Early Childhood Development (ECD) has been a key focus of the Aga Khan Foundation (AKF) for several decades. In India, ECD programmes are being implemented in Bihar, Delhi, Gujarat, and Uttar Pradesh.
In addition, the Aga Khan Education Service (AKES) has built capacity in the field of Early Childhood Development and currently operates out of Gujarat, Maharashtra and Telengana, managing 27 Early Years facilities in the rural, peri-urban and urban areas, which include “in-school” set ups, stand-alone centres and community based centres. The ECD programme helps children get a head start in life by bringing together international best practices in early childhood development and the needs of local contexts. AKF focuses on using locally relevant curricula, experimenting with different types of training and support for parents, caregivers and pre-school teachers, and identifying successful and sustainable ways of mobilising and involving communities. Special emphasis is placed on ensuring programmes reach girls and other marginalised groups. AKF also supports the establishment and strengthening of local resource centres (mostly governmental) that over time evolve into sustainable institutions that meet the needs of young children and their families. In 2013, a ten-country study of AKF’s ECD programmes found that in most cases pre-school children with one to two years of pre-school education, scored on average about 10 percentage points better on achievement tests than children without this experience and were much more prepared for school compared to other students entering school as the same age. For AKES, the Shishu Pahel Paddati or the “Child First” approach defines all its interventions in ECD. AKES encourages parents, teachers and communities to work together for the children in their care and ensures a holistic, neuroscience informed, developmentally appropriate, culturally relevant and nurturance practice for the children. AKES focuses on continually improving quality in line with global best practices and ensures that the Early Childhood Programme provides a safe and nurturing learning environment for children while meeting the developmental needs of the child. It is currently offering services for the 3-8 years’ age group through school programmes as well as parenting programmes, and will very soon begin direct work with the 1-3 years’ age group. Recognizing teachers as the nucleus for change, AKES's work with teachers is intense and aims to enable teachers through continuous professional development and cross-country collaborative work.