A study has also found that children brought up in homes where they are hit or yelled at have weaker learning and development gains

Education: An impact evaluation study of the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre programmes conducted from March to November 2015, was presented in Thimphu yesterday.

The impact evaluation study was conducted in collaboration with the education ministry, UNICEF, other national partners, and Save the Children in Bhutan.

Save the Children US,  research specialist, Lauren Pisani, presented the findings and recommendations of the study.

Various methodologies were used in the study mainly the International Development and Early Learning Assessment (IDELA), which was used to measure children’s learning and development across six domains (motor, literacy, numeracy, socio-emotional, executive function and spiritual/moral/cultural).

A caregiver questionnaire was also used to gather information about parenting practices and home environments for the study. To directly relate programme inputs to child learning and development, quality information was also collected through the Quality Monitoring Tool for ECCD centres (QMTEC).

The final sample of the study included 1,189 children and parents from 120 sites across nine dzongkhags. Three dzongkhags from each region were chosen based on the prevalence and diversity of the ECCD programme in each district.

To understand the impact of various types of ECCD programme models across the country, a random sample of different types of ECCD centres were chosen (civil society organisation, community, private and corporate) as well as samples of non-formal education parenting programmes and a comparison group of children who have no access to ECCD programmes.

“The study found that having access to ECCD centre programmes support stronger learning and development gains for children than not having access to ECCD, and better prepares them for primary school,” Lauren Pisani said.

Other findings include children in community and civil society organisation (CSO) ECCD centres gained significantly more skills than children without access to ECCD. Children in private centres maintained higher average scores but there were no significant differences between gains made by the children in community and CSO ECCD centres. Children in rural areas learned as much from the centres as children in urban areas.

“Having an interactive home learning environment (where parents are playing, singing and reading with children) was found to be a strong predictor of children’s early learning and development,” Lauren Pisani said. “In addition, the study also found that more negative discipline at home (where children are hit, spanked, yelled at) was associated with weaker learning and development gains in all areas.”

The study further found an important relationship between classroom environment and children’s learning, Lauren Pisani said.

“Enrolment in higher classroom quality was positively related to children’s learning gains, indicating that children were learning more in higher quality classrooms,” Lauren Pisani said. “This relationship was largely driven by the quality interaction within the classroom (facilitator to child and child to child interaction). It shows the need for well educated facilitators and the environment they foster in a classroom, which are critical for children’s early skill development.”

The results of the study suggest that increasing access to ECCD programmes, both centre and home-based, should be a priority in the government’s development plans, Lauren Pisani said.

“More support is suggested for corporate ECCD centres and the NFE parenting programme,” Lauren Pisani added. “The study highlights the importance of investing in the quality of ECCD programmes, especially focusing on improving pre-service facilitator training and continued in-service support.”

The study also indicates that positive parenting messages should be included in all the programme curricula. To improve equity, a focus on reaching the most disadvantaged and rural families with quality parenting programme would strengthen the learning and development of the children and help to better prepare them to be successful in primary school and beyond, Lauren Pisani said.

Programme officer with the education ministry, Karma Gayleg, said no systematic evaluation on ECCD centres had been conducted before.

“The findings of the study allow for data-driven decision making at various levels from community to national policy making, as well as informing and improving the ECCD centre programme, and creating advocacy about the importance of early childhood education programme,” Karma Gayleg said.

The study has been useful in informing us about the gaps and also the possibilities for improving the existing programmes. We would definitely take up the results and recommendations from the study towards quality and expanding access to areas in as many communities as possible, Karma Gayleg said.

“Providing equal facilities to children in rural areas are particularly more important because at an age of six when children join the school, the same level of ability to learn differs. Providing ECCD programmes in rural schools widens children ability to learn more in schools later on,” Karma Gayleg said. “It gives rural children an opportunity for a fair start in life and better academic results.”

ECCD ensures that young children fulfil their right to healthy development, including engaging education, to help them reach their full potential. There is mounting evidence from around the world proving that the first years of life are critical to the development of a child because they shape cognitive, social and language skills, as well as lifelong approaches to learning, Karma Gayleg said.

Thinley Zangmo