Main story: The concept of Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre was not known in the country until 2005. Only then were the first day-care centres approved by the government in the urban districts.
The ECCD centres followed six domains in the curriculum: physical wellbeing, health and motor development, social and emotional development; language, literacy and communication; approaches to learning; cognition and general knowledge; and spiritual, moral and cultural development.
Since its inception, the centres have changed a number of students’ lives. None other than the facilitators themselves have seen the changes taking place in front of their very eyes.
Phub Zam, 25, has been a facilitator at Dagana’s ECCD centre for more than five years. She has seen tremendous improvement after a child is admitted in the centre.
“We can see the difference by the way the students interact with others. Students who attend ECCD are more interactive compared to the ones that don’t attend. Their academic performance is also much better when they are admitted in Class PP because they have already learnt the alphabets and the basics,” Phub Zam said.
Many parents are now realising the importance of letting their children attend ECCD centres before actual schooling, Phub Zam said.
“The difference was seen when parents took the initiative and helped facilitators and school build an extra classroom for the centre since the school didn’t have enough budget. It showed how parents understood the role of ECCD in children’s overall learning development,” Phub Zam said. “Most of the parents were illiterate and yet they understood the centre’s importance.”
Due to this fact, Phub Zam is inspