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Insights into Editorial: The need to reopen anganwadis

 

A typical worker spends an estimated 10% of their time — 28 minutes per day — on pre-school education, compared to the recommended daily 120 minutes. Anganwadis often lack adequate infrastructure

Context:

Being closed since the April 2020-lockdown, anganwadis are slowly reopening.

Those in Karnataka, Bihar and Tamil Nadu are opening or considering opening shortly.

As part of the Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS), anganwadis play a crucial role in supporting households, particularly from low-income families, by providing childcare, health and nutrition, education, supplementary nutrition, immunisation, health check-up and referral services.

The largest in the world, ICDS covers about 88 million children aged 0-6 years in India.

Their closure significantly impacted service delivery and weakened an important social safety net.

 

About ICDS programme:

Integrated Child Development Services (ICDS) is an Indian government welfare programme that provides food, preschool education, and primary healthcare to children under 6 years of age and their mothers.

The scheme was started in 1975 and aims at the holistic development of children and empowerment of mother. It is a Centrally-Sponsored scheme.

Supplementary Nutrition includes Take Home Ration (THR), Hot Cooked Meal and morning snacks and holds importance for many vulnerable households as it impacts the nutritional outcome of the children.

The scheme primarily runs through the Anganwadi centre. The scheme is under the Ministry of Women and Child Development.

Integrated Child Development Services is Centrally-Sponsored and will provide the following six services to the beneficiaries:

  1. Supplementary Nutrition (SNP)
  2. Health & Nutrition Check-Up
  3. Immunization
  4. Non-Formal Education for Children in Pre-School
  5. Health and Nutrition Education
  6. Referral services

 

0-6 years age of a child: Crucial developmental window:

  1. Early childhood, the period from birth to five years of age, is a crucial developmental window.
  2. As platforms for early childhood education and nutrition support, anganwadis can play an important role for children to achieve their potential.
  3. The National Education Policy, 2020, places anganwadis at the centre of the push to universalize access to early childhood care and education (ECCE).
  4. Last week, the government proposed a phased rollout of ECCE programme across all anganwadis, covering one-fifth each year, starting from 2021-22.
  5. Even as we acknowledge their heroic work and push for urgent reopening, we need to offer solutions to their myriad challenges.
  6. Despite being the primary information-source on nutrition, anganwadi workers can lack key knowledge – as found by studies from Delhi and Bihar.
  7. Surveys we conducted in 2018-19 found that among mothers listed with anganwadi workers, knowledge about key health behaviour such as complementary feeding and handwashing was low, at 54% and 49%. Anganwadi workers often do not have the support or training to provide ECCE.
  8. Administrative responsibilities take up significant time, and core services like pre-school education are deprioritized.
  9. .
  10. NITI Aayog found that only 59% of anganwadis had adequate seating for children and workers, and more than half were unhygienic.
  11. These issues worsen in an urban context, with the utilisation of early childcare services at anganwadis at only 28%, compared to 42% for rural areas, according to NFHS-4 data.

 

ICDS: Source of crucial support:

Surveys by IDinsight across five States in November 2018 and November 2019 found that anganwadi workers were a primary source of nutrition information for families.

Even as anganwadis resumed services, the closure has impacted their ability to serve as childcare centres.

According to National Family Health Service (NFHS)-5 data, in 2019-20, less than 15% of five-year-old attended any pre-primary school at all.

A recent study estimates that the time women spend on unpaid work may have increased by 30% during the pandemic.

In our COVID-19 rural household surveys across eight States, 58% of women cited home-schooling as the biggest contributor to increase in unpaid work.

Sending younger children to anganwadis will free up women’s time, including for economic activities.

 

Deepening impact will yield better results:

  1. As anganwadis reopen, we must prioritise interventions with a demonstrated history of success, and evaluate new ones.
  2. Studies in Odisha and Andhra Pradesh (and globally) have found that home visits, where volunteers work with children and caregivers, significantly improved cognition, language, motor development and nutritional intake while also reducing stunting.
  3. Recent initiatives around home-based newborn and young child care are promising, but they need to extend beyond the first few months of a child’s life, with seamless coordination with anganwadi workers.
  4. Many States will have to improve career incentives and remuneration for anganwadi workers.
  5. One way to ensure they have more time is to hire additional workers at anganwadis. A recent study in Tamil Nadu found that an additional worker devoted to pre-school education led to cost effective gains in both learning and nutrition.

 

Revamping of Anganwadis:

Revamping of Anganwadis is a continuous process for which various steps have been taken from time to time by the Ministry of Women & Child Development for improving the condition of Anganwadi centres across the country.

Following measures have been taken for upgradation of facilities at Anganwadi Centres (AWCs):

  1. Revised joint guidelines were issued by Ministries of Women & Child Development, Rural Development and Panchayati Raj for construction of 4 lakh AWC buildings across the country under Mahatma Gandhi National Rural Employment Guarantee Scheme (MGNREGS) in convergence with Anganwadi Services (ICDS Scheme).
  2. Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) have been provided with Smart Phones for efficient service delivery.
  3. Streamlined guidelines were issued covering several aspects such as quality assurance, roles and responsibilities of duty holders, procedure for procurement, integrating AYUSH concepts and Data management and Monitoring through ‘Poshan Tracker’ for transparency, efficiency and accountability in delivery of Supplementary Nutrition.
  4. Training is a crucial element in the Anganwadi Services Scheme as the achievement of the Programme goals largely depend upon the effectiveness of frontline workers in improving service delivery.
  5. Since the inception of the Scheme, the Ministry has formulated a comprehensive training strategy for the functionaries of Anganwadi Services. Training is imparted to the functionaries on a regular basis.
  6. Anganwadi Workers are provided job training for 26 working days. During this job training, the knowledge, understanding and skills of Anganwadi Workers on various Acts, Policies, Programmes related to women and children, setting up vibrant Anganwadi Centres, conducting Early Childhood Care and Education activities, health & nutrition care of children and women, Community Mobilisation, Awareness, Advocacy & IEC, Management of AWC and hands on experience through supervised practice to work in Anganwadi Centres are developed.
  7. Moreover, a robust ICT enabled platform named Poshantracker has been designed to capture real-time data on implementation and monitoring of Anganwadi Services across the country.
  8. The Poshan Tracker management application provides a 360 – degree view of the activities of the Anganwadi Centre (AWC), service deliveries of Anganwadi Workers (AWWs) and complete beneficiary management.

 

Conclusion:

Policymakers have tried linking anganwadis and primary schools to strengthen convergence, as well as expanding the duration of daycare at anganwadis.

Reaching out to women during pregnancy can increase the likelihood that their children use ICDS services – as tried in Tamil Nadu.

In order to boost coverage as they reopen, large scale enrolment drives, that worked in Gujarat, may help mobilise eligible children.

As the world’s largest provider of early childhood services, anganwadis perform a crucial role in contributing to life outcomes of children across India.

To improve these outcomes, we need to invest more significantly in anganwadis, and roll out proven innovative interventions.