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Year : 2021  |  Volume : 30  |  Issue : 1  |  Page : 182-186  Table of Contents     

Seeing the National Education Policy 2020 through the lens of early child development

Department of Paediatrics, Karthikeyan Child Development Unit, Sri Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education and Research, Chennai, Tamil Nadu, India

Date of Submission08-Aug-2020
Date of Acceptance31-Mar-2021
Date of Web Publication30-Jun-2021

Correspondence Address:
Dr. Udayakumar Narasimhan
Professor and Head, Karthikeyan Child Development Unit, Sri Ramachandra Institute of Higher Education and Research, Porur, Chennai, Tamil Nadu
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Source of Support: None, Conflict of Interest: None

DOI: 10.4103/ipj.ipj_158_20

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Globally there is a revolution in science with digitalisation and artificial intelligence. A country's investment in education is crucial to manage the knowledge economy. Early childhood education is the foundation for future academic success and life skills. India's third National Educational Policy emphasises on improving the quality of early learning. This curriculum aligns with the basic theories and stages of early child development, which if effectively implemented leads to holistic development and learning.

Keywords: National educational policy, child development, pedagogy

How to cite this article:
Shirly Anitha G F, Narasimhan U. Seeing the National Education Policy 2020 through the lens of early child development. Ind Psychiatry J 2021;30:182-6

How to cite this URL:
Shirly Anitha G F, Narasimhan U. Seeing the National Education Policy 2020 through the lens of early child development. Ind Psychiatry J [serial online] 2021 [cited 2021 Dec 8];30:182-6. Available from: https://www.industrialpsychiatry.org/text.asp?2021/30/1/182/320353

Education in India is a basic right to each child as endorsed by the “Right to Education Act” in 2009. Children decide a country's future and education in early years lays the foundation for life. The National Education Policy (NEP) 2020 is the third education policy of our country proposed 35 years after the second one in 1986. The focus of the new system shifts from access and equity to quality and accountability.[1] Early Childhood Care and Education (ECCE) refers to the system that supports child development and learning from birth to the age of eight.[2] The ECCE policy was formulated by the Indian government in 2013 and NEP 2020 lays specific emphasis on it.

   The New Pedagogy And Foundational Stage Top

NEP 2020 breaks down the existing 10+2 academic curriculum into a 5 + 3 + 3 + 4 design. This consists of the foundational stage (3–8 years), preparatory stage (8–11 years), middle stage (11–14 years), and secondary stage (14–18 years). The policy states that the academic curriculum has been divided based on the cognitive development of children. This closely aligns with Piaget's stages of cognitive development such as sensorimotor (0–2 years), preoperational (2–7 years), concrete operational (7–11 years), and formal operational (>12 years).[3] The foundational stage incorporates 3 years of preschool/Anganwadi and 2 years of Grades 1 and 2.[1] Child development rapidly unfolds during this phase across various domains such as motor, language, socioemotional, and cognition. This age span of birth to 8 years is focused as a troubling mismatch currently exists in child care and education leading to underutilization of the child's growth potential.[4]

   Neuroplasticity And Critical Period Top

The young brain undergoes rapid development during the first 1000 days which is the period from conception till 2 years of life. This window period lays the foundation for optimum neurodevelopment.[5] The brain volume reaches 83% of the adult brain at 2 years. Neuroplasticity which is the ability of the brain to respond to positive or negative environmental influences is maximum during this period. Each neuron produces 15,000 synapses on an average. During early years, the synapses which are consistently and repeatedly activated are preserved and the ones which are less used are pruned.[6] The “critical period” is the time when any influence or intervention has a peak effect on learning or development. The critical period for language and emotion peaks in infancy ahead of cognitive development. This needs to be kept in mind as parents of this era tend to push on the cognitive academic aspects too early rather than helping the child develop interactive communication and emotional well-being [Figure 1].
Figure 1: Critical period in early life

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   Present Scenario Of Early Education in India Top

Various policies by the government have facilitated wide access of early childhood education, however, it still lacks quality. A subset of the upcoming branded preschools adopt the ECCE curriculum and focus on early learning synchronized with child's developmental milestones. However, there is no uniform curriculum for preschool learning in our country and majority still resort to formal instructive teaching and their activities are developmentally inappropriate. Socioemotional component is completely ignored. Children are not assessed based on the acquisition of skills across all domains of child development.[2] This poses a risk of missing various developmental and behavioral disorders during these crucial years when early intervention helps to bridge the gap.

