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April News Roundup of India: 10 things you should know

Our April roundup of news from India hones in on the new guidelines and curriculum for preschools, new reports on the impact of the Maternity Benefit Act, and new crèche facilities at a number of government offices.

1. The High Court of Karnataka has issued notices to the Central and state governments to make provisions under Section 2 of the Maternity Benefit Act, 1961, applicable to every woman employee irrespective of the number of employees within an organisation.

2. The National Council of Education Research and Training (NCERT) has issued nursery guidelines and a curriculum on what an ideal preschool should be like and the learning outcomes that should be achieved in the two years before formal schooling begins. At present there is no model curriculum for nursery education and schools are free to decide what and how the children should be taught. The NCERT guidelines recommend that:

- The minimum age for admission to nursery should be 3 years
- The admission process should not involve evaluation or interaction
- Teachers should have passed Class 10+2 and hold a diploma in preschool education
- The teacher to child ratio should be 1:25
- The duration of the programme should be fixed at four hours

The guidelines also lay down the basic infrastructure that preschools should have. It states that the school building should be located away from traffic, ponds, wells, ditches, uncovered drains, should have an outdoor play area, separate toilets for boys and girls and CCTV cameras on campus. It also defines the standard size of a preschool classroom – 8 x 6 square metres to accommodate a maximum of 25 children. It also defines the role and responsibilities of the preschool principal, teachers and the helpers.

The state governments have two weeks to give their feedback on the guidelines and curriculum to the NCERT, following which the Council will hold a national consultation to finalise the document (expected mid to late May based on this timeline). Like the National Curriculum Framework or NCF, the preschool curriculum will not be binding on the states. “They will be encouraged to adopt it,” said a senior NCERT official.

3. The Women and Child Development (WCD) Department has issued an order on the guidelines and compliance of standard operating procedures, saying that all childcare institutions must have adequate number of security officers, guards, CCTV cameras and fire extinguishers to ensure safety and security of the children in such institutions. 

4. In an important ruling that will regulate play schools, the Delhi High Court said it is mandatory to get No Objection Certificates (NOCs) from other occupants of a building if one of the owners  wants to start a pre-primary school on the premises. The ruling is significant as it will help authorities regulate permission for schools/creches/play schools for toddlers that have mushroomed in recent years in residential areas of the capital.

5. Improved maternity benefits could prove counterproductive according to a new survey. According to a survey the costs and benefits of the new regulations by leading employment services company TeamLease:

- At least 26% of the 350 start-ups and small and medium enterprises (SMEs) that responded said they will prefer to hire male candidates, given the cost of six-month maternity leave benefit.
- Around 40% said they will hire women but will consider whether such a cost is worth the candidate.
- However, 39% of organisations said the move will have a positive impact and will lead to a happier workforce but 35% of the respondents said that the six-month maternity leave will impact  both cost and profitability.

6. A recent report on gender equality by the Mckinsey Global Institute (MGI) shows that India is one of the lowest-ranked countries in the Asia-Pacific in terms of labour force participation by females and the contribution of women to GDP, based on figures from 2016. Around 18% of India’s GDP is accounted for by women, while the share of females in the country’s labour force is 25%. MGI estimates that India’s GDP, if everything were to carry on as usual, could increase by $770 billion, or 18%, by 2025 by giving women access to equal work opportunities as men.  Around $550bn, or 70% of this increase, would come by just increasing the share of females in the workforce by 10%.

7. Ashoka University’s Genpact Centre for Women’s Leadership has released a ‘first of its kind’ study exploring the lived experiences of maternity and career among women and their return to the workforce across sectors. The objective of the research is to enable women to retain their careers post-maternity and use the findings for programmatic interventions to support and empower  pregnant women and returning mothers. There were four main issues identified:

- At an individual level women felt guilt – if they re-joined the workforce they felt guilty for putting themselves first before their child and family. 
- At a family level, they felt they had to compromise as men earned more and it was their responsibility to take care of the house, childcare and the in-laws, and adjust. 
- At a workplace level, supervisors felt women are unproductive and inefficient due to the low-level assignments and responsibilities given after childbirth. 
- Social norms dictate women should focus on children and the home and these are women’s responsibility (agreed by fathers and in-laws).

8. A new crèche has opened at Chandigarh High Court for children of litigants and Bar members. The crèche currently has 40 children enrolled and is operated by Bal Bhawan of Chandigarh administration and granted by social welfare department.

9. Information and Broadcasting ministry approved a crèche in National Media Centre for the children of journalists. The centre is likely to help women working in the sector. Similarly, the Parliament house is also planning to have its own crèche.

10. The Supreme Court, New Delhi, will have a creche from May 1 in its new annexe building premises for working lawyer parents, staff of apex court and advocates, as the top court approved new guidelines to regulate the facility.

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