There has been a preschool boom in Bangalore. Each layout, especially the residential ones, has at least a dozen preschools. The reasons seem quite obvious. What was once a play home for toddlers has now evolved as a lucrative business.
Playschools have upgraded to preschools, which is undoubtedly a welcoming development for parents. What is unfortunate is the way this progress has blatantly turned into a money-making opportunity.
A few years earlier, preschool education was a choice. Today, preschools have become an absolute necessity. The education system has made preschooling an integral and definite part of a child’s academics. When applying for primary education in reputed schools, children with preschool background have leverage over children who are home-trained. The criteria designed for admitting a child to primary sections have become similar to job interviews. To meet these standards, preschool education seems to be the only way — a trend that has been exploited.
There are many reasons that have turned preschooling into an ‘industry.’ The ‘preschool business’ is thought to be an easy way to ‘mint money.’ Franchising model is one of them. Franchising is basically a business expanding venture. For preschools, franchise is a ‘brand building’ formula through a chain of schools.
For franchisees, who are simply investors with no preschooling knowledge or interest, this is an all-time profit investment. Apart from being a low investment project with minimum legal formatlities, preschools are not monitored by tax department and are exempted from paying service tax. There is also no governing body or laws that regulate preschools and montessories, which analyses the functioning of a preschool or sets an approved curriculum like in regular schools. “All preschools and montessories are a part of unorganized sector and are not regulated by school or primary education department”, said an official from the Department of Public Instructions. Hence, maintaining standards in preschools are not much of a priority.
The annual fees start from Rs. 80,000 and goes beyond 1 lakh. But in highly urban areas like Bangalore, where both parents work in full-time jobs, fees are not much of a concern. Parents are mainly concerned about hygiene, space, and safety of their children. Deepthi Paul, mother of a 3-year old says, “In many schools that I had approached for my daughter, the space for children to move around to something as glaring as lack of safety like open sockets were below standards, unlike what was mentioned in the brochures and on websites.”
Let’s look at some issues seen in most of the preschools in Bangalore.
1. No formal qualification for teachers: The most important part of dealing with toddlers is the kind of the staff employed. Preschool teachers should ideally be graduates in montessori training and in child psychology and development. Unfortunately, that is not the case in a majority of preschools in Bangalore. Most teachers employed are not qualified but are given basic training by the preschool to manage and handle children. Many are also stay-at-home moms who look for jobs that pay well and have convenient timings. Preschool jobs prove to be ideal for them. Understanding child behaviour and teaching toddlers requires well qualified, certified, and trained personnel, which many preschools clearly don’t have.
2. Unscientific teacher-student ratio: A startling situation in preschools is the teacher-student ratio. Some highly ranked and well-recognized preschools maintain the teacher-student ratio of 1:15, which is the ideal number. However, many schools have a teacher-student ratio of 1:35 with an assistant or helper. This is because they admit more children than they can handle. Such an unbalanced teacher-student ratio adversely affects the behaviour and performance of a child. “Many a times, because of this kind of pressure, teachers fail to notice children who are slow learners or who are likely to develop learning disabilities”, says Kaneez Faisal, a B.SC. in psychology, and a diploma holder in pre and primary montessori. Kaneez has been working in the field for 15 years and runs a preschool herself.
3. Visiting not allowed: Preschools generally do not allow parents to visit during teaching hours. The main reason is that children tend to get distracted in presence of parents, which interferes in their learning. The presence of parents also beats the aim of a preschool – to help children function independently and be socially amicable. However, preschools take undue advantage of this rule.
However, today, the intention of implementing this rule is to keep parents away from the teaching environment of the classes – the manner in which teachers manage and teach children, the hygiene ventilation maintained in the classes, and the security and safety of children inside the premises. Preschools are unable to maintain these standards since they are understaffed. “Parents should be allowed to walk in at any time without prior appointments to have a check on their child as long as they don’t meet the child or interfere in the activities”, says Kaneez Faisal.
4. No curriculum: A shocking fact is that most of the preschools – almost 70 per cent – don’t have a curriculum as shown on their brochures or websites. This is due to the lack of a governing body that regulates preschools or their curriculum. Deepthi Paul, a concerned parent, shares her experience about preschool curriculum. “Most preschools claim to follow a set curriculum that are developed after a lot of research or based on international models, but if you dig deeper you would find that there is no proper curriculum and the teachers are not adequately trained. They end up teaching their own versions of the prescribed curriculum”.
Sadly, many preschools draw curriculum from the internet and use it in their brochures.
A curriculum includes the day-to-day schedule, activities involved, how a child would benefit from these, and most importantly the manner in which they are executed. A well-researched and defined curriculum sets the standards of learning skills, life skills, and educational skills being developed in the child. The absence of a properly drafted curriculum significantly affects the cognitive and learning abilities of a child, which develops by the age of 5 years.
The aim of preschools is to shape a child’s learning, cognitive, and comprehension abilities, and to prepare him/her to be social, independent, and responsible. That’s why it’s extremely important to analyse the preschool you choose for your child and be aware of the choices around you.