So, here’s something about my work. The project I’m involved, in CLR, is basically a capacity building and monitoring program for the ICDS cascade. Integrated Child Development Services or ICDS is one of the world’s largest programmes for early childhood development, with an annual budget allocation of nearly Rs. 10,000 crores. As originally conceived, it is meant to provide a holistic developmental support to the youngest children up to 6 years, including health check-up, immunisation and referral services (delivered through the public health infrastructure) and nutrition and health education (for mothers) and supplementary nutrition and early childhood education (delivered through anganwadi centres or AWCs).
While large advances have been made in addressing malnutrition and reducing infant and under-five mortality rates through these initiatives, the absolute percentages continue to remain unacceptably high. Moreover, it is broadly accepted that the delivery of early childhood education as well as parents’ education has not received the attention it deserves given the importance of emotional, psycho-social and cognitive support and development at this stage of a child’s life.
Child Development Project Officers (CDPO’s) are the heads of, typically, a block-sized ICDS project. It is a substantial-sized system with multiple objectives and often conflicting priorities. In view of the complexity of the undertaking as well as the involvement of multiple agencies, CDPO’s need a high level of leadership skills.
Most CDPO’s currently see the importance of their work relatively narrowly, essentially as an administrative task centred on reducing malnutrition. However, the criticality of all-round developmental inputs (health, nutrition, psycho-social, emotional, cognitive) during the first six years of a human being’s life, and the extreme difficulty of making up for any deficits later in life has been well-established. A large majority of children, especially from the less-privileged sections, depend on ICDS to receive these inputs. CDPO’s, therefore, have the potential of causing a large-scale societal transformation through the work they do by enabling a larger fraction of our under-privileged children to lead more fulfilling lives.
Unfortunately, most CDPO’s have received little formal or informal input for developing these skills. This programme proposes to help improve those skills in a phased manner across the entire state. Chhattisgarh state has recently developed an ECCE curriculum and a comprehensive activity bank for use in anganwadis. It has also developed timetables for its transaction in the anganwadis. However, its effective implementation is critically dependent on a comprehensive capacity-building programme at various levels in ICDS. This programme seeks to begin that process on a pilot basis for further scaling up at a subsequent stage. At the same time, it seeks to develop the broader leadership skills among CDPO’s so that all the domains of their responsibilities can be addressed. In other states like Uttar Pradesh, the intervention is done in the district level (District Program Officers) considering the size and diversity of the state.