Millennium Post

Nand Ghar: Readying India for the future

The year 2016 was a momentous year towards Agenda 2030, set by United Nations to combat poverty, climate change and inequality. For the first time, we will have a common global framework to not only measure progress against the goals, but it also paves the way to understand the impact being made by the investment of governments and responsible businesses on society. It is important to mention here that our Hon'ble Prime Minister, in his first speech at the United Nations, mentioned the importance of Agenda 2030 in poverty alleviation. It, therefore, comes as no surprise to me when this government launched programs like Swach Bharat and Beti Bachao-Beti padhao, which are at the centre of their thinking.

The year 2030 is a very significant year for India, as India's share in world population will peak in that year. 250 million young men and women will join the workforce that year, the highest anywhere in the world. How efficient and productive this workforce will be, would be the outcomes of decisions we take today. A majority of them today will be found in Anganwadis around you and how they are performing today will be a window to our future.

A little context here is important. Every year, nearly 8.7 crore children across India and nearly 2 crore women are covered daily through a network of nearly 13 lakh Anganwadis across India, as part of the Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) under the Ministry of Women and Child Development (WCD). Jointly funded by the state and the centre, the program enables delivery of nutrition to growing children, pregnant and lactating mothers, ensures pre-primary education for children as well as ensuring delivery of primary health care. This well-meaning program has no parallels in the world in terms of scale and ambition and its role in shaping the future of India is often understated.

Every year we lament the pitfalls in our education system when the Annual State of Education report (ASER) is released. One area that often fails to find mention and advocacy is that of pre-school education. The effects of poor development in early childhood have life-long consequences, setting children on a lower trajectory and adversely impacting the country's social and economic development. No wonder, the World Bank calls investing in early childhood education one of the smartest decisions that a country can make. As we attract capital from the world to invest in India for the creation of jobs, the onus becomes stronger to create a workforce that is capable of taking up these jobs. The government's push to Swachch Bharat and Skill India are important enablers for a healthier and skilled workforce. A similar push towards our Anganwadis is a pressing demand that can no longer be ignored.

Our Anganwadis are in need of a massive upgradation. A Niti Ayog report pointed out to the large deficiencies in basic amenities such as drinking water, electricity and toilets. The status of implementation of preschool education guidelines is also not very encouraging. As partners of the WCD Ministry, we are now working to create a new Model of Anganwadis called Nand Ghars (home of the infants). A Nand Ghar is equipped with solar panels, water purifiers, modules for learning and toilets. We have seen an increase in attendance of children, and the early indicators for pre-primary learning look promising as well.

Opening this space to the vibrant edu-tech startup space in the country is one of the biggest areas of opportunity. As high-speed wireless networks penetrate across every nook and corner, the government must shift its paradigm from being the implementor to a regulator. By creating frameworks and curriculum guidelines for early childhood care and recognising Pre-primary education in the right to education would create the necessary stimulus that our children need to make this century truly the Indian century.
The author is Chairman, Vedanta Group

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