The minimum age for admission to nursery should be three years; the admission process should not involve evaluation or interaction; teachers should have passed Class XII and must hold a diploma in preschool education; the teacher-child ratio should be 1:25 and the duration of the programme be fixed at four hours.
These are some of the nursery education prerequisites outlined in the guidelines and curriculum that the National Council for Educational Research and Training (NCERT) shared with all state governments this week.
A pre-school is broadly defined as any setting that imparts education to children between the age of three and six. It is usually known by different names including anganwadi, balwadi, nursery, preparatory, preschool, pre-primary, LKG and UKG.
At present, there is no model curriculum for nursery education and schools are free to decide what and how the children should be taught. Though a few states, such as Delhi, have defined norms for nursery admission and the Ministry of Women and Child Development in 2013 had released a policy on early childhood care and education, the NCERT document, for the first time, defines what an ideal preschool should be like and the learning outcomes that should be achieved in the two years before formal schooling begins.
“Currently, preschools across the country are just a downward extension of formal schooling where a lot of reading and writing is happening. Through these guidelines and curriculum we want to encourage schools to use pedagogical approaches that do not burden the children,” said an NCERT official.
The guidelines also lay down the basic infrastructure that preschools should have. It states that the school building should be located away from traffic, ponds, wells, ditches, uncovered drains, should have an outdoor play area, separate toilets for boys and girls and CCTV cameras on campus. It also defines the standard size of a preschool classroom – 8 x 6 square metres to accommodate a maximum of 25 children. It also defines the role and responsibilities of the preschool principal, teachers and the helpers.
The curriculum lays out three goals for the first and second year of pre-school and also suggests pedagogical methods to achieve the desired learning outcomes. Schools are expected to achieve three goals – to ensure children maintain good health, become effective communicators and connect with their immediate environment.
For instance, in the first year of pre-school, under the effective communication goal, the NCERT document defines 17 learning outcomes such as the child should listen, respond and demonstrate social conventions like eye-contact and turn-taking. In the second year, under the same goal, the child is expected to understand “who”, “what”, “where” in simple questions, identify the initial and last sounds in a word and draw some basic shapes.
The state governments have two weeks to give their feedback on the guidelines and curriculum to the NCERT, following which the Council will hold a national consultation to finalise the document. Like the National Curriculum Framework or NCF, the preschool curriculum will not be binding on the states. “They will be encouraged to adopt it,” said a senior NCERT official.