Staff Reporter

Bhutan opened its third model inclusive Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) Centre in Gelephu yesterday.

The model ECCD center in Gelephu has three facilitators and 64 children including 14 with disabilities. The centre is located next to an inclusive school to facilitate transition for children with disabilities to formal schooling. The existing ECCD centre located adjacent to the new centre will also be used to accommodate children and provide early learning services.

UNICEF in partnership with the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) led the establishment of three model inclusive ECCD centres in the eastern, western, and central regions of Bhutan. The first centre opened in Thimphu last November and the second centre in Khaling, Trashigang was completed in March this year.

Gelephu’s Chief Thromde Education Officer Pema Tshering said the inclusive model ECCD centers and schools strive to ensure that children with disabilities receive the necessary support and nurturing to flourish.

“We’ve thoughtfully positioned these centers in close proximity to Special Educational Needs schools such as Gelephu Lower Secondary School and Gelephu Higher Secondary School. This strategic choice is aimed at cultivating a profound sense of belonging and inclusivity, providing a nurturing environment where children can embark on their learning journeys, and develop, and form lasting friendships together,” Pema Tshering said. “Through robust collaboration and deep-rooted understanding, we are forging a brighter future for all Bhutanese children.”

Gelephu Thrompon Tshering Norbu inaugurated the centre along with officials from the thromde and UNICEF Bhutan. “Children are our future and I call on the parents to support the facilitators in nurturing the children’s development.”

The 2020 Bhutan ECCD Evaluation report by the MoESD and UNICEF found that although ECCD services have been expanding in the country over the years, the services did not facilitate enrolment of children with disabilities.

To address this critical gap, the model inclusive ECCD centres are established to increase early learning access for children with disabilities and facilitate the provision of early intervention services. These centres will also serve as a resource centre for early intervention in the country to replicate similar services nationwide.

Following the opening of the first centre in Thimphu, the MoESD and UNICEF in partnership with Bhutan Foundation has initiated training ECCD facilitators from all dzongkhags on inclusive ECCD practices.

UNICEF Bhutan Representative Andrea James said the opening of Bhutan’s third inclusive model ECCD centre is a commendable initiative, and it has come at a time when the country is progressing towards the ratification of the UN Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities.

“Disability is a part of human diversity and providing equitable access to early learning for children with disabilities would give them the opportunities to learn while allowing parents and caregivers to intervene early,” Andrea James said.