First Steps of Tiny Tots | Daily News

First Steps of Tiny Tots

Improving the Quality of Early Childhood education

The teaching-learning process is no more chalk and talk. It has changed over the years. A fun way approach towards imparting knowledge is the in thing. The preschool or Montessori is the best place to get your toddler ready both socially and academically for the test that awaits him or her at the start of elementary school.

For many children the preschool is their first experience in a structured setting with teachers and groups of children. It is an opportunity to learn to share, follow instructions, and begin the foundation for learning that will occur in elementary school.

Since the preschool or Montessori sets the foundation of a child’s future UNICEF works to give every child a fair start in school by supporting early learning in 143 countries around the globe by focusing on aspects like equity and affordability, support, data, monitoring and evidence, advocacy and communication.

However with preschools and Montessori education centers mushrooming in every nook and corner in the country the question of selecting a place which is best suited for your child is a matter which weights down heavily in the parents’ minds.

Today pre schools have become a fine business for money making. Rather than helping the tiny tots in their overall grooming, some of these institutions are set up in unsuitable premises, are ill equipped or have unqualified teachers who act as caretakers to children rather than mentors. Some places offer little more than mere play activities. At the same time, the current trend to focus on pre-math and pre-literacy skills in preschools cuts into important play time and pushes a child to grow up too fast. It is a confusing issue for parents especially with friends and family offering different opinions and advice.

Former lecturer of the Educational Faculty of the University of Colombo Prof. Daya Rohana Athukorala says that 90 percent of our brain grows during the period of infancy and toddlerhood.

“With regard to mental element, the child should be moved in taking decisions (autonomy) and in helping them to do their work in their own. Even in the education system of children self formation is employed using informal education as an instrument, respecting the independent thinking of the child. Toddlerhood brings with it increasingly complex social influences. Therefore, a relaxed and independent mode of thinking needs to be adopted in enhancing the creativity and thought patterns of a child,” he said.

Prof. Athukorala has been over the years highlighting the importance of impressive and expressive skills to inculcate learning experiences in a child. Though there are no formal rules and regulations in connection to preschool education, there is a chance to learn a lot through preschools by exploring and playing under the guidance of helpful and caring teachers. Toddlers are able to pick up basic knowledge, information and skills that will be handy once they start elementary schooling.

“A child basically starts to learn letters and numbers when he or she enters school. However some schools expect the child to write their name during the grade one enrollment interview. It is really sad to see three-year-olds learning stuff that ought to be taught to a six-year-olds! Parents too worry over the child not being able to read or write. I believe that steps should be taken to educate the teachers and parents about what to expect from early childhood education first,” he stressed.

Popular method

The Montessori Method has been a popular teaching method which teachers have relayed on for years. Many preschool teachers consider the Diploma of Association Montessori International (AMI) as a qualification to set up their own Montessori. AMI is recognised internationally as an authoritative voice regarding the unique nature of childhood, natural human development and the rights of the child.

Introduced by Italian scientist Dr. Maria Montessori, who observed and studied young children, the teaching method believes that the mind of a child has a capacity to unconsciously absorb everything about its environment. She believed that experiences created during the first six years of life becomes permanent, and that early childhood education and environment has a lifelong effect upon the child’s personality. Thus the Montessori Method is probably the most popular and most sought out preschool philosophies in the world. Other forms of early childhood education philosophies which are less popular include Waldorf, Reggio Emilia, HighScope, Bank Street, Creative Curriculum and Cooperative.

According to UNICEF more than half of all three to six-year-olds (159 million children) have no access to pre-primary education. Children living in the poorest households are up to 10 times less likely to attend pre-primary than those in the richest. Only 25 percent of children in countries studied are developmentally on track in reading and math, which dampens their prospects for school success. A big part of the problem is a lack of investment, by governments in low and middle-income countries, in early learning and education. Many spend only between 0.1 percent and 0.2 percent of Gross National Product (GNP) on preschool education.

Unless governments, donors and partners allocate more resources to quality early learning programmes, especially for the poorest children, the learning crisis will continue and economic disparities will widen.

Local situation

Sri Lanka has around 17,020 Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers staffed by about 29,340 teachers. A majority of these centers are under non-state management. Sri Lanka’s 13th Amendment of the Constitution positioned preschool education in the hands of the nine provinces. Thus the coordinating committees at the provincial, district, divisional and village levels fall under the supervision of a National Coordination Committee on Early Childhood Care and Development within the Children Secretariat.


With regard to mental element, the child should be moved in taking decisions (autonomy) and in helping them to do their work in their own. Even in the education system of children self formation is employed using informal education as an instrument, respecting the independent thinking of the child. Toddlerhood brings with it increasingly complex social influences. Therefore, a relaxed and independent mode of thinking needs to be adopted in enhancing the creativity and thought patterns of a child,” Prof. Daya Rohana Athukorala said

Although some provinces offer preschool teacher training programmes it is a fact that there is no national curriculum for training preschool teachers apart from a few guidelines given to them via diploma courses. A number of institutions including many preschools offer certificates or diplomas in Early Childhood Education with some courses as short as three months with course work only at weekends. Institutions like the Open University of Sri Lanka and the National Institute of Education (NIE) offer registered courses on Early Childhood Education. The provinces too have established courses according their requirements through which a candidate can become a qualified preschool teacher.

