The strength of the nation lies in a healthy and educated child population. 11.07% of the population of West Bengal are in the age group of 0-6 years. It is the collective responsibility of the state and the society to ensure the well-being and fullest development of the children.
Despite forty years of grassroots level implementation of the ICDS, studies indicate that the pre-school component of the scheme has been unable to provide high quality care and education and the children are clearly not ready for school at the age of 6 years when they move out of the ambit of the program to join primary schools. This has forced a majority of population to take shelter in private nursery /Kindergarten for their children’s school readiness. Those who cannot afford these usually stay out of the ambit of education or eventually drop out of the school system due to glaring learning gaps which keep accumulating over the years.
In addition, studies have supported the idea of the criticality of the early years and the importance of investing in child development in the first 6 years. The National policy on ECCE too emphasizes on the need for early investment as development is most rapid in the early years of life. Evidence shows that children who receive assistance in their early years achieve more success at school. As adults they have higher employment and earnings, better health, and lower levels of welfare dependence and crime rates than those who don’t have these early opportunities. In view of above in the year 2012, the Department of Women and Child development and Social Welfare undertook an initiative to revamp the Pre School Education (PSE) component of ICDS. An activity based, thematic and age appropriate curriculum has been designed and implemented in the anganwadi centres; that ensure functioning of a structured preschool curriculum. The curriculum is now used in 4204 AWCs and targeted to 1, 19,418 centres across the state. Our Honourable Chief Minister has named such upgraded the anganwadi centres as Shishu Aloy or ‘Children’s Abode’.
In order to synergise efforts, the program tied up with a variety of sectors - the academic, the bureaucratic and the civil society. This has created an excellent model of convergence to show how innovative program designs can be effectively implemented. Dilution of efforts and understanding has been minimized and greater participation and sustainability of the program has been ensured. The program has benefitted due to strong ownership by the Government of West Bengal.
PARTNERSHIP: The highlight of the partnership was the convergence of the Department of Women and Child Development and the School Education Department (SED).The SED was instrumental in ensuring continuum and smooth transition to grade 1 during curriculum development.
Program partners, UNICEF, West Bengal; Universities; National Institutes for training & Development, and Civil Society organizations worked together for program design, program planning, gap analysis, curriculum development, capacity building plan and implementation and finally to set up the Shishu Aloy.
The combined efforts of ICDS functionaries and technical institutions put together developed a strategy where scaling up and dissemination model has been in built from the beginning where the Shishu Aloy embody all the pedagogical innovations and in turn act as nodal points from where ideas and techniques are diffused to influence other centres and communities to adopt the changes. The Shishu Aloy influence the perception of innovations and empower the ICDS Workers, helpers and community members to create their own centres of excellence.
The entire design is informed by a longitudinal study across India on the good practices of ECCE by unicef, National Training Institutes and universities.A Shishu Aloy has a display of children’s work, a kit of play based learning materials and an attractive classroom layout with activity corners.
ECCE is not confined in regular transaction of curriculum and activities now. Teachers, Supervisors and CDPOs are regularly enhancing the quality of ECCE practices through innovations. In Dhupguri ICDS project of Jalpaiguri and Hura ICDS project of Purulia CDPOs and Supervisors started finding centre having adequate space and reoriented their centres with the formulae of using Building as Learning Aids. Now the children are enjoying their learning and development through various joyful learning practices.
The Community has been making various kinds of contributions to the Anganwadi. A local Bank donates white paper in bulk needed for the children. Donations have come in the form of fans, clock and other essential things. Drawing books, toys and colour pens and crayons are given by local shops during festivals and through neighbourhood collection drives. The parents of the children lend a hand to the AWW during such collection drives. There is a “Jhuri” (basket) kept in the corridor in front of the centre where parents regularly donate vegetables. They also bring newspapers which are made into folders and portfolios for keeping the handiwork of the children. “Toy banks” and “Sabzi Banks” such as these have been set up in many Anganwadis across the State as a sign of appreciation and contribution from the community towards the Model Centres.