Combating Malnutrition in India : The focus need to be in strengthening Early Childhood Care and Education(ECCE) in Anganwadis

The National Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) Policy reaffirms the commitment of the Government of India to provide integrated services for holistic development of all children, along the continuum, from the prenatal period to six years of age. The Policy lays down the way forward for a comprehensive approach towards ensuring a sound foundation, with focus on early learning, for every Indian child. Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) refers to programmes and provisions for children from prenatal to six years of age, which cater to needs of a child in all domains of development i.e. physical, motor, language, cognitive, socio- emotional, and creative and aesthetic appreciation; and ensure synergy with health and nutrition aspects.

The capacities of Anganwadi workers in pre-school education, health and hygiene. Specifically, there is an emphasis on the development of capacities, development of relevant teaching learning materials, working on issues of health & hygiene, provision of need based intervention. Research has shown that children participants in early childhood programs have lower dropout and repetition rates, have better school performance as well a higher probability to progress at higher school levels than their control groups. (Barnett 1995). The holistic development of the young child, in the most disadvantage and vulnerable settings though improving access and quality of early childhood education, care and development services. An integrated program combining school readiness, nutritional, health and social/cognitive stimulation improves child development, contributing to improved long-term outcomes. The primary focus needs to be on 3-6 years of age group for strengthening their preschool readiness, health and hygiene and on 0-3 years, to support their growth and development.

• Mapping of Anganwadi to identify gaps that need to be filled and develop tools for ongoing assessments for improvement of quality standards.

• Convergence of services and improved coordination with ICDS/NHM

• To ensure better infrastructure, construction of toilet and kitchen (if food is prepared within the AWC) will be taken up, and water supply will be ensured.

• Creating model centre with solar electricity, AWC kit of early child hood learning kits, toilet, clean water facilities in AWC

• To improve delivery of services through VHNDs need to be strengthened as a platform to focus on training, supply chain management, monitoring

• To improve early child education and care, preschool education kit and curriculum need to be updated and leveraging technology this can be purposeful

• Involving parents and community fathers to sustain improved activities/practices at individual, family and community level

The service delivery is largely a function of program management and not so much of resources. The Anganwadi centers (AWCs) as early child education touch point can improve quality of standard of services based on mapping, ongoing assessments and fulfilling standards required as per National Early child hood program guidelines. The gap needs to be filled as per setting quality of standard for services, improving skills of AWW and Lady Supervisors of ICDS to strengthen and improve services. This will result in sustained improvement in AWCs and overall nutritional status of the population and contribute significantly to reducing malnutrition and stunting. Changes introduced will be sustained within the system and involve panchayat raj institution, communities involving mothers, fathers and family to ensure the sustainability.

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