Early Years Education Versus COVID 19 Challenge
Early Childhood education is the key to the betterment of society. Maria Montessori
Early year education has great significance to develop children’s social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills. It is a prerequisite of primary education and serves as a solid foundation that enhances child’s ability to comprehend primary level concepts and perform at age appropriate level with ease. A comprehensive early year programme is a stepping stone for a child to strengthen his literacy and numeracy skills and make him an independent and self-reliant learner.
Year 2020 has been a unique year in terms of the challenge it brought to everyone globally. Health and safety rightly became the top most priority and regular routines such as attending school termed as non-essential. Digitalizing education for all year groups of students was the only solution to make it accessible for children. It has been a need of hour, but it was not without challenges for students, parents and teachers and all tried to fix the puzzle with their earnest effort. Children above the age of 7 still coped better with the revolutionized version of education but Early Year Education Providers kept struggling to make online learning workable for children age 4 to 6.It has been an uphill task with limited success despite a great deal of planning by the teachers and school administrations.
Online Learning Challenges for Early Years Education
Multiple reasons hampered learning such as,
- Children’s short attention span does not allow them to face computer screen for more than 10 minutes.
- Children learn well when they touch, feel , observe and explore. Early year classrooms offer them variety of resources which allow them learn to learn through play following their unique learning style and pace. Online classes are only limited to visual stimulation which was insufficient for most students.
- Children are mostly kinesthetic learners. Expecting them to sit and perform tasks through online instructions was difficult for children to respond and for teachers to guide and get the expected outcome.
- Many parents were unable to spare a phone, laptop or a computer for their younger children when older siblings were engaged with their online classes.
- Children would learn letters, sounds and numbers through online help but the most important early learning areas, social and emotional development and physical development have been compromised in the absence of real classroom situation. Learning empathy, waiting for their turn, motivation on acknowledgement, sense of fulfillment on performing a task, building up confidence in sharing their ideas is well developed in a group situation. Although teachers have been trying to create online groups but the experience did not rightly match the physical group situation.
- Parental help or presence of an adult while children attended their online class was always a challenge due to parents’ commitments or work schedules. Some grandparents or care takers did not know how to respond to teachers’ zoom calls or other platforms. Resultantly teachers had to schedule classes later in the evenings when adult help was available.
- The regular, low fee structure kindergartens lacked infra structure and teacher training to use ICT effectively hence a great deal of time was spent trying out various methods.
Financial Impact on Early Years Education Providers
The business of early year education providers has been drastically affected due to a decline in student number as most of the parents did not opt for online classes. The kindergartens that follow local curriculum suffered even more adversely as children’s admission in public schools does not require an early year certificate therefore it has not been considered mandatory by many parents especially when such kindergartens offered online classes. The government provided support under wage subsidy programme which served as a temporary relief but could not fully compensate and sustain this sector. Eventually many kindergartens had to close down due to the lack of funds to afford rents and salaries especially when parents refused to avail on line educational services. The trend of private tuitions on the other hand became a market demand. It helped individual teachers who were either retrenched or were suffering a pay cut but this trend further damaged kindergarten business.
Under the MCO 2 effective from 13th January, the private kindergartens have been allowed to operate however, the students turn out is far below the expectations. Parents are concerned about the health risk children might be exposed to so it will take much longer to rebuild the sector. The challenges ahead would need concrete planning looking into the following points
Way Forward for Early Years Education Providers
- The classroom size would be smaller than usual to maintain social distance. Capacity utilization and student teacher ratio would have to be recalculated to prepare school feasibility plan.
- Additional cost would have to be incurred on sanitizing kindergartens and class resources frequently.
- No fee raise will be possible this year as parents paying capacity is already under doldrums so the gap in revenue and increased expense would be hard to bridge.
- Wage subsidy scheme need to be continued for Kindergartens as it would be a struggle to manage expenditure versus revenue.
- The kindergartens would need to invest in informational technology resources as there would be a need to plan face to face and online curriculum days till the pandemic is absolutely controlled.
- Teacher training to use technology and to impart curriculum with carefully planning activities according to the SOPs till the latter half of the year would be essential. Conventional teaching methods used by many teachers in low fee structure kindergartens would need tremendous improvement.
- Parents would need to arrange an iPad for younger children and show flexibility to adapt to a balance of face to face and online learning.
- The primary school teachers this year should to be more proactive to cater to the learning and social needs of those children who have missed more than half of their kindergarten year. Diagnostic assessments need to be conducted to plan differentiated learning
Like various other business entities, early Year Education providers will take some time to rebuild but owing to the significance of the sector, it will certainly pick up as the experience during 2020 has reiterated the fact that face to face small group setting is the beauty of early years education and it cannot be ignored or undermined.