Every time there is a discussion on pay revision in the Parliament, the Hon’ble Members of Parliament vehemently call out to raise the salary of the lower-level employees of the government. And every time these calls, like the criticisms on the high raise the Hon’ble MPs give themselves, fade into silence.

Not far from the August Hall, a parent of a child attending the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre at Babesa labours around the centre cleaning and running minor errands. The centre has only two facilitators and realising the shortage of staff at the centre, the parents agreed to raise Nu 6,000 every month to pay for her services. The centre is meant for low-income families, men and women working at the Olarongchhu workshops – drivers, mechanics, waitresses, and helpers.

The shortage of facilitators has kept about 10 ECCD centres closed in Punakha. Approvals for their recruitment were delayed and newly-built infrastructure was left vacant for years. As the centre tightens its belt in the face of resource constraints and competiting priorities, local governments are forced to make difficult choices – choices that could beget lasting impacts on the future of the people and the country. That includes not establishing ECCD centres because it has already become difficult to recruit facilitators even in those existing centres.

In a country where Gross National Happiness trumps conventional economic measures, the significance of investing in the country’s youngest citizens cannot be overstated. Bhutan’s commitment to improving the conditions for its children stands as a beacon of foresight and dedication to shaping a brighter future. Recognising the pivotal role of ECCD centers in nurturing children’s minds and bodies is yet another milestone in this significant journey.

These centers serve as the bedrock upon which our children can develop their cognitive, emotional, and social skills, shaping their future learning and well-being. These centers provide a safe and stimulating environment for children aged three to six, offering holistic care and education. Research shows the profound impact of early experiences on brain development, establishing the foundation for a lifetime of growth and success.

The centers also play a pivotal role in empowering our women and families. By providing a safe and nurturing space for our children, ECCD centers enable mothers to pursue education, training, or employment opportunities as testified by villagers in Sarpang dzongkhag. This not only contributes to their personal growth but also helps break the cycle of inter-generational poverty, fostering economic stability and social progress. Bhutan’s commitment to supporting women’s empowerment through ECCD centers serves as a beacon of hope.

As we wrap up the positive parenting month this week, we have a choice to make: invest in more ECCD centres both in towns and rural areas or pretend things are not so bad and leave our young children glued to screens or smartphones in some corners of a kitchen or workshop. Time, however, is not on our side.