The National Education Policy 2020 is upholding the vision of the Indian constitution to provide inclusive and equitable education in our pluralistic society. A landmark policy document that strengthens the aims of the National Education Policy is the National Curriculum Framework for Foundational Stage 2022. This policy addresses an integrated curriculum framework for children aged 3-8 years- in line with the 5+3+3+4 ‘curricular and pedagogical structure’ proposed by NEP 2020 for school education.
Globally research from various disciplines has highlighted that the first eight years of human life are critical for a child’s physical, cognitive and socio-emotional development. Research also tells us that even learning delays can be significantly reduced with the help of intervention in the early years. The document draws from the wisdom of various Indian philosophers and discusses the concept of Panchakosha Vikas (Five-fold Development) –the five layers include the physical development or ‘Sharirik Vikas’, emotional and mental development or “Mansik Vikas’, intellectual development or ‘Baudhik Vikas’, spiritual development or ‘Chaitsik Vikas’ and development of life energy or ‘Pranic Vikas’.
In order to develop the Panchakoshas in all children, the policy document draws from research on how children learn at the ages of 3 to 8 years. Research tells us that children develop various interests that shape their experiences and observations of the world around them; if appropriate learning experiences are designed, these early learnings are hard-wired into the brain, making children strengthen their knowledge base. Hence, the document lays emphasis to ensure that the curriculum is contextualized and rooted with content and pedagogy derived from children’s life experiences and that which is culturally and socially familiar to the context in which the child is growing. In its attempt for the holistic overall development of the child, the curriculum framework uses ‘play’ as the core pedagogic principle as it is the best-suited method of learning for children during the foundational years. It includes conversations, stories, songs and rhymes, music and movement, art and craft, indoor and outdoor games, field trips, being amid nature and playing with materials and toys.
The National Curriculum Framework for the foundational stage provides an “organic” and “well-framed” roadmap for teaching 3-to 8-year-old children, but it would be difficult to implement it in the absence of proper teacher training and infrastructural support. The policy aims to re-establish teachers, at all levels, as the most respected and essential members of our society, because they truly shape our next generation of citizens. The NCF-FS is designed with the Teacher as the primary focus since it is the teacher who shapes the learning experiences in the classroom; it is the teacher who is ultimately the torchbearer for the changes we seek. Thus, the perspective of the teacher must be carried by all, including syllabus and content developers, textbook writers, administrators, and other stakeholders. The National Council for Teacher Education (NCTE) is an important stakeholder in helping teacher education institutes conceptualize training programs at the pre-service level. The NCTE has been preparing the Integrated Teacher Education Programme (ITEP) with sufficient space for stage wise pedagogical approach to the development of children & childhood and to help address issues of Foundational Literacy and Numeracy by providing stage-specific specialized teachers.
It is of utmost importance to realize that the overall holistic development of the child cannot be truly realized till we acknowledge the importance of the social environment of the child outside the school set-up. It is to be noted that the impact of the home environment and of the community at large has a significant impact on the age cohort of three to eight years. This is the reason why the national curriculum framework for the foundational stage does not restrict itself to defining the roles of school administrators, education institutions and teachers but also that of thinkers, NGOs, parents and of community at large. It is only then that we can enable and enhance age-appropriate developmental outcomes. The need of the hour is to create a cooperative and informed eco-system where every citizen of the country puts in their share of wisdom and consciousness to help make the national curriculum framework a transformative document which is able to seek its vision of equitable and quality education for our young minds.
The national curriculum framework for the foundational stage has derived its essence from Mahatma Gandhi’s emphasis on the Head, Heart and Hand and the significance of social justice propagated by Jyotiba and Savitribai. It is based on the ideas of these great thinkers that the document is able to put forth the ideal of the kind of education young children will benefit from. The Department of Education, University of Delhi a premium institute of teacher education in the country conducted the first national seminar on the national curriculum framework for the foundational stage on 12 November 2022 with the Minister of State, Ministry of Education, Government of India, Dr Subash Sarkar as the chief guest and Professor Behar, Member Steering Committee, NCF as the keynote speaker. The Minister put forth the Government of India’s ‘decentralized approach’ emphasizing that the draft NCF will be translated into 22 languages as per the 8th schedule of the Constitution of India. Professor Behar too highlighted the key characteristics of the document, describing it as ‘simple, doable and effective’.
India has a distinct advantage of being a country with one of the youngest populations in the whole world. It is high time that we invest in accessible and quality early childhood care and education with efficient oversight and regulation to ensure high-quality and age-appropriate stimulation for all children. Efforts to improve early childhood development should be seen as an ‘investment’ and not ‘cost’. This is because quality early childhood education does not just ensure the future success of the individual but also promotes the long-term economic growth of the nation. Traditional childcare practises drawn out from the rich traditions of India are essential to stimulate all round development including moral values and social capacities in a young child. This calls for an enthusiastic involvement in the community wherein children are surrounded by caring adults and peers.
The Indian vision of education has since ancient times focused on the idea that education must foster both inner and external development as so shall be the spirit of the time ahead – a thought well ideated and envisioned in the NCF- Foundational Stage 2022.
About the Author
Prof Pankaj Arora is presently Head & Dean, Department of Education [CIE], University of Delhi. He has published more than 19 research articles in indexed/peer-reviewed Journals at a national and international level.