ECE in a Box

Background

ECE (Early Childhood Education) is one of the most effective investments in development. Multi-disciplinary research from economics, neuroscience and education has demonstrated that maximum brain development occurs between the ages of 0-5 and that quality ECE is critical in determining a child’s life outcomes in terms of health and income levels. Further evidence also links ECE to social returns such as lower crime rates and better citizenship. Quality ECE also leads to better learning outcomes in early primary grades in the short term.

The oldest and most cited early childhood intervention is the Perry Preschool study conducted in Ypsilanti, Michigan starting 1962. For the study, researchers examined the long term societal benefits of providing high quality pre-schooling to a small number of disadvantaged 3 to 4 year-old African American children. It was found that every public dollar spent on the programme saved US$ 7.16 in tax dollars by the time the children turned 27. In India, there is an ongoing 5 year longitudinal study conducted by the ASER Centre and the Centre for Early Childhood Education and Development (CECED) that tracks close to 13000 children across 3 states in India. Initial data indicates that children who were exposed to high quality ECE were more school-ready than those who were not. Specifically, the study shows that building children’s cognitive, pre-literacy and pre-numeracy skills during the ECE stage improves their learning outcomes in early primary grades.

Landscape

In India, the largest government provider of Early Childhood Education (ECE) is the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS). However, with its primary focus on health and nutrition, the ICDS has been largely unable to deliver quality ECE. Pre-school provision in government schools is also very low with only around 15% of government primary schools having an attached pre-primary section. Consequently, there has been increasing enrolment in private unaided preschool education services (nurseries, kindergartens and pre-primary classes/sections in private schools).

As part of its Program to Improve Private Preschool Education (PIPE), FSG, a development consulting organisation interviewed 4300 low and middle income families (NCCS classes A3 to D1) across 8 cities. The interviewees were the primary caregivers of children aged 2 to 6 years. The survey showed that almost 80% of children were accessing some form of ECE, and that 87% of those families accessing ECE were sending their children to private providers. Further, 70% of parents were sending their child to a provider that is attached to a primary or secondary school.

However, the vast majority of these Affordable Private Schools (APSs) follow developmentally inappropriate curricula and pedagogy. In line with parental demands, there is a huge focus on a downward extension of the primary curriculum, rote learning, strict discipline, and regular testing. Further, most APSs lack in-house capacity to improve the quality of ECE delivery.

Landscape studies by CSF reveal that there are reputable non-profits and multi-lateral agencies working on improving the ECE component of the ICDS. There are also a significant number of suppliers offering interventions in early grades to mid and high income schools. However, there were very few non-profits focused on offering an affordable, scalable high quality ECE solution to APSs.

Problem statement

The majority of 3-5 year olds in urban India are going to pre-primary sections attached to primary schools, which lack knowledge and capacity to deliver quality Early Childhood Education

Hypothesis / Solution

A possible solution would be to offer a holistic ECE solution to APSs, which supports the school in delivering a high quality programme in its pre-school sections. Components of this solution could include

  • Curriculum support – teacher handbook with month-wise scope and sequence and daily lesson plans.
  • Student handbooks – workbooks for kids aligned to various activities
  • Classroom kit – with toys, books, and other learning aids
  • Teacher training – regular training for all teachers
  • Programme monitoring and feedback – frequent observation visits to classrooms

Some parts of the above solution could also potentially leverage technology, with a view to enhance scalability, affordability, and effectiveness.

Challenges

Most of the challenges around implementing and scaling this solution would be to balance the demand -side expectations (schools, parents) with a focus on age-appropriate curriculum. Some potential challenges are laid out below.

  • Insufficient demand from APSs / unwillingness to pay for the product
  • Gap in parent awareness around what constitutes ‘quality ECE’
  • High cost of sales to APSs as a percentage of ticket size per school
  • Low receptivity of pre-primary teachers to training