“We are currently in the process of Developing National co curriculum frame work for pre schoolchildren jointly with NIE and other experts in Early Childhood Education. The Children’s Secretariat has formulated the Early Childhood Development Standards (ECDS) for the pre school aged children (ages of 3 to 5 years) with a series of research carried out with experts in Early Childhoods Care and Development. The Cabinet has given its approval for these standards in 2017 and established them as National Early Childhood Development Standards,” Children Secretariat Director Nayana Senaratne explained.

“These National Early Childhood Development Standards specify what children ‘should do and be able to do’ at a particular age. A national core curriculum for pre schoolchildren has been developed based on these standards. An Early Childhood Assessment tool is developed for pre school teachers to assess whether children have met the expected standards of learning and development stated in the ECDS. We are implementing it in 3,000 pre schools as a pilot programme in 10 districts this year. The teachers are thoroughly trained through master trainers of the Children Secretariat on Early Childhood Assessment tool,” she added.

The authority to register preschools remain at a provincial level while the management of the training programmes are conducted by the provincial Education Ministry or Department or at times by an independent authority.


Speaking about the standards set by the Children Secretariat for teachers and Early Childhood Development Centers, Senaratne said that an updated version of the guidelines established in 2016 has been made. Women and Child Affairs Ministr Chandrani Bandara has presented it for Cabinet approval. According to the new version of guidelines candidate should be between 18 to 30 years old. The maximum age limit of a preschool teacher is 60 years.

The candidate should pass six subjects including their mother tongue and mathematics for in their GCE Ordinary Level examination with credit passes for three subjects. In addition he or she should have followed a course approved by the Early Childhood Care and Development National Committee for a minimum of one year (300 hours) as well as taken part in a weekend training programme at least once per year 50 hours). A person who has followed an NVQ Level 4 preschool teacher’s certificate course by an institute recommended by the Tertiary and Vocational Education Commission (TVEC) is also eligible to apply for the post.

“The provinces too have made guidelines with minimum standards according to the requirements in their areas. They have set their standards by using our guidelines as a yardstick,” she said.

Picture by Shan Ranbukwella

Studies have shown that preschools aid a child’s development and students who have attended preschools have a higher graduation rate than those who have not attended a preschool. Research also suggests that students who attend preschools are unlikely to be put into special education schemes or win scholarships.

Toddlers who attend quality preschools are exposed to numbers, letters, and shapes. More importantly, they learn how to socialize - get along with other children, and to share and contribute. Children who attend high-quality preschools enter elementary school with better pre-reading skills, richer vocabularies, and stronger basic math skills.

Young children can certainly learn letters and numbers, but to sit kids down and ‘teach’ them is the wrong way to do it. They learn best through doing the kinds of activities they find interesting such as storytelling, talking to their teachers and peers and, playing with blocks.

Holistic development

Speaking to the Daily News, Women and Child Affairs Ministry Secretary Ashoka Alawatte emphasized the importance of promoting child’s holistic development.

“Rather than refer to the process as education, we expect holistic development from a preschooler. According to the Education Ministry primary entrance does not require an interview. However there is a smooth transition programme which established a preschooler from their preschool background to the primary class. A primary student too starts learning to write only in the third term.”

According to Colombo’s first female Mayor Rosy Senanayake, Early Childhood Education and preschools will be top priority on her list. She stresses that the need to train young children on aspects like respecting women should start at an early age.

“In Sri Lanka we only upgrade the numeracy and literacy, but we do not address the social and emotional thinking of a child. The right attitudes have to be inculcated in children during their preschool years if we need reconciliation and peace to last. I have brought forth a subject called 'Think Equal’ which is a social and emotional value-based education which begins at pre school; much-needed in today’s society,” she said adding that the goal of the programme is working towards a world in which children of all genders, ethnicities, religions and other backgrounds have optimal opportunities to develop their full potential, have their views respected, respect one another, live free of discrimination and violence, become youth leaders, and active participants of a free and equal world.

There are several projects initiated by the Children Secretariat that are aimed at the welfare of preschoolers and pre school teachers. One such programme provides a morning meal for pre schoolchildren suffering from malnutrition. This has been commencing from March 2017.

“The main objective of this programme is to upgrade the nutrition level of underweight children in the preschool age and to encourage children to attend preschool. Training healthy habits from preschool days, providing economic benefits to poor families and making people aware of the public sector contribution towards the human resource development of the country through total development are among the other objectives of the programme,” she said.

Ongoing programmes

The programme is operating for Early Childhood Development Centers where children with minimum levels nutrition are found according to the data obtained from the Health Ministry and the District Directors of Health Services. Around 51,213 children in 2,050 Preschools located in 206 Divisional Secretariats in the island have been chose to benefit from this programme. Rs 300 million has been allocated to implement this programme in 2017 and 49,320 pre schoolchildren have become beneficiaries by the end of October 2017. Other than that the Children Secretariat conducts training programmes for preschool teachers on awareness of nutrition in all 25 districts in collaboration with the National Nutrition Secretariat and Health Ministry.

Parental awareness programmes too are being conducted in several areas of the country via Early Childhood Development Officers who have been especially trained on parental awareness issues. In addition to these programmes other projects like the Rs 250 allowance (Lama Diriya) for preschool teachers, ‘Senehe Thataka’ – a home based early childhood development programme, Model Villages Project on Early Childhood Care and Development and several projects on divisional levels have been established in the past.


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