Two year old Eden D’Souza will go on a field trip with her pre school mates from Tree House next week. For her working parents, not sending her to pre school was never an option.
“It was a natural choice,” said her mother Varsha, an editor of the publication of a credit rating agency. “The idea is to build the child’s social skills and also give the mother some time off.”
It is precisely this dynamic that of working parents who want the best for their children and who can pay for the service that has fuelled the boom in the pre school sector. Tree House itself added five new centres in Mumbai in the past month while investments in the group recently rose to 100 crores.
Many private firms have set up pre schools in recent years and are rapidly expanding to cash in on the demand.
But the government is now considering new guidelines to bring in regulation in pre primary education, in stand alone pre schools and those attached to c, through an act aimed mainly at checking fee related malpractices.
Pre schools charge an annual fee of Rs 10,000 to Rs 55,000, depending on the real estate value of the location.
The Maharashtra State Council for c is already on the job, formulating guidelines for such an act, including a common curriculum for pre schools, banning capitation fees and maintaining a fixed student teacher ratio in classrooms.
“We are working on various rules and regulations right now to ensure there is no exploitation of parents and children at the pre primary level in terms of fees and admission rules,” said a government official.
The Right to Education Act, in its present form, extends to children only from the age of six, leaving pre schools outside its ambit. But most research points out that maximum brain development occurs between the ages of zero and six.
“The first five years are the most important for brain development so if children are getting stimulated, it’s a good thing, provided they aren’t getting stressed out at pre school,” said Chetna Duggal, a consulting psychologist. “Development has to be social, emotional, cognitive and motor, but parents may not be able to provide everything.”
With both parents working in many urban households, children lack both company and guidance at home. “I know that the nanny will take care of my daughter but she won’t be able to take active steps to stimulate her,” said Anjana Dutta, whose two year old goes to a day care centre. “For many parents though, it’s also about getting into a brand name pre school and subsequently getting the platform to get into a coveted primary school.”
With the competing claims of the smorgasbord of pre schools, parents can only base their judgments on what the schools themselves assert. There has so far been no way of holding them accountable, be it through accreditation, licensing or certification.
But proprietors say the best way to regulate pre schools, is to not regulate at all. “Pre schools serve a certain need, leave the regulation to the market place,” said Leena Ashar, director of Kangaroo Kids Education Limited.
Pre schools, unlike private schools, are not registered as charitable trusts so they pay commercial rates so they need to cover their costs, said pre school directors.
They added that they are justified in charging as per the quality of their services. “The debate about fee regulation is misdirected. It should be about quality and enabling parents to access pre schools rather than bringing in shackles,” said Sumeet Mehta, CEO of ZEE Learn Ltd, a private company that runs Kidzee.
Even the modalities of bringing pre schools under government regulation are tricky. “The first step is to know the players, having such institutions register, then move on to recognition and accreditation,” said Vrinda Dutta, professor at TISS and president of the Association for Early Childhood Education and Development that is working on evolving a framework for early childhood education. “Plus, you can’t just have laws for pre schools because there are a whole lot of different programmes that come within the domain of early childhood education.”