Helping kids in Meghalaya to learn, play and grow

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An unique initiative to reach around 60,000 children and their caregivers

HT Bureau

SHILLONG, Feb 14: February 2020 marks the beginning of an exciting journey of learning for approximately 60,000 young children in Meghalaya. Sesame Workshop India, SBI Life Insurance and SBI Foundation are set to launch the ‘Learn, Play, Grow’ initiative to strengthen the quality of early education in 3,000 Anganwadi centres of the state.

Early experiences, in the years when brain growth is most rapid, have a correlation to future learning, behaviour and health. Highlighting the opportunity presented by this developmental stage, the Harvard Centre for the Developing Child tells us that a child’s brain makes 1 million new neural connections per second in the early years. Consequently, children deprived of developmentally-appropriate stimulus and learning can continue to lag behind their more privileged peers.

In India, the Anganwadi network, under the aegis of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), is the primary provider of pre-school services to children. The Anganwadi network has made commendable strides in contributing to child and maternal health, early nutrition and awareness on immunisation. The network is now looking at strengthening its ability to deliver high-quality early education by focusing on infrastructure and staff training.

Challenges to the Anganwadi network in the north-east include the remoteness of the area and the overall lack of community awareness of the need for early education. According to the Annual Status of Education Report (ASER) 2019, enrolment of 3 to 4-year olds in Anganwadi centres in Meghalaya is as low as 23.9%.

While some parents opt for private pre-schools, training and infrastructure in the low-budget pre-schools is also far from adequate. Due to these challenges, learning levels among young children have remained low, with only one-fourth of first-graders in Meghalaya being able to read at grade level2. 10.9% are unable to recognise letters2, a basic pre-reading skill.

In a heartening initiative called ‘Learn. Play. Grow.’, SBI Foundation, SBI Life Insurance and Sesame Workshop India are now partnering with the ICDS and local NGOs to bridge this gap by supporting 3000 Anganwadi centres with high-quality educational content for children and caregivers, capacity building and teacher training, and resources that empower parents and caregivers with fun ways to support a child’s educational development.

Speaking about the initiative, chief minister of Meghalaya, Conrad Kongkal Sangma  said, “Young children need stable relationships, care and continuous access to education that will help them build better lives and develop resilience. High-quality education is the cornerstone of success in life. We are committed to bringing the best educational services to the children of Meghalaya as this strengthens the state. Anganwadis are places where children are exposed to early education not just on letters and numbers but life skills too. Through this initiative of SBI Foundation, we are happy to support measures that ensure the continuum of education is maintained not just in schools but also when kids are at home.”

Nixon Joseph, President & COO, SBI Foundation said, “We are committed to continuously work towards expanding access to quality early childhood education for children in the underserved communities. This initiative will boost the holistic growth and development of the Children in Meghalaya.”

Aman Bhaiya, Asst. Vice President and Program Head added, “We will ensure that the young minds studying in the anganwadi centres will get the best start in life. We are hopeful that these children will progress through primary into secondary education and contribute to the Indian growth story in the future”

Sonali Khan, managing director, Sesame Workshop India adds, “We are here to bring communities together in the joy of learning. Our focus is on the whole child and his/her needs not just in terms of early literacy and numeracy, but physical growth, hygiene and emotional well-being as well. Sesame has some of the most highly-researched and proven content in the world; when we contextualise this to a child’s reality, we’re preparing that child for school and for life. This is a great beginning, thanks to the vision of the Government of Meghalaya and SBI Foundation.”

Sesame Workshop India uses an effective mix of endearing muppets, media and innovation to deliver critical lessons to children. While floor games, storybooks and audio-visual segments bring letters and numbers to life in the classroom, these skills are reinforced at home and in communities through radio and community participation. Using the state’s ICDS curricular framework, Sesame will be training teachers on how to deliver lessons in engaging ways and how to motivate children to become active learners. Parents are equal stakeholders in the child’s learning and will benefit from the program that shows how a caregiver can guide a child through every day play to enhance learning levels.

The ‘Learn, Play, Grow’ initiative is supported by SBI Foundation, as part of its endeavours to continue to transform lives through education. ‘Learn, Play, Grow’ brings new hope and exciting educational opportunities to thousands of young children in Meghalaya. The initiative shares the vision of the National Education Policy, 2019, of ‘transforming the nation sustainably into an equitable and vibrant knowledge society by providing high-quality education to all.’ It is a step towards helping the children of India grow smarter, stronger and kinder.

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