Education has become the focus of discussions in the last few days. 

Unfortunately, the discussions are not really encouraging. At the tertiary  level, we have thousands of  students who completed high school education and hit a wall because of the pandemic. 

Even students who did remarkably well cannot find a place in our colleges. 

The other problem is at the extreme end – at the pre-school level. There is a target to achieve 100 percent  Early Childhood Care and Development enrollment by 2030 or in the next nine and a half years. The achievement as of now is 24 percent and education officials are already copping out it seems.

The problems at both spectrums need rethinking for better policies and effective results. When the pandemic situation improves or when most Bhutanese get inoculated  fully against the coronavirus, going abroad to study on government scholarships or otherwise will resume, easing the pressure on the government, parents and students.

Early childhood care and development has received recognition in recent years.  Today we have 495 centres with 8,026 students. But the work is far from complete.  The benefit of investing in quality early childhood care is immense. Studies have proven that early childhood programmes ensures healthy development like improving learning ability, readying them for school and many more.  

The learning by playing, one component of education at the centres, for instance, in many ways can create a level playing at an early stage. It is said that education is skewed toward the rich even if education is free in the country. A stark difference can be noticed in children in towns and villages. Villagers or their children coming to Thimphu are astounded when they hear preprimary children speak fluent English, draw or write.   

Knowing to speak English may not matter, but the access to quality ECCD centres, both private and government, is already creating a difference. When education is seen as the leveller, the playing field is already not. Children in rural Bhutan are already disadvantaged before they begin school.  It is not fair to leave out thousands of children because of our inefficiencies. Researches in poor countries, like ours, have shown that early childhood programmes are crucial in long-term benefits like poverty reduction, increasing productivity and creating potential for livelihood in the child’s adult life. 

The problems are not very complex. We are discussing not having enough facilitators in the face of ever-increasing youth unemployment.  There are calls for evidence-based approaches to ECCD planning and implementation. There are funds, both from within and  from international organisations in training and skilling facilitators. Going forward, there are more budget committed. How it is invested smartly will make the difference.

Some feedback from sponsors and trainers would help make smart and effective decisions. If trainings and workshops organised with the limited budgets, for instance, are seen as opportunities to earn a few more thousands from travel and daily allowance, if those nominated for trainings, like the training of trainers are decided on “turns’ and not on needs, the purpose is defeated at the cost of thousands of children.

Through the Red Nose foundation, Save the Children in Bhutan committed to fund programmes that will benefit 3,000 children. If our planning and implementation is wrong and hampers investment in early childhood development, we will be left red-faced.