In a junior primary setting, which is the topic of my interest and study, I would like to put forth the key elements that constitute a high quality and effective program. Before I list these key elements, I would like to take the reader through the role and importance of early education and the various theories propounded by experts that have led to the formulation of the key elements.
Studies by researchers on human brain development have indicated that the highest number of neurons is formed from birth to six years of age (R.W. Williams and K. Herrup, Ann. Review Neuroscience, 11:423-453, 1988). This is the period when a child requires the maximum amount of nutrition, care and attention, which if not provided hampers the development of a child. Early childhood education and early childhood educators, including parents, thus play a pivotal role here by providing scope for emotional, social, cognitive, sensory, communication and physical development in a child. The approach for any early education system should be such that it helps a child not just to learn his subject but also to improve motor skills, develop emotionally and socially.
Much research has been done by varied experts on ECE and many theories to improve education and enhance the experience of learning have been proposed. These include the maturationist theory that believes development to be a biological process, which occurs naturally over time (proposed by Arnold Gessell; popularized by Maria Montessori and Jacques Rousseau). This theory believes that children get ready for primary school in their own time and parents and caregivers only need to patiently wait till they can recite the alphabets and numbers. If such a stage does not come at the right age, children can be sent to transitional kindergartens. The Montessori Method developed in early 1900 is an offshoot of this. Developed by Dr. Maria Montessori, it believes that till the age of six, the focus should be on individual paced learning. Small children should first be encouraged towards practical skills like buttoning and towards good manners. Life skills not just improve hand eye coordination and increase attention span in children; they also give children independence to do certain tasks on their own. The Environmentalist theory (John Watson and Skinner), on the other hand, proposes that a child's environment shapes the way he learns and behaves. Readiness for kindergarten thus occurs when a child responds well to that environment and behaves well with other children. The learning theory is another very popular theory today, whereby it is believed that children learn well when they interact with their environment and the people around them. Today the learning theory is quite popular, and many ECE experts propagate its advantages along with a mix of a little of other theories.
The key ingredients constituting a high quality effective education programme
Given the amount of research and number of theories, it is still imperative that an early childhood educator puts into practice what is best for a particular group of children. Early education is not about mastering academic skills. It is about developing holistically, as a social being. It is about being physically able to do certain things, about being emotionally