Yangchen C Rinzin

Of 53 private Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centres in the country, about half of them have decided to reopen and have approached the education ministry.

The decision comes after the education ministry’s notification on reopening private ECCD centres from July 15 following directives from the Prime Minister’s Office. All the ECCDs were closed due to Covid-19 pandemic.

However, 17 centres have decided to remain closed and 10 centres are yet to decide.

The decision to reopen the centres was left entirely to the proprietors and the parents.

There are 53 private ECCD centres with 196 ECCD facilitators and 831 children ranging from three to four years old.

ECCD and SEN division chief, Sherub Phuntsho said that respective dzongkhag education officers and ECCD focal officers conducted a readiness study.

He said that the division has also come up with the guidelines, which direct that the centres to observe health, hygiene and safety precautions, learning environment and curriculum practices, among others.

“Once the centres reopen, the thromde/dzongkhag education officers will constantly monitor centres,” Sherub Phuntsho said.

The rationale for reopening the centres according to the guidelines is to resume face to face contact with children, facilitate parents of small families without caregivers at home to return to work, help proprietors to resume business, and boost the local economy, among others.

It is expected to address concerns of the families paying the fees for the private ECCD service and also, ensure facilitators to return to work.

The facilitators should wear face masks, use thermometer, maintain physical distance, use sanitisers and follow the safety measures.

Most of the centres not confident about the pandemic situation decided not to reopen. For some, parents were not willing to send their children.

Some of them shared that before they could register the students, Covid-19 pandemic happened, and the ECCD had to be closed.

Ezang Little Star in Bumthang, proprietor Tshering Wangmo decided not to reopen, as many parents preferred to keep their child with other siblings at home. She had about 40 children with two facilitators.

Urban centres like Jamyang Losel and others decided to reopen after many parents repeatedly called to open.

A few decided to reopen from August to adjust with the fees the parents paid for the first half of the year.

Some parents who want to send their children said that if all the safety measures are in place, and there was no community transmission, there is no reason not to send their children.

Pema, a parent in Phuentsholing, said that she was desperate to send because there was no one to look after her 2-year old daughter.

“Going to the centre also means less screen time and more activities.”

Some of the parents have also decided to send despite having a babysitter. Choni in Thimphu said there were fewer children at the centre and that she trusted the facilitators.

“The centre had hygiene and sanitation measures even before Covid-19.”

However, most parents who want to keep their children at home told Kuensel that when the primary schools remain closed, they do not see a logic in sending their small children to ECCD centres, and that pandemic was unpredictable.

A civil servant, Tshoki prefers to keep her 3-year-old daughter at home and arrange with her husband to look after her.

Meanwhile, the public ECCDs centres will remain shut until further directives from the government. There are 442 public centres with 8,591 children across the country.