On June 13, 2020, Dr Swati Popat Vats, President, Early Childhood Association, India, made an appeal to Shri Uddhav Thackeray, Chief Minister, Maharashtra and Smt. Varsha Gaikwad, Minister for School Education & Sports, Maharashtra, to rethink the ban on pre-school online engagement. Read the powerful letter here:
We appreciate the leadership you have shown in these difficult times and your initiative in making a tentative schedule for re-opening of schools. This clearly indicates the concern you have for school children, who are the future of a prosperous and developed Maharashtra. However, we feel the early childhood education requires a more concise and well-planned approach. Research has shown that maximum development of the brain (98%) and learning takes place up to the age of 5 years. As a result, long breaks from school result in substantial loss of learning (emotional, psychological, academic, physical, social & cognitive) for students. For very young learners in pre-primary years, it has been shown that interactions guided by early childhood educators are paramount and critical based by research and child developmental milestones, and it is necessary that this continues in some form for all children in spite of the lockdown and till physical preschools open. Several pre-schools have started video engagements for their students based on the strong desire to help their young learners continue their learning through bonding in this difficult time. The response from parents has been very favourable with the vast majority sending in emails and videos of appreciation for this effort undertaken by pre-schools and teachers. Parents and educators are the best judges of what is in the best interests of their children and we feel these voices warrant attention. The 'structured, holistic learning' that schools have adopted are focused more on the emotional and social well-being of the children, fine and gross motor development as per age-appropriate milestones and also nurturing their curious minds. Activity-based learning has reduced the stress parents have had, and they have welcomed it because they were unable to do what a teacher can scientifically plan. Little children have shown huge enthusiasm for this video chat interaction, and it will be a disservice to them for their miss 'their friends, teachers' and this binds them and helps them remain emotionally secure. Parents of young children are very concerned about sending their children to pre-schools, because of the prevailing pandemic. They have voiced their concern about this and indicated that unless the healthcare situation is substantially resolved, they would not like to send their children to pre-schools. This might take a substantial amount of time and we feel that learning for these children should not stop during this time.
Many pre-schools are very well equipped to conduct these video engagements, with teachers being skilled and investing time and effort and coming up with creative and fun ways to engage with students. Their focus is on mental health, communication skills, emotional well being, creativity, collaboration and important life skills including speaking to young children about being independent and maintaining social distancing. Such progressive schools should be allowed to continue with the same. The World Health Organization (WHO) has recommended that children from 2 -5 years of age can spend up to one hour in front of a screen each day. We request that the guidelines you are forming take into account the above factors to allow video interactions for pre-schools. Early stimulation as senior educators have emphasized with activities, stories, rhymes done in age-appropriate ways leads to brain development. Children maybe 20% of our population right now, but they are 100% our future, so we urge you to safeguard their learning by adopting practices and guidelines that will benefit their growth, development and learning for life. We request you to kindly consider our recommendation for the betterment of our future generations.
With warm regards,
Dr S.P. Vats
President, Early Childhood Association Association for Primary Education and Research
NOTE FROM: DR. SAMIR HASAN DALWAI, Developmental Behavioural Pediatrician, New Horizons Child Development Centre, Founder Vice President, Early Childhood Association, Joint National Secretary, India Academy of Pediatrics
“Unprecedented times need innovative solutions based on robust developmental evidence. Children need positive age-appropriate stimulation for optimal brain development at all times. They also need to be safeguarded against neglect and negativity. Pre-school teachers are an invaluable resource to keep children on their developmental track. We need to harness this energy to deliver gentle, play-based messages to our little ones across the country.”
NOTE FROM: DR. SAGAR MUNDADA, Consultant Psychiatrist
“Interaction via video chat if utilized properly can be helpful…the chat should focus more on activities rather, simple life skills which teachers can guide the tiny tots to learn. Nothing matches the face-to-face interaction but in this scenario, student-student chats (seeing other children) via video call can the closest thing to socialization. The children also get to mingle with other key humans apart from their parents which can get a little tiring sometimes. The only precaution should be that it is limited to a maximum of 1 hour only. In fact, children are subtly taught to effectively manage the impulse for increased screen time in the long term via these video chats wherein they are taught that after certain time, no screen time means no screen time, hence improved self-regulation can be taught.”