   The Science of Child Development and Foundational Stage Education National Education Policy 2020 Top

The various concepts put forth by the new system in the foundational stage are supported by scientific evidence from developmental neurology and child psychology.[1]

  • Play-oriented and discovery-based learning – Cognitive development: Piaget's theory states that children in this stage engage in make-believe play where their ideas, words, and images are represented by symbols. This make-believe play facilitates creativity and supports emotional development, language literacy, and sustained attention. This stage is also characterized by magical thinking, animism (that inanimate objects have life), and egocentrism (being unable to differentiate their viewpoint from others).[3] Recent research identifies that preschoolers can develop logical thinking and perform conservation tasks when trained as operational reasoning develops gradually.[6] Underestimation of the cognitive ability of children is a lost opportunity and education should thereby facilitate conceptual thinking right from this age
  • Foundational literacy and numeracy as indispensable for early learning: Mathematics along with language and literacy lay the foundation for all subjects and predict future academic success. The five components of language such as phonemic awareness, morphology, semantics, syntax, and pragmatics are crucial to listen, speak, build vocabulary, and comprehend sentences. A good communication skill also facilitates social bonds with teachers and caregivers. When a child struggles what a given word means in a sentence, it limits learning and slows information processing. Language skills and mathematical ability are mutually related as children learn math from oral language – “talking math” rather than the symbols. Knowledge of print and vocabulary is needed to understand the core component of math and they also predict future numeracy[4]
  • Socioemotional development: This begins as early as infancy with a social smile and goes through various stages through childhood such as social referencing, joint attention, autonomy, and mastery. However, it is always ignored and does not receive the importance that the cognitive domain has. An emotionally stable child will be able to develop good relationships with the teacher, parent, and peers, cope up with emotions and efficient problem-solving skills. Emotional self-regulation improves the child's self-esteem and reduces behavioral problems. Socio-emotional competence lays the foundation for academic success and for a stable balanced life in future[7]
  • Flexible, multilevel, multi-faceted inquiry-based learning based on play and activity: This refers to the constructivist type of classrooms proposed by educators at the beginning of the 20th century but still followed widely. One such was the “Montesoori method” of learning which was child centered and the teacher was a “directress”. Children were provided with various learning activities during the “critical period” when the potential to master skills is maximum. It emphasizes that a child's education should blend and coincide with the stages of development.[8] The “Reggio Emilia educational approach” proposed by Malaguzzi is also child centered and his concept of the “hundred languages of children” illustrates that children have hundred ways to discover, invent, and imagine. Teachers need to create opportunities, observe, and support them. The learning environment itself is considered as the “third teacher” in this approach. Documentation is an important concept of this approach as it not only makes learning visible but helps children to re-examine their experiences again and improves self-esteem.[9] Developmentally appropriate activities should be provided in the child's zone of proximal development as stated by Vygotsky. This zone describes the space between the “actual” developmental skills the child has already mastered and the “potential” developmental skills which can be attained by the child with the assistance of a teacher or a peer[10] [Figure 2]
  • Birth to 3 years: The policy states that a curricular framework would be developed for care of children beginning from birth up to 3 years of life. This aims to utilize the early period of rapid growth by providing appropriate stimulating experiences to mold the young brain. This can be done effectively by strengthening the Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) program which involves early detection and intervention of children with developmental delays[11]
  • Multidimensional assessment of children: This calls for evaluation of the child's developmental progress at regular intervals.[4] The strengths and gaps of the child in each domain of development need to be recorded. This helps in early referrals of conditions such as speech disorders, autism, social pragmatic communication disorder, and developmental coordination disorders. Simple screening developmental checklists would serve this purpose
  • Children With Special Needs (CWSN): In the under 19 age group, it was estimated that there are 7,862,921 children with disabilities according to Indian census 2011.[12] The new system considers providing quality education to such children on par with a typical child. This requires adequate education of teachers to deal with such children as well as improvement in school infrastructure and multidisciplinary support services to accommodate them which thereby decreases school drop out
  • Multilingualism and medium of instruction: The new policy favors a three-language formula, and the medium of instruction to be the child's mother tongue or regional language till Grade 5 and preferably till Grade 8. This is supported by the concept that the neuroplasticity of the young brain requires less language input during the window period of 2–8 years which facilitates easy learning of multiple languages when young. However, learning to read and write in the second language after early years does not seem to be a great initiative. Thus, the predominant current medium of instruction can still be continued until the curriculum for the highest university education is available in the regional languages which the child has been exposed right from early years
  • Gifted Children: The new system states that guidelines would be developed for education of gifted children with a specialization included in teacher training programs as well. Gifted education is not a part of the official education policy in our country and programs for gifted children are scarce.[13] There is a need to identify gifted children as early as the foundational stage as they need a stimulating curriculum to meet their talents else it leads to underachievement in the unchallenging regular curriculum.[14] As NEP 2020 shifts from the current rote curriculum to one with critical and analytical learning, it also benefits gifted children
  • Specific learning disability in NEP 2020: The policy ensures inclusive education for children with specific learning disabilities and training of special educators. Although this has implications in later school years, it is important to identify the early markers of learning disability in the foundational stage. The signs of learning disability in the early years would be difficulty in phonological awareness, letter-sound knowledge (understanding grapheme-phoneme sequence), persistent problems in speech sound disorders, and proper use of morphemes. Early identification helps in early intervention which has better outcomes rather than waiting for the child to fail.[15]
Figure 2: Zone of proximal development

