A country is expected to invest in her future generations, and how a country provides for her children shall sow the future of the country. I invite you for a peek into the first interaction that the toddlers/kids have with the Government’s build-up for them and what goes into the character building of our future generation.
Anganwadi is a part of Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), the only major national program that addresses the needs of children under the age of six years. It seeks to provide young children with an integrated package of services such as supplementary nutrition, health care and pre-school education.
We have not used any of the Government-offered services till now – in either education or health sector. So, we thought, we might as well try out Anganwadi for our twin daughters and see to what good use our taxes are being put.
We visited three Anganwadi centres in the vicinity of our house, and the observations are listed below:
The place: We saw 25-30 children in the first two Anganwadi centres and 10-15 in the third. All crammed into the area of one and a half room, approximately about 600-750 sq ft. Leave aside the place to run and jump, there is no way that a child could walk five steps in any direction without bumping into another child.
The apparatus: Women in-charge of Anganwadi centres told us that they have been given some equipment to engage the children. But, this paraphernalia is limited in nature and they are held liable in case of breakage. So, to be on the safer side, they do not bring it out.
The participants: Anganwadi is for children up to six years of age. What we saw was a majority of children, if not all, below three years. We were told that parents put their children above three years in private schools. They do this so that their children are ready for their schooling straight away and get a head start. So, apart from children who cannot take care of themselves, there were no other children around.
The electricity connection: We were told that Government runs Anganwadi centres on rent. The government keeps the rent to the minimum and passes the responsibility of electrical connection to the landlord. Hence, there were no lights or fans in any of the three Anganwadi centres we visited. The landlords had removed the electricity connection.
The Swachh Bharat connect: All the three centres did have a wash-room. But, you can imagine the chaos when there are 2-3 adults for 30 children – who need assistance to visit the washroom. When we visited the first centre, the sight of a 3-year-old girl peeing outside the room, in the open welcomed us.
The timings: On paper, Anganwadi centres are open from 9 am to 4 pm. On the ground, children generally come around at the time when food is distributed or one-two hours before that. They take the food and go back home – unless their parents are too busy to come and pick them up. So, either it is jam-packed, or there is mostly nobody around. It is like a place to collect food and hang around for some time.
The teachers: I do not have any idea about the qualifications of Anganwadi in-charge, so I will stay clear of it. What was visible was 1-2 women seated (as there was not much place to walk), and trying hard to control the 25-30 children. One woman was deputed to take care of the food to avoid raids from the children. The result – a hapless woman surrounded by a crowd of hyperactive children. There were no teachers, as such, practically, it’s not possible to have them.
The place to sleep: There are no fans and no dedicated place to snooze; apart from children all around.
Pre-school education: Pre-school education is a stated objective of Anganwadi. However, the practical aspects governing the set-up makes this completely redundant. One cannot expect anything in an adult-child ratio of 1:30 at worst or 1:15 at best.
At a personal level, we intended to enrol our twin daughters in the Anganwadi. But we got cold feet after seeing the ground reality. As a citizen of this country, it was gut-wrenching to see the environment that the majority of our future generation gets exposed to.
ASER report, for that matter any social audit, will keep showing up dysfunctional Government schools and their abysmal results. However, the rot starts at the very bottom. The foundation that gets built in the Anganwadi is so weak that no character development or substance can ever come out of it.
At Anganwadi, the KRAs / KPIs are limited to physical attributes of some morsels of food getting handed over to a child whose family could not have afforded it otherwise. Our aim is limited to survival; it nowhere talks about development/fulfilment of one’s potential/getting a prosperous life ahead.
At the macro level, the blessed are those who do not have to enlist the support from the Government machinery. We are blissfully unaware of the dreadful state of delivery from the Government.
Coming back to Anganwadi: The parents send their child to Anganwadi in the hope for better exposure, and the Anganwadi has nothing to offer other than a meal to keep the child alive.
Whose children are they anyway?
The observations mentioned above are taken from the two articles:
Disclaimer: For all practical purposes, I do not suppose any person reading this article has had anything to do with Anganwadi at a personal level. This is something similar to most of us knowing about Pratham’s Annual Survey of Education Report (ASER), showing dismal standards of education in Government schools all over India, but none of us has a first-hand account of what actually happens there.