By Sajid Shamim
Since parents are fixated on making their children successful, it’s never too early for children to start learning. But early learners need extra care to get the best results. Unfortunately, our education system is not yet tailored to the needs of our youngest students and that is a problem.
Why early learning is important
By the age of five, a child’s brain is 90% developed. By the age of six, the child has acquired cognitive, language, social and psychomotor skills. Some of this happens naturally, but care also plays a role. How well these competencies develop correlates with the learning stimulation and support provided at this critical time.
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Quality early childhood education is consistently associated with success in school and much later in the workplace. Meanwhile, ineffective early learning techniques can lead to learning delays as the child progresses from kindergarten to higher grades.
Stumbling blocks to early learning
The preschool market in India is projected to grow by USD 957.86 million between 2022 and 2026. While this is encouraging for the sector, one has to question whether early childhood education is appropriately targeted to its audience.
Play-based learning, educational songs and read-aloud activities make school fun and motivate little ones to keep learning. But many teachers and parents believe that learning shouldn’t be too much fun. There is often a rush to return to more formal teaching methods while teaching children to read, write and count. This often leads to a one-way flow of information and an emphasis on memorization, which leaves young students no scope for creative thinking. Worse, it erodes their interest in learning from an early age.
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Also worth noting is the lack of training for teachers in game-based teaching techniques. It’s not enough to just sing a song or play a game. The teacher must understand how an activity will benefit preschool and first grade students.
Even among educators who recognize the value of play, implementation can be a steep climb. When there are well over 30 students in a single classroom, coordinated play is difficult to control and there may not be enough study materials for everyone.
Fixing our early learning system
The 2020 National Education Policy (NEP) sets out guidelines to make early childhood learning activities more developmentally and contextually appropriate. This was the first time that early childhood education had been extended to children as young as three years old.
By the end of 2020, students of all ages had embraced video-based learning as a result of the pandemic lockdowns. But while technology has changed, one-way learning still prevails. Books have given way to screens and physical classes to virtual ones, but the old models are still around. Even popular video-based e-learning apps are reinventing the wheel.
Augmented Reality (AR) could offer a way forward, helping early learners grasp abstract and spatial concepts more effectively. AR technology could turn two-dimensional learning into an immersive 3D experience. An interactive video could encourage the child to pack a suitcase. A more advanced module could show the learner how to build a machine. Since learning is interactive, it is less tedious. In addition, the child gains practical experience through the AR technology, which is why the lessons tend to falter.
Priorities for the future must include regular teacher training, translation of learning material into everyday languages and the development of lightweight digital modules available both online and offline. As the curriculum evolves, the focus should be on ensuring that no child is left behind.
(The author is a co-founder of Genions, India’s first AR (Augmented Reality) based blended learning program for children. The views expressed are personal and do not reflect the official position or policies of FinancialExpress.com.)