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   Suggestions for Early Learning from Child Developmental Perspective Top

A child's education should follow in accordance with the stages of development where progress in each domain influences the other.


  • Children should be taught practical life skills such as feeding self, serving, to tidy a place after meal, personal hygiene measures, dressing oneself (buttoning, tying shoelace, pull up a zipper), and gardening[9]
  • Hand–eye coordination can be facilitated by stringing beads, using scissors, and guiding pencil grip[16]
  • Sensory skills to be promoted by making a child learn by sight, smell, touch, taste, and by feeling textures
  • Motor coordination should be developed by making them do balancing activities, walking tiptoes, hop, skip, and navigating hurdles[16]
  • Cognitive skills can be developed by sorting things, fitting puzzles, and building blocks of various models
  • Pretend play should be encouraged[17]
  • They need to be told about feelings and strategies to handle anger[17]
  • Children must be educated about indoor (electrical ports, fire) and outdoor dangers (road safety and strangers). Sexual abuse particularly molestation in female children should be discussed
  • They should be encouraged to develop good peer relations by sharing, taking turns and following rules in play.


  • The curriculum for teachers needs to incorporate the core concepts of child development as well as training for education of CWSN. This helps in the effective implementation of early education as teachers play a pivotal role
  • They need to be guided to perform simple screening tests for children such as Trivandrum development screening chart and modified checklist for autism in toddlers, Revised and identify early precursors of learning disability. This helps in early referral and early intervention rather than diagnosing the condition during formal school years. The system in the United Kingdom requires a teacher's evaluation at 5 years by early years foundation stage profile. This gives valuable information on the key components of the child's current development and predicts future literacy.[18]


They should be educated about the importance of early years of rapid brain development and that early education is “learning for life.” Parents can be guided to keep a track of their child's development by online screening tools such as Centers for Disease Control and Prevention milestone tracker,[19] “Track and Act” by Totsguide.[20]

   Conclusion Top

John Locke, a philosopher presumed a child's mind to be a blank slate at birth which is filled up by experiences in school and environment. However, it is now evident that learning starts right from birth, and children readily absorb information from their surrounding environment. NEP 2020 has laid significant emphasis on the quality of early childhood education and urges to maintain a uniform curriculum. The age group chosen, the proposed developmentally appropriate learning methods, and assessment are all supported by scientific evidence. It prepares children to master the traditional 3R's of reading, writing, and arithmetic and caters to holistic development. A country's prosperity depends on the investment in its children and their education. As the “Early bird catches the worm,” molding a child's early years appropriately, early identification, and intervention of concerns present lead to the nation's progress in the long run.

