For well-being of toddlers, Anganwari services should be enhanced
SRINAGAR: Protests by Anganwari workers and Helpers have become quite common in J&K, as the protesting Anganwari workers and Helpers claim that J&K administration has failed to fulfill their long pending demand of salary hike, as their salary has not been revised since 2010, whereas all other neighbouring States have revised their share while share of Central Government (in honorarium of an Anganwari worker) is Rs 4,500, across all states & UTs including J&K. “What to talk of making revision in UT’s share in salary, J&K administration has even not paid salary in time despite having sanctioned budget in hand,” the protesting workers alleged.
Representatives of various sections of society, especially educationists, told STATE TIMES correspondent, that it is a genuine demand of Anganwari helpers and workers but the question here is should they provide early childhood care and education? National Education Policy, 2020 has rightly highlighted the importance of Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE), vital for child’s early cognitive, social and emotional development. However, National Family Health Survey-5 (NFHS-5) finds only 13.6 per cent of children enrolled in pre-primary schools. Therefore, nearly 1.4 million Anganwaris of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) across India must provide ECCE to millions of young children in low-income households.
Admittedly, with its overriding focus on health and nutrition, ECCE has hitherto been the weakest link of Anganwari system. Multiple administrative duties have left Anganwari workers with little time for ECCE. Existing system serves children in age-group of 3-6 years at best, ignoring infants and toddlers. Nevertheless, a child’s early learning begins at time of birth, initially through stimulation, play, interactions, non-verbal and verbal communication, and gradually enhances through observation and cues from immediate environment and increasingly structured activities. Many low-income families have started sending their children to low-cost pre-schools. Some educationists have suggested that owing to high workload of Anganwari workers in some areas of country , ECCE in Anganwaris would remain a non-starter – and, therefore, all Government primary schools should open pre-primary sections, with Anganwaris limiting themselves to age-group of 0-3 years. A meaningful ECCE programme in Anganwaris is not only a more intelligent and cost-effective strategy but is also feasible to implement through several concerted actions.
First, to design and put in place a meaningful activity-based ECCE framework that recognizes the ground realities with autonomy to reflect the local context and setting. Routine tasks of Anganwari workers can be reduced and non-ICDS work. Many Anganwari helpers have studied upto matriculation. With training and an additional incentive, helpers can be re-designated as childcare workers and handle routine work. Parents from weaker sections of our society demanded for this purpose, Anganwari hours should be extended by at least three hours by providing staff with an increase in their present remuneration. ICDS needs a change in policy mindset, both at central and state levels, by prioritizing and monitoring ECCE, they suggested, adding that same will additionally require all ICDS functionaries to be fully trained in ECCE, including assessment through group activities and child observation. Appropriate messaging and low-cost affordable teaching materials can be designed and made accessible to parents, they observed.