The context
Bhubaneswar: Teachers agree that the use of mother tongue in teaching increases students’ participation. Further, students easily learn a second language after gaining proficiency in the first language. The exact opposite is happening in our country. Everyone who can afford to send their children to an English medium school are catching the bandwagon. The profound impact of this is reduced proficiency in the mother tongue and national language. Undoubtedly, early childhood education is an important and fundamental stage of learning both at the family and primary school level. It is during this period a child goes through the most rapid phase of growth and development. Parents are the first teachers and family the first institution where a child begins to learn before the primary school takes over. During this transition the first language plays a critical role in sustaining the rate of learning. It is here the non-cognitive and cognitive skills of the child start to shape up, the perception of the world begins to develop, moral outlook and self-esteem are established. Awkwardly, cultural colonialism that promotes the dominant culture in our country overlooks this aspect by using English/National/Regional language for classroom teaching at the primary level for mass education. Majority of the children in India attend these schools, a significant population among them don’t speak the English/National/Regional language, especially those from other communities, migrant communities, indigenous communities and ethnic minorities. The magnitude and complexity of the linguistic problem in India is immense as it is a diverse country with numerous languages and dialects.Further, there has been a linguistic erosion in our country. There is a need to promote these languages. In our country, there is a need to advocate the language rights, specifically the indigenous language rights.

Mother tongue-based education a must for indigenous kids
In case of indigenous communities’schools alienate the children during elementary education when they start imparting education in a language other than the mother tongue.The teachers are complete outsiders with limited or no knowledge of indigenous cultures and sensitivities. As a result, the children find the ambience hostile, they are withdrawn and feel uprooted leading to their dropping out of school.The Constitution of India endorses mother tongue-based education at the primary school level. Time and again it has been recommended that teaching should be imparted in the mother language and teachers should be locally recruited who understand and respect tribal culture and practices and most importantly are acquainted with the local language. Despite this, in most Indian States, official/regional languages are used for class room teaching at the primary level.
The thinking behind imparting primary education in the mother tongue, especially in case of children from tribal communities, is correct but it has to be actioned. This is where Kalinga Institute of Social Sciences (KISS), Odisha is making a difference by adopting creative methods in Mother Tongue Based Multilingual Education (MTB-MLE) to reduce cognitive inequalities faced by children from indigenous communities during primary schooling.

The on-going MTB-MLE programme at KISS and what it has achieved over the last three decades challenges cultural colonialism. By providing quality education to more than 60,000 tribal children free of cost it has empowered them and ushered tribal transformation. KISS started the MTB-MLE programme in collaboration with Bernard van Leer Foundation (BvLF). The programme was designed to address language gaps during early learning. It promoted the growth of indigenous languages and culture in the state while developing cognitive, social, physical and mental abilities of young children leading to an easy assimilation into formal schooling. Children at early learning stages were provided education through Mother Tongue based Transition Curriculum – an innovative pedagogic initiative, training modules, assessment tools to track students’ activities, and teaching/learning materials in 10 Indigenous languages to bridge the language gap.
MTB-MLE provides a strong foundation in the 1st language (Mother Tongue), adding second (regional) and third languages, while enabling the appropriate use of both/all languages for lifelong learning. It also strengthens stakeholder engagement as it promotes more participation of the parents and community in the school activities. Many milestones have been achieved under the MTB-MLE programme since 2013. These include:
• More than 25,000 indigenous children have benefitted from the programme
• 150+ teachers have been trained under the programme and 40+ resource teachers created to sustain this programme
• Eight smart-pictorial-classrooms where children connect to their mother languages by relating to their respective cultures and ways of living through pictorial representations on classroom walls have been created
• A language lab has been established
• A children’s magazine, KUSUMA, giving space to children’s’ creativity has been launched
• An alphabet based KUVI animated film has been developed to help indigenous children learn Odia alphabets in their mother tongue through joyful songs

Uphill task
Due to the efforts of few State Governments notably that of Andhra Pradesh, Odisha, Chhattisgarh and Jharkhand and institutions like KISS in the specific context of education, MTB- MLE is now a well-established strategy to improve proficiency of tribal children in the first language at the elementary level and then subsequently in other languages. Thus, enhancing their cognitive skills and improving their attendance at school.
KISS has demonstrated that education for all should include children from indigenous communities and can be achieved by focussing on MTB-MLE during early childhood. This approach helps in retention of children at school. Ensures preservation of language and cultural identity of indigenous communities. Reduces inequalities by providing a level playing field as envisaged by SDG#10. There is a need to build multi-stakeholder partnerships to strengthen the MTB-MLE in Odisha and at the national level. Such a collaborative approach will promote knowledge sharing and avoid duplicity of efforts. It would ensure the enrolment of more children from indigenous communities from across India by replicating and scaling up the KISS model.
If traditional indigenous knowledge and culture have to be protected the mother language has to be promoted. Santali has made it to the list of scheduled languages. The uphill task is to adorn the list with many more such jewels from the indigenous repository.