Context: Infrastructure development and capacity building of the anganwadi remains the key to improving the programme, the standards of all its services need to be up-scaled.
In what areas the ICDS programme lagging?
- Community development: The country has 13.77 lakh AWCs. These centres have undoubtedly expanded their reach, but they need to play a much larger role in anchoring community development.
- Water and sanitation: Nearly a fourth of the operational AWCs lack drinking water facilities and 36 per cent do not have toilets. In 2015, the NITI Aayog recommended better sanitation and drinking water facilities, improved power supply and basic medicines for the AWCs.
- Skillset of workers: It also suggested that these centres be provided with the required number of workers, whose skills should be upgraded through regular training.
- A study on utilisation of ICDS services in coastal Karnataka: It reported enrolment in private nursery schools as a major reason for non-adherence to ICDS services. It also reported the need for improvement in the quality of meals provided by the programme.
- Lack of facilities: AWCs do not provide the environment that encourages parents to leave children at these centres. Only a limited number of AWCs have facilities like creche, and good quality recreational and learning facilities for pre-school education.
What can be done to upscale the programme?
- Playing-based learning: Research have shown that there is a significant amount of cognitive development experienced in children associated with playing-based learning approach.
- An approach that combines an effective supplementary nutrition programme with pedagogic processes that make learning interesting is the need of the hour.
- Combined efforts: Effective implementation of the ICDS programme rests heavily on the combined efforts of the anganwadi workers (AWWs), ASHAs and ANMs. Kerala, Telangana and Tamil Nadu are amongst the states that have done relatively better.
- POSHAN Abhiyaan: The Centre’s POSHAN Abhiyaan has taken important steps towards building capacities of AWWs. It is important that a more robust mechanism is now created to regularly assess and plug knowledge gaps.
- Technology: Technology can also be used for expanding the programme’s quality. AWWs have been provided with smartphones and their supervisors with tablets, under the government schemes.
- Apps on these devices track the distribution of take-home rations and supplementary nutrition services.
- In Andhra Pradesh and Telangana, anganwadi centres have been geotagged to improve service delivery.
- Gujarat has digitised the supply chain of take-home rations and real-time data is being used to minimise stockouts at the anganwadi centres.
- Saksham Anganwadi Scheme aims to upgrade 2.5 lakh such centres across the country.
- First, while infrastructure development and capacity building of the anganwadi remains the key to improving the programme, the standards of all its services need to be upscaled.
- Second, states have much to learn from each other’s experiences.
- Third, anganwadi centres must cater to the needs of the community and the programme’s workers.