Opinion: Smart anganwadis, smarter kids
Posted: Date Posted – 11:59 PM, Wed – 20 Apr 22
By Dr Sonal Mobar Roy
Early childhood development is a prerequisite for the growth and development of an individual which ultimately would also affect the human resources of the country. Therefore, the government focused on planned interventions in this direction. The Integrated Child Development Program is one such program which began in 1975. It provides food, primary health care, pre-school education, health check-up, immunization services and Guidance for children under six.
As a continuation of such interventions, Poshan Abhiyaan was launched with great fanfare by the government on March 8, 2018, in Jhunjhunu, a city in Rajasthan, by the Prime Minister. The program aims to reduce stunting, undernutrition and anemia among women and adolescents. It focuses on the health of a child during the first thousand days in particular. The key location for the implementation of the program is an anganwadi centre. It is seen that its effective implementation largely relies on the efforts of Anganwadi Workers (AWWS), Accredited Social Health Activists (ASHA) and Auxiliary Nurse Midwives (ANM). According to the Ministry of Women and Child Development (2018), there are 13.63 lakh Anganwadi Centers (AWCs) in the country.
According to the World Bank (2013), about 60 million children in India were underweight, about 45% were stunted (too short for their age), 20% were wasted (too thin for their height, indicating acute malnutrition), 75% suffered from anemia and 57% were deficient in vitamin A. The majority of them belong to the most vulnerable segments of society living in rural areas. To respond to this section, AWCs have been created.
An AWW, accompanied by an assistant, is assigned to provide immunizations, counselling, prenatal and postnatal care, non-formal preschool education, and a plethora of other services such as conducting health surveys, home visits and assistance to the ANM.
However, it was found that the AWCs were unable to perform to the standards set for them. A study conducted by the researcher in a thanda (tribal hamlet) in 2021 found that if AWCs do not have their own building, they cannot function properly. The lack of space leads to crunching all the material in a small, dingy room – be it the ration, the furniture or the equipment for measuring the height and weight of beneficiaries. AWCs that had their own building tend to space out according to their needs. It was also observed that AWCs, especially those in tribal hamlets, lacked adequate teaching and learning materials, had no LPG cylinder, no drinking water facility, mats or furniture, and were in deplorable conditions.
Therefore, the need arose to establish a ‘smart’ Anganwadi. The introduction of the “smart” indicator was intended to improve the functioning and management of the AWC by digitizing the monitoring mechanisms.
Technology has already made its way into AWCs. The AWWs were equipped with smartphones and the supervisors with tablets to record data accurately and digitally. According to a 2021 report, Kerala sanctioned Rs 9 crore for converting conventional anganwadi into ‘smart’ anganwadis with better opportunities. The goal is to transform the AWC into a more child-friendly center.
In many places, AWCs have been developed as part of CSR activities. The idea is to implement innovative, context-specific approaches for the holistic improvement of early childhood education. When we say holistic, it indicates the physical, social, emotional, cognitive and linguistic development of the child. The Nandghars fall into this category. Through Nandghars, televisions are used for e-learning, health care is taken care of with a doctor at the door, hygienic precooked foods for nutrition are provided, and attempts are made to economically empower women through to personalized professional training across India. Launched in Varanasi in 2015, the reach now extends across India with over 2,300 Nandghars in Chhattisgarh, Jharkhand, Karnataka, Madhya Pradesh, Odisha, Rajasthan, Uttar Pradesh, India. Himachal Pradesh, Punjab, Assam and Gujarat. The centers offer creative murals, building and learning aids (BaLA), multimedia content to stream on TV, and more.
There’s no denying that the colorful animations, audio and video content, etc. are attractive to students. They create a dynamic impact on the impressionable minds of the younger ones. Despite the appeal of these digital interventions, the psychomotor development of children is affected. The practice of holding objects with nimble fingers is reduced. Social bonding is affected as time is spent staring at the screen. This forces children to sit in one place, reducing physical activity unless they are asked to imitate and act like the character shown on screen.
Another approach to involving children can be ‘gamification’ – a process in which small tasks are turned into games and lead to more fun participation. Kids these days are learning to navigate smart devices even before they can read and write. It also leads to a kind of addiction although it is undeniable that their verbal ability increases if the instructor asks them to repeat the poems and stories shown on the screen. It is also necessary to distinguish between educational content and entertainment content. Now children are less curious, less inventive and less imaginative. The pedagogy, even for the early years, should be to help them think critically, formulate questions, identify problems and offer experiences and solutions.
It’s a compromise. Children can become smarter if they spend quality time interacting with AWC staff. Their questions are answered and their doubts are dispelled with patience. A balanced approach is indeed necessary. The environment created must lead to stimulating experiences. Digital advancement is a good thing, but the basic requirement should not be overlooked.
In 2015, NITI Aayog recommended providing better sanitation and drinking water facilities, better power supply and basic medicines for AWCs. There is an urgent need to transform AWCs into better ecosystems. Before creating a “smart” Aanganwadi, there is a need to upgrade existing AWCs with better facilities such as proper roofs, electrical connections, drinking water facility, toilets with running water, carpets and furniture, as well as teaching and learning materials. It is time for the quality of services to be improved. The potential of technology and innovation must be exploited. It would also lead to achieving the SDGs, especially 2, 3 and 4 and others, more realistically. Intensive efforts are needed to improve service delivery in collaboration with all stakeholders.
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