Jigmi Wangdi

To ensure children with disabilities are able to access early learning interventions, the education ministry and UNICEF inaugurated Bhutan’s first model inclusive Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Centre in Thimphu yesterday.

The centre at Changangkha MSS, an inclusive school, is designed for children with disabilities and the urban poor and can accommodate about 30 children. The centre is located next to an inclusive school to facilitate the transition of children with disabilities to formal schooling.

Education Minister Jai Bir Rai during his address talked about the important role, workload and challenges of ECCD facilitators.

“ECCD facilitators deserve to be paid much more than what they get now, for the important work they do in nurturing young children and laying strong foundations for lifelong development,” Lyonpo said.

Lyonpo also thanked UNICEF and its partners for their continued support towards children’s development and well-being.

Changangkha MSS has a total of 983 students, out of which 105 are students with disabilities.

Principal Nyendo said, “There are around 11 types of disabilities among the 105 students studying from grades pre-primary to 10 and, they did not get any preparation from an early age since there was no inclusive ECCD centre in the community.”

He said that through the centre, many children with disabilities in the community will have access to intervention and other services from an early age.

UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Dr Will Parks said providing ECCD interventions to all children and families is critical to ensure all children reach their full potential.

“When ECCD centres are inclusive, we can provide early intervention services for children with developmental delays or disabilities to ensure their optimal development,” he said.

A mother of a four-year-old boy who has cerebral palsy, Dema said that she remains hopeful the centre can help create a future for her son.

“My son cannot walk or even sit up anymore. He can barely talk. It has been very tough for me and my family. I have big hopes that the ECCD here will be able to provide a foundation for a normal future for my son,” she said.

A parent, Kinzang Wangdi said that the inclusiveness of the centre will offer an opportunity for all children and parents alike. “This will ensure the development of all children from a young age. We also want to thank UNICEF for their support,” he said.

Evidence-based research provides a strong rationale for investment in ECCD, especially for children with developmental delays or disabilities. While ECCD services have been expanding in Bhutan over the years, the services did not facilitate the enrolment of children with disabilities. This was identified as a gap in the 2020 Bhutan ECCD Evaluation report.

The centre in Thimphu is the first of three such centres that UNICEF in partnership with the education ministry is establishing in the country. The other two centres are in Gelephu, Sarpang, and Trashigang. The centres will also serve as a resource centre for early intervention in the country to replicate similar services nationwide.

According to the Population and Housing Census of Bhutan 2017, there are 131 children with disabilities aged 3-5 years in Thimphu dzongkhag and 19.28 percent of these children are in Thimphu thromde.

The centre was constructed at a cost of USD 180,000.