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Examining the Contexts, Practices and Costs of Early Childhood Care and Education in India: Responsive Models for Child Development

Principal Investigator: Dr Jyotsna Jha, Centre for Budget and Policy Studies, India

This project tackles the problem of how to scale quality early childhood care and education. It analyses the contexts, practices and costs of early childhood care and education (ECCE) for disadvantaged families/communities in two Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Bihar. The comparison of the different histories and practices of early childhood care within families as well as within existing ECCE institutions will reveal the interactions between economic, cultural, and psycho-social factors that are critical to the development of contextually responsive models of ECCE. Ethnographic inquiry, combined with an analysis of financial costs and service delivery, will provide inputs for a policy simulation exercise in which we examine how contextually-relevant programmes within the two states can be effectively scaled. In doing so, the project offers a methodology to generate responsive models of ECCE expansion that will be both nationally and internationally relevant.

Update Tuesday 21st August 2018

Towards Responsive Models of Early Childhood Care and Education in India


Improving the quality of ECCE in India

India has a significant child population, with 158 million children between the ages of 0-6 years. The Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS), India’s flagship child welfare programme, which includes the provision of early childhood care and education (ECCE), reaches 48 per cent of children of pre-school age. Despite the growth of private and non-government ECCE providers, 20 per cent of children between 3-5 years are not enrolled in formal centres.

Access to quality ECCE varies according to region, caste, ethnicity, religion and economic backgrounds (CBPS 2018). Issues of inadequate infrastructure and space, financing and the regulation of the sector have been identified as particular concerns (Rao & Kaul 2017, CPBS 2018). Despite a policy emphasis on Developmentally Appropriate Practice, the quality of education in ECCE settings also remain a key issue, and many practitioners and teachers are without adequate training in early years learning approaches.

Despite significant research and advocacy for ECCE at global and national levels, policy debates on improving the quality of provision often overlook the fact that notions of ‘quality’ ECCE are largely grounded in models and practices of childcare and education that have been developed outside of local communities. How can institutional forms of ECCE be more responsive to the communities they serve? Our project seeks to bring this question to policy debates on improving the quality of ECCE in India.


Whose models of ECCE?

Several studies on ‘best practices’ and ‘good’ models of ECCE in India illustrate how research and policy are informed by normative notions of early childhood care practices that tend to be drawn from urban, middle-class and upper caste contexts (see CBPS-UNICEF 2017, Kaul et al 2017, Swaminathan 1996). This has produced, for example, normative understandings of both the ‘Indian child’ and their ‘development’, papering over the ways in which children and communities across India are confronted with different histories, experiences and politics of education (Balagopalan 2018, Burman 2001). For example, several scholars note how the failure to recognise differing forms of sociocultural organisation within tribal and disadvantaged communities in India have meant that formal schooling has long failed to cater to the needs and priorities of children (Jha & Jhingran 2005, Nambissan 2010).

There is a need, then, for ECCE research and policy to take the contexts of marginalised communities more centrally into account. Communities themselves have concepts and models of childcare and education which can inform institutional practices. This has the potential to challenge dominant assumptions about how ‘quality’ ECCE is imagined and planned for, both nationally and globally. Responsive ECCE, then, necessitates the recognition that marginalised families are not waiting for ‘development’ or ‘to be developed’; they are already full participants in political modernity.


Towards responsive models of ECCE 

Our study seeks to identify how responsive models of ECCE can be developed. Through in-depth ethnographic inquiry, we examine the knowledge and practices of childcare and education within tribal and marginalised communities in two Indian states of Tamil Nadu and Bihar. These are areas which have different histories and contexts of education development.  The research focuses on the districts of Gudalur and Katihar, respectively, to understand more fully how ECCE is experienced and negotiated among Schedule Caste, Schedule Tribe and minority communities in relation to the political economy of ECCE in these regions.

Seeking to understand the multiple factors that shape community engagements with ECCE, we have developed a framework to understand the interactions between three main fields surrounding child development: the state, institutions and families/community. This will make evident how actors within each field conceptualise notions of ‘child’, ‘childhood’, ‘care’, ‘education’ and ‘development’ (represented in Figure 1 below).

 Diagram showing interacting fields of child development

Figure 1: Framework for understanding the interacting fields of child development


The framework allows us to trace the relationships between the state (policies, political economy), institutions of ECCE (public and private), and caregivers (including parents, extended families and the community). The study examines the physical, historical, social, economic, political and cultural contexts through which ECCE is constructed and negotiated. In doing so, we are able to identify the concepts, norms, practices and provisions adopted by each field and how these interact. Analysis across the three fields will identify critical features of responsive models. This will be brought to costed policy simulations to provide directions on how ‘quality’ ECCE can be both imagined and planned for.

We suggest this framework for thinking about responsive models of ECCE offers the possibility to move beyond ‘culture’ as an explanatory tool for ‘different’ practices of early childhood care and education across the globe. While recognising the heterogeneity of family practices, the framework shows how practices of ECCE are located within – and are shaped by - intersecting relations of the political economy. That is, different practices of ECCE cannot be reduced to ‘culture’ alone. Analysing ECCE in this way enables researchers and policy makers to consider the material and social conditions required to improve the ‘quality’ of ECCE provision which is, at the same time, responsive to the practices and needs of local communities. 

Update Tuesday 31st October 2017

While India has one of the largest state-based Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) programmes in the world, and an expanding NGO and low-cost private ECCE sector, a significant proportion of marginalised children do not have access to institutions providing quality early childhood care and education. With over half of children under five years of age living in poverty, with persistently poor outcomes related to health and education, improving the quality and reach of early childhood care and education is an urgent policy imperative.

There is a driving need to ensure that early childhood care and education is responsive to community practices and contexts. ECCE policy and institutional practices in India have been largely informed by norms that have emerged from outside the communities of their enactment, shaped particularly by theories of child development that have been developed in the west. A central aim of the study is to identify the concepts and practices of care and education of children within disadvantaged rural families, many of whom are from tribal communities, and to understand how institutional ECCE provision can be more responsive to the historical, cultural, and political economic contexts of child development in these communities. The research draws on ethnographic inquiry with families, communities, and ECCE providers (across state, NGO and private for-profit sectors) in the states of Bihar and Tamil Nadu.

Critical variables for the scaling of responsive ECCE will be identified, drawing on the ethnographic analysis of ECCE practices across states, institutions, and communities. Cost analyses of responsive ECCE models aim to address the policy and planning implications of the study. Given persisting issues with the governance, financing, and implementation of ECCE in India, this project offers policy-relevant knowledge for ensuring quality early childhood care and education for the most marginalised communities.

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