tagore.
Its time to learn from Tagore and recognise that children are not unfinished adults and that the difference between children and adults requires different methods of learning.

In 1937 the scheme for new education or Nai Talim was introduced, but it was in 1944 that Mahatma Gandhi realized the importance of early childhood education.  "The real education begins from conception, as the mother begins to take up the responsibility of the child. It is very clear that if this new education is to be effective, its foundation must go deeper, it must begin not with the children but the parents and the community."
He gave the term 'Pre-Basic Education' for the education of children under seven years of age. Pre-basic education, he said, must aim at "the development of all their faculties, conducted by the school teachers in cooperation with the parents and the community in schools, in the home and in the village." "We labour under a sort of superstition that the child has nothing to learn during the first five years of its life. On the contrary, the fact is the child never learns in after life what it does in its first five years.”  

The Pre-basic school is geared to the needs of the following four groups of children:
       Stage 1: Conception to birth
       Stage 2: Birth to 2 and a half years
       Stage 3: 2 and a half years to 4 years
       Stage 4: 4 years to 7 years
       The first two stages involve both the mother and the child. 
       Children from 2 and a half to 4 years of age are provided stimulating play activities. They are free to act, to move about and to choose their own activities. 
        After four years of age, the child participates in activities like cleaning the classroom, measuring and weighing things, and other similar activities. ' 
It is so heartening that the above is incorporated in the new NCERT preschool curriculum and the National Education Policy.

As we struggle to force handwriting skills on preschoolers, we must remember what Mahatma Gandhi had to say about the teaching of handwriting to young children, maybe this would cure us from our obsession to ensure that children write before they can read or understand!
“ I consider writing as a fine art. We kill it by imposing the alphabet on little children and making it the beginning of learning. Good handwriting is a necessary part of education, but I am now of the opinion that children should first be taught the art of drawing before learning how to write. Let the child learn letters by observation, as he/she does different objects such as flowers, birds etc. and let him learn handwriting only after he has learnt to ‘draw’ objects. First teach the child to draw straight lines, curves, triangles, birds, flowers, leaves, as that would help the child to draw and not to scrawl alphabets! Children should be taught to read before they learn to write.”
I hope curriculum designers are reading this, it is also mentioned in our new NCERT preschool curriculum, so download a copy and match your preschool curriculum to it to ensure that what these ECE pioneers worked so hard to prove is being practiced in our schools so that our children grow up learning what is developmentally appropriate.

All the ideas like experiential learning, hands on learning, play way, that we are bringing in our schools and thinking that they are new, were already practiced by our ECE pioneers even before independence. Its time to revisit, relearn about them and stop reinventing the wheel! Or at least stop giving credit for the wheel to others! Its time to celebrate our Indian ECE pioneers. Here are some books written by them that you can read for more inspiration and learning:
·         Gijubhai Badheka-  Divasvapna: An Educator's Reverie
       Rabindranath Tagore- A Parrot’s Training
       Anutai Wagh- Kosbadcha tekadivarun
       Mahatma Gandhi- Basic education
Early Childhood Association and Association for Primary Education and Research in partnership with Education World are proud to announce an Educators Pilgrimage to visit the inspirational places and works of these 4 ECE pioneers: Gijubhai Badheka, Tarabai Modak, Mahatma Gandhi and Rabindranath Tagore. Join us on this immersive education pilgrimage. More details are given in this issue.

This article is written by Dr. Swati Popat Vats, a passionate crusader for the upliftment of early childhood education in our country, for ALL children. She is the President of the Early Childhood Association and Association for Primary Education and Research and is also the President of Podar Education Network where she heads 500 early childhood centres and 110 Early Childhood Teacher Training Programs.  She can be contacted on ecapresidentindia@gmail.com and urges all educators to visit www.eca-india.org and become a member and join this crusade to make early childhood education for all children in India a reality.