KP Sharma 

Amid Bhutan’s ongoing endeavours to enhance support for children with disabilities, the Covid-19 pandemic has shed light on areas requiring improvement and underscored the urgency of embracing new strategies to effectively assist this vulnerable demographic.

There is growing advocacy for the utilisation of technology as a promising avenue to mitigate challenges and enrich the lives of children with disabilities.

Official records reveal that visual impairment, hearing loss, and mobility difficulties constitute the primary disabilities in Bhutan, with a prevalence rate of 2.1 percent in 2017.

Notably, this rate is slightly higher among women (2.3 percent) compared to men (2.0 percent). Moreover, it’s observed that rural areas and older Individuals tend to exhibit higher disability rates.

During the height of the Covid-19 crisis, some students with disabilities resorted to boarding facilities to sustain their education, only to be compelled to return home when schools shuttered.

Although tablets were prioritised for online education, the persisting issue of unstable internet connections in rural locales posed significant hurdles.

Further,delivering practical and life skills training, such as tailoring and painting, remotely proved arduous due to the lack of requisite materials, equipment, and skilled instructors.

Despite strides made over the years, challenges persist, as underscored by a Special Education Needs (SEN) instructor’s call for more trained professionals equipped with knowledge on disabilities, alongside adequate equipment and supportive frameworks within schools.

Conversely, Bhutan has ramped up its efforts to bolster support for people with disabilities, epitomised by the introduction of the National Policy for Persons with Disabilities in 2019 and the unveiling of a 10-year roadmap for inclusive and special education.

This comprehensive plan entails upgrading institutes catering to the deaf and visually impaired, as well as augmenting the number of SEN schools, which surged from 26 in 2022 to 39 in 2023.

Moreover, collaborative endeavours between relevant civil society organizations (CSOs) and international agencies have yielded notable progress in supporting children with disabilities.

For instance, the Asian Development Bank (ADB) and the Royal Government of Bhutan forged agreements for the Pathways for Emerging Skills and Jobs Project.

This initiative, supported by two million USD grant from the Japan Fund for Prosperous and Resilient Asia and the Pacific (JFPR), aims to assist children and youth with disabilities grappling with severe learning setbacks stemming from the pandemic-induced disruptions.