Written by Shraddha Tripathi
In July 2018, the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) published new guidelines concerning the education of children in the preschools of India. The guidelines brought under their purview various concerns regarding teaching methods and the roles of teachers and parents in the instruction of children within the age group of 3-6 years. They aimed at improving the quality, credibility and prevalence of preschool education in the country.
In this direction, the proposed guidelines regarding the use of technology, the discouragement of passive technology and the regulation of technological appropriation to ensure children’s privacy are of particular interest. The effectiveness of such a measure in improving enrolment statistics and the quality of education in Indian preschools is interesting to explore.
On the (Mis)Use of Technology
In its newly drafted guidelines, the NCERT states that technology should be used for “advocacy; professional development; planning; administration; monitoring and evaluation of the EYE [Early Years of Education] program”. This will enable children to “explore and choose activities; promote imagination; and provide quick feedback to retain interest”. However, this technology should be mediated by adults to ensure a socially interactive environment; passive technology should be discouraged. For mediation will prevent overloading the child with information they are not yet ready to take, by pushing away distracting stimuli and offering a well-articulated narrative structure.
Lack of social interaction in the contemporary world due to overindulgence in audio and visual media has lessened human interaction. Under these circumstances, mediation of technology by teachers will also positively affect a child’s social behaviour and ensure adequate student participation. For the timely development of children’s vocabulary acquisition and better language expression is a necessity that demands not merely engaging them but also eliciting responses from them.
The appropriate use and mediation of technology, then, helps in activating the mental faculties of children during instruction and enhances their behavioural and learning levels. This appears as a step forward in achieving NCERT’s objectives, as these policies lead to a better holistic development of a child, which increases the merit of attaining a preschool education, thereby improving enrollment statistics.
On Children’s Privacy
Another notable new guideline by NCERT concerns children’s privacy. In the contemporary world where the use of the internet and social media is ubiquitous, an individual’s privacy is constantly put at risk.
Online audio and video clips often reveal children’s whereabouts. This risks their safety, with them falling prey to digital kidnapping. Digital kidnapping involves the appropriation of a child’s picture as one’s own by a perpetrator. This appropriated picture is often followed by hashtags and captions like #adoptionrp, #orphanrp, and #babyrp. There have also been several cases of identity theft, where a child’s face and identity have fallen into the hands of various pornographic and paedophilic websites. Thus with numerous social media users, there is little control over what reaches people and in what form. This can have long-lasting repercussions on a child’s life. It is in view of this that the threat regarding children’s online presence demands attention.
According to a report by Hindustan Times, several Indian states raised concern over preschools recording videos of students and posting them on social media. Often these videos are recorded as an assessment tool, helping teachers in analysing a child’s performance and designing class activities accordingly. Understanding the importance of this act for classroom evaluation and the impending threat of data misappropriation, under its new guideline, NCERT forbids teachers from posting online recorded videos of any child without their parents’ consent.
On the Effectiveness of the New Guidelines
As previously discussed, NCERT’s new guidelines on the use and misuse of technology seek to improve the quality of education in preschools. To contribute to this, the council has even suggested prescription of a standard syllabus. This is important as in India 20 million children out of 74 million in the age group of 3-4 years do not go to preschools. This leads to inadequate preparedness for higher education, which leads to low learning levels and eventual dropping out. The guidelines also raise important privacy issues and the carefree use of technology as a teaching aid. However, they are still ineffective.
The new guidelines are ineffective for two reasons. First, while a standard syllabus set by NCERT might increase the credibility of preschool education, this will not improve the statistics of enrollment of students from disadvantaged backgrounds. To begin with, an appreciable number of children attending preschools are from affluent families. The council’s focus, then, should be on the accessibility of preschool education to the economically weaker sections of the society. For while the guidelines suggest regulatory measures for using technology, they must simultaneously ensure the availability of appropriate teaching aids for children studying in government-aided schools.
This is imperative as these schools are often deprived of the most basic amenities, let alone technical teaching aids. To contextualise, a Comptroller and Auditor General’s report on government schools in Telangana reveals that 45% of all schools lack working toilets, drinking water, infrastructure and midday meals. The Delhi government has been castigated by the High Court on similar grounds. The scenario is no different in other states. It is, in fact, worse as only 15.5% of all the government schools have a preschool catering to 30.2 lakh students. 65% of these schools do not even have teachers.
Under these circumstances, the emphasis NCERT gives to its guidelines concerning technology appears misguided. The guidelines misapprehend the immediate needs of the Indian education system. When implemented, they cannot bring the expected results because of their myopic approach. For while the council increases the responsibilities of teachers to act as mediators for the appropriate use of technology, teachers themselves are a missing entity in most schools. In this scenario, the (mis)use of technology itself is a far-fetched concern. The guidelines thus need to be reframed with a wider picture in perspective.
Second, while the guidelines raise important privacy issues concerning the use of technology, they are not binding on states. Although a conference was scheduled to be conducted in August 2018 with all stakeholders, including state representatives, as participants to invite suggestions on these guidelines to make further amendments, no information on the outcome of this conference has been declared to the public yet.
Considering the pitiful state of preschool education particularly in government schools, a thorough investigation of the different layers of its problems is necessary for the NCERT to draft effective guidelines, than having a mere overview of them. Only this coupled with a strict implementation process can fulfil the council’s objectives and bring into foresight what amendments need to be made for better results in the future. And only this can improve the enrollment statistics of students in preschools from not one but all backgrounds.