A preschool in Vile Parle (East), expelled a four year-old-boy a few months ago, claiming he was "mentally retarded" because he would not speak in class and was unable to write.
When his parents approached a psychiatrist, they realised the teacher had misjudged the problem. "The boy had selective mutism (where a child refuses to talk to some people outside his home) and was not suffering from any mental problems. The teacher could not detect this because she was not trained and mislabeled the issue," said Harish Shetty, a psychiatrist.
With preschools mushrooming all over the city, there is a dearth of qualified teachers to meet the growing demand. This means an increasing number of preschools that are not regulated by the government are hiring untrained people to both teach and take care of toddlers.
Last week, the Maharashtra State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, while hearing the case on the alleged sexual assault of a six-year-old from a Kurla school had pointed out: "The boy's teacher should have recognised his trauma. She neglected his complaints about his classmates inappropriately hugging and kissing him."
The child's teacher had studied up to Class 12 and was trained only for a year in Early Childhood Care and Education (ECC Ed) when the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT) stipulates that two-years of ECC Ed is a must.
Although there is no formal body to check on the number of preschools in the city, experts estimate that there at least 2,000 of them.
"Preschool teachers need to know about child psychology, physical and motor skills development. They should also be well-versed with age-appropriate teaching, which is not taught in many of the training courses," said Arundhati Chavan, principal, Swayam Siddhi College of Education, Bhiwandi.
With profit as a motive, preschools often prefer to hire untrained teachers as they are available at lower salaries.
"A lot of women are interested in teaching in preschools to pass the time, and they will work for Rs5,000 or less. But teachers trained from a reputed institute demand higher salaries," said Swati Popat Vats, director of Podar Institute of Education.