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Conflicts of interest

There are no conflicts of interest.

   References Top

New Education Policy | Government of India, Ministry of Human Resource Development. Available from: https://www.mhrd.gov.in/nep-new. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 03].  Back to cited text no. 1
Reetu C, Renu G, Adarsh S, NCERT,University of Delhi ICF, India. Quality early childhood care and education in India: Initiatives, practice, challenges and enablers. Pac Early Child Educ Res Assoc 2017;11:41-67.  Back to cited text no. 2
Berk LE. Child Development. 9th ed. Illinois State University: Pearson India Education Services; 2013. p. 273-4.  Back to cited text no. 3
National Research Council (U.S.); Allen L, Kelly BB, editors. Transforming the Workforce for Children Birth through Age 8: A Unifying Foundation. Washington, D.C: The National Academies Press; 2015. p. 689.  Back to cited text no. 4
Innocenti UO of R-. The First 1,000 Days of Life: The Brain's Window of Opportunity. UNICEF-IRC. Available from: https://www.unicef-irc.org/article/958-the-first-1000-days-of-life-the-brains-window-of-opportunity.html. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 08].  Back to cited text no. 5
Kliegman R, Geme JS. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 21st ed., Vol. 1. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2020.  Back to cited text no. 6
Darling-Churchill KE, Lippman L. Early childhood social and emotional development: Advancing the field of measurement. J Appl Dev Psychol 2016;45:1-7.  Back to cited text no. 7
Montessori M, Gutek GL. The Montessori Method: The Origins of an Educational Innovation, Including an Abridged and Annotated Edition of Maria Montessori's The Montessori Method. Lanham, MD: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers; 2004. p. 295.  Back to cited text no. 8
Arseven A. The Reggio Emilia approach and curriculum development process. Int J Acad Res 2014;6:166-71.  Back to cited text no. 9
Kliegman RM, Stanton B, Geme JS, Schor NF. Nelson Textbook of Pediatrics. 20th ed., Vol. 1. Philadelphia: Elsevier; 2016.  Back to cited text no. 10
Rashtriya Bal Swasthya Karyakram (RBSK) :: National Health Mission. Available from: https://nhm.gov.in/index1.php?lang=1&level=4&sublinkid=1190&lid=583. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 08].  Back to cited text no. 11
Kamath SS. Childhood disability our responsibility. Indian Pediatr 2015;52:13-4.  Back to cited text no. 12
Roy P. Gifted education in India. Güçyeter S, Zhang SZ, editors. Vol. 4. Cogent Education; 2017. p. 1. Available from: https://www.cogentoa.com/article/100.1080/2331186X.2017.1332815. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 07].  Back to cited text no. 13
Carey WB, Crocker AC, Elias ER, Feldman HM, Coleman WL. Developmental-Behavioral Pediatrics E-Book. 4th ed. Philadelphia: Elsevier Health Sciences; 2009. p. 1061.  Back to cited text no. 14
Colenbrander D, Ricketts J, Breadmore HL. Early identification of dyslexia: Understanding the issues. Lang Speech Hear Serv Sch 2018;49:817-28.  Back to cited text no. 15
ASQ-3. Ages and Stages. Available from: https://agesandstages.com/products-pricing/asq3/. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 06].  Back to cited text no. 16
ASQ:SE-2. Ages and Stages. Available from: https://agesandstages.com/products-pricing/asqse-2/. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 06].  Back to cited text no. 17
Snowling MJ. Early identification and interventions for dyslexia: A contemporary view. J Res Spec Educ Needs 2013;13:7-14.  Back to cited text no. 18
CDC. CDC's Milestone Tracker Mobile App. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention; 2019. Available from: https://www.cdc.gov/ncbddd/actearly/milestones-app.html. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 07].  Back to cited text no. 19
Track and Act – Monitor the Developmental Milestones of Children from 4 Months to 5 Years. Available from: https://www.totsguide.com/track-act. [Last accessed on 2020 Aug 07].  Back to cited text no. 20


  [Figure 1], [Figure 2]


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