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Gujarat's pre-primary institutions free to run without safety, quality standards, sans official control: RTI reply

By Our Representative
Neither Gujarat government’s education department, nor women and child department, has any information about private pre-primary schools operating in the state. In separate replies to a right to information (RTI) plea by Mujahid Nafees, they have said, pre-primary schools do not come under their purview, hence the question of providing information on them “does not arise.”
A senior activist, Nafees received similar a reply from officials in Ahmedabad city when he sought to know, through his RTI application dated December 5, 2016, about the number of pre-primary schools, their name and address, number of children enrolled in there, status of their recognition as of 2016, a list of officials who monitor them, and so on.
Pointing out that he had sought information because a large number of pre-primary schools have mushroomed all around in Ahmedabad, with few of them charging hefty fees up to Rs 40,000 per year, Nafees said, the replies suggest none of them are obliged to comply by “any safety or quality standards.”
“The state government does not think it necessary to monitor them. Toddlers in the age group 3 to 6, going to these schools, are indeed open to risk”, Nafees said, adding, “Apparently, the government does not seem to think they fall under the Right to Education (RTE) Act, 2009."
Ironically, Section 11 of the RTE Act says, “With a view to prepare children above the age of three years for elementary education and to provide early childhood care and education for all children until they complete the age of six years, the appropriate Government shall make necessary arrangement for providing free pre-school education for such children.”
While the Government of India came up with a National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy in 2013 (download HERE), according to Nafees, who has been actively advocating policy changes in the field of education, says, “Neither Gujarat, nor any other state, has implemented it.”
Referring to such schools, the policy seeks “protection” of 3 to 6 year-old children “from hazards”, even as enforcing basic standards “across public, private and non-governmental service providers”. It insists, the government should have a well-oiled system at “regional, state, district and sub-district levels” to monitor pre-school education.
Enumerating basic requirements, the policy says, each classroom should be “measuring at least 35 square meters for a group of 30 children”, apart from adequate, at least 30 square meters, of “outdoor space”. The adult/caregiver-child ratio should be 1:20 for 3-6 year-old children, and 1:10 for below the age of 3, it adds.
It talks of “age- and developmentally-appropriate child centric curriculum” in “mother tongue/local vernacular” and “toys and learning materials”, a safe building “which is within easy approach” and is surrounded by “green area”, and “adequate and safe drinking water facilities”.
It further talks of separate boys’ and girls’ “child-friendly toilets and hand wash facilities”, separate space for “cooking nutritionally-balanced meals and nap time”, first aid facilities, and so on.
In a separate RTI query, Nafees said, he has been told that even in 52,000-odd anganwadis (pre-school) centres run by the Gujarat government, mainly in the rural areas, 11,000, as of September 2016, did not basic toilet facilities.
In yet another RTI plea of 2014, he said, he received a reply from the state government that 1,961 anganwadis were running without any anganwadi workers, 3,096 did not have any helpers, and 15,695 (33%) did have water facility.

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