Children smile for the cameras at an Anganwadi centre
Children smile for the cameras at an Anganwadi centre

Anganwadi Workers In Rajasthan Focus On Early Education Of Children

UNICEF is supporting the Government of India in addressing all the challenges that affect Early Childhood Development -- one of the most cost-efficient and powerful strategies to achieve fair and sustainable development.

UNICEF | Jun 21, 2019

Rekha Limbat is a confident and cheerful young married woman who is an Anganwadi worker in Dungarpur, Rajasthan. This is where the Anganwadi centre under the government’s Integrated Child Development Services is also situated. Appointed as the first Anganwadi worker in Taralafala village of Bicchhiwada block, Rekha is among the few in her community who has a Bachelor of Education degree -- a professional degree beyond the academic bachelor’s degree which accords her as a highly educated woman in her village.

Earlier, children from Taralafala had to attend a far-off Anganwadi centre situated in Gamdi, which is some distance away. Now with the centre opening in Taralfala itself, the children find it convenient to attend the pre-school in the vicinity. On her part, Rekha finds motivation in her work as an Anganwadi worker owing to her love for children and her strong desire to work for them. Since her appointment, Rekha has been a conscientious worker actively engaged in different creative ways of conducting her activities.

The Government of Rajasthan through the Department of Women and Child Development organizes various training programmes from time to time to build capacities and mentor Anganwadi workers. This enables them to perform their responsibilities diligently and effectively, However, all was not comfortable and convenient for Rekha in the beginning when she began work as an Anganwadi worker and faced many challenges at the community level.

When children attended the Anganwadi centre located in Gamdi village, they were not in the habit of attending the pre-school regularly owing to the distance. After the centre in Taralafala was established, it took a while for Rekha to gradually overcome the challenge of bringing children regularly to the Anganwadi. Those days were not easy, reminisces Rekha today. However, she did not lose hope and continued to work with dedication and perseverance. She even organized various community events, conducted home visits and counselled families with appropriate information on health, nutrition and education of the children.

In 2018, Rekha learnt about UNICEF’s community level initiatives on Early Childhood Education. That opened up another vista for Rekha and she utilized the opportunity for grooming herself through the training that was provided on the concept of early childhood development with special focus on education. The training included an understanding of the five domains of child development, and focused on the importance they hold in a child’s holistic development in the age groups of 3 to 6 years. As part of this training, Anganwadi workers were encouraged to learn how to use the parenting cards developed by UNICEF and were in turn, motivated to use these cards to orient parents on creating a learning environment at home. Rekha too was inspired and she was able to motivate caregivers of children to conduct domain specific activities at home so that development of children can be accelerated.

Rekha shared the pictorial representation of activities through cards which helped her attract the attention of the parents, and resulted in improving their orientation towards their children’s learning. Gradually as she gained confidence in using cards, she would take the lead during sector meetings and even led discussions on these activities for encouraging a learning environment at home for children between 3 to 6 years of age.

Rekha continues to visit homes like before as this encourages parents and helps to forge a bonding with the community. Along with field workers, Rekha has visited all the homes under her Anganwadi centre to encourage parents. She has started conducting activities at the AWC with more enthusiasm as she is now aware of the impact these activities have. These new inputs are supplemented by the regular home visits and discussions with parents that encourages them to send their children regularly to the centres, which has led to considerable increase in attendance.

Another key feature that has been added to the initiative is the initiation of the Parent-Anganwadi Meetings (PAMs) which has now been regularized at the village. This has been possible because of the involvement of parents at their own homes with children, contributing to their development. Rekha also orients caregivers with simple activities which they can easily do with their children and help them achieve developmental milestones.

“I want to work more sincerely for children in the community and improve their educational status. I want my Anganwadi to be known as a learning centre where children grow and thrive rather than just a place for getting food,” says Rekha.

The early moments of a child’s life matter – and their impact can last a lifetime. The process of a baby’s brain development begins during pregnancy and is influenced by a pregnant woman’s health, nutrition and environment. After birth, a baby’s brain continues to develop rapidly, impacting his or her physical, intellectual and emotional well-being, learning potential and subsequently, earning capacity and success in adulthood.

Early Childhood Development or early childhood care and education as it is referred to in India refers both to (1) an outcome defining a child’s status – being adequately nourished, physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally sound, socially competent and ready to learn and (2) a process - comprehensive and closely linked cross-sectoral interventions achieving the outcome. The basic ingredients of optimal development for a child are nutrition and health, hygiene, protection and responsive stimulation, which together constitute ‘nurturing care’. Healthy early childhood development is important for all children.

Child health and nutrition outcomes in India have improved significantly over the last years. Under-five mortality rate has declined by 62 per cent from 1990 to 2015 – compared with a global decline of 53% in the same period. More children have been initiated on breastfeeding early and are being breastfed exclusively. Yet, India accounts for one fifth of under-five mortality and a quarter of neonatal deaths globally. Nearly 38 per cent of children below five in India are stunted . Taken as the proxy indicator for Early Childhood Development (ECD), the stunting rates show that more than a third of India’s children are not growing and developing optimally, to their full potential.

Although majority of children, slightly over 70 per cent, attend pre-primary education, there are critical gaps in the quality of early childhood education (ECE) programmes. This also implies that nearly 20 million most marginalized children are left out of preschool with the worst impacts on their survival, growth and development.

Investing in ECD one of the most cost-efficient and powerful strategies to achieve fair and sustainable development. Globally, it is estimated that every US$1 invested in ECD can provide a return to the most disadvantaged children of up to US$17. The cost of investing in ECD can be surprisingly affordable because many early childhood interventions can be integrated into existing services for an estimated average of US$0.50 per person annually. In addition, intervening in the early years is more affordable than later remedial interventions and makes later interventions more likely to succeed as well.

UNICEF is supporting the Government of India in addressing all the challenges that affect ECD programmes through a comprehensive framework, delivered by a well-equipped system, with a robust oversight, accountability and redressal. UNICEF is working closely with the Government of India to maximize impact by integrating Early Childhood Development services into several of its existing platforms. The Integrated Child Development Services (early education, nutrition, child protection), National Health Mission (health, access to quality services), conditional cash transfers (such as the Maternity Benefit Scheme), Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (addressing the 4 Ds - birth defects, developmental delays, diseases and deficiencies) Early Childhood Care and Education Policy and the recently launched National Nutrition Mission, all provide crucial delivery platforms for early childhood development services.