Mother Tongue-based Multilingual Early Childhood Education (MTMECE) is the key to increasing literacy as well as other skills for development among tribal children, said experts at a two-day national conference inaugurated at Gopalpur beach resort in Ganjam district of Odisha on Wednesday.
Odisha is the first State in India to have a MTMECE policy. This conference ‘Invest in Young Children’ is being organised by the Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF) in collaboration with the State Women and Child Development department and social organisations such as PREM, DISHA, KISS, SPREAD, CECED and ICF International.
The conference aims at better understanding and development of strategies for implementation of the MTMECE in tribal areas. During various sessions, factors affecting parenting, the process of creating trained and skilled human resources for delivering MTMECE at grassroot level in tribal areas to develop the pedagogy and resources were discussed. Role of government and private sectors in this effort were also discussed.
The conference was inaugurated by State Minister for Women and Child Development Usha Devi who said: “Use of mother tongue and multilingual education can lead to more family interaction in promoting literacy, mathematical skills and higher cognitive skills among tribal children.”
She added that use of mother tongue during pre-school education increases identity of tribal children. Women and Child Development secretary Vishal Kumar Dev said: “Early childhood is an important phase in the overall development of a child and MTMECE is very crucial as it makes children feel secure, understand the world around them better to perform better with advancement of age.”
Ms. Dharitri Patnaik, senior representative BvLF, stated that with increased awareness and support, the debate has shifted from ‘why invest’ to ‘how to invest’.
The conference was attended by around 100 experts, representatives of institutions, civil society as well as government officials. The Odisha government’s initiatives for implementation of MTMECE in comparison to other States were also discussed. According to the organisers, the outcome would help in suggesting a road map to monitor, evaluate and finance MTMECE in States like Odisha.
According to Census data, literacy rate among the Scheduled Caste and Scheduled Tribe children was quite low in comparison to national average. Out of around eight million tribal populace in Odisha, 1.4 million are children between 0-6 years of age. Literacy rate among the tribal children is 37 per cent in comparison to the State average of 63 per cent. It was felt that MTMECE would increase admission of tribal children in schools and reduce their drop out rate.