Shillong(Meghalaya), July 15 : A renowned expert in paediatrics and childhood development, Dr. Jack Shonkoff, has heralded Meghalaya’s Early Childhood Development Mission, as well as the drive of Meghalaya’s state leadership, as an inspiring initiative that can pave the way for other states and countries to follow.
Dr. Shonkoff’s comments were made as part of a presentation to The Meghalaya State Capability Forum on July 13. This event was attended by key policy makers and researchers to explore how the state can leverage the science of early childhood development to break the chain of intergenerational poverty. CM Conrad K. Sangma, chaired the event, with Dr Vinod K. Paul, a Paediatrician and Member of NITI Aayog, as the Guest of Honour. The event was organised by Meghalaya’s State Capability Enhancement Project (SCEP).
The July event had as its focus Meghalaya’s pioneering Early Childhood Development Mission. Recently launched under the Chief Minister’s leadership, the ECD Mission is providing 3 core components of care for young children and their families: healthy nutrition to ensure full growth of each child, mental stimulation to ensure each child’s proper cognitive development, and support groups and mentoring of parents.
The ECD Mission has also extended coverage of supplementary nutrition to 1500 villages that have never before been covered under Government of India’s Integrated Childhood Development Scheme (ICDS). By this one move, approximately 50,000 children and 10,000 parents are now receiving nutrition support, through Self-Help Groups. As such, the ECD Mission is both deploying the latest in scientific understanding for childhood development, while also building on the particular cultural strengths of Meghalaya – namely, its strong community institutions.
Dr Jack Shonkoff, keynote speaker at the event, is the Director of the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University and a pioneering global researcher in the field. Dr Shonkoff spoke about the importance and potential gains from investing in the early childhood period when the brain goes through the highest rate of development. He presented the latest scientific evidence on how repeated exposure to stress can change the brain and lead to lasting detrimental impacts on a child’s ability to learn and their long term mental and physical health. As such, the early childhood period presents a critical window when there is a strong need for a supportive adult-child relationship.
Moreover, a sense of social security and supportive community environment also play an important role. He ended his presentation by emphasizing on the need for setting the bar high, making strategic investments and learning from our failures. The state needs to be prepared for a long process of experimenting and learning to identify what works in the state.
Following the presentation from Dr Shonkoff, the Hon’ble Chief Minister, Mr. Conrad Sangma, addressed the event by first drawing attention to the fact that Meghalaya fares poorly on Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) but the state leadership is committed to become a top state in the country in its human and economic development. He captured the need for investing in ECD by discussing that Meghalaya’s low pass percentage in Std X exams has its roots in deficient care and support for children in the early years. He shared that Meghalaya has great strength in terms of community institutions, which played a critical role in COVID management, and these institutions can lead Meghalaya’s push for holistic early childhood development.
The CM agreed with Dr. Shonkoff’s statement, “We don’t get results in days and months. We need to be consistent.” He also highlighted that policies and principles that work elsewhere would not necessarily suit the local context, therefore we need to tailor them to address our needs.
Dr Vinod K. Paul of NITI Aayog also emphasized on the importance of early Childhood and how science and evidence should drive policies. He acknowledged the efforts that Meghalaya is making by prioritising investment in ECD. Sampath Kumar, Development Commissioner, concluded the event by noting the importance of building the state of Meghalaya as the cognitive capital in the country.
Representatives from the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, NITI Aayog, the Chief Secretary of Meghalaya, key officials of States such as Assam, Telangana, and Tamil Nadu, and Deputy Commissioners from different districts of Meghalaya also participated in the event. Attendees and speakers alike applauded the efforts and vision of the Government of Meghalaya, under the Chief Minister’s leadership, in launching the Early Childhood Development Mission. All expressed excitement to participate and support the roll out of this important initiative, as well as hope for the model it can set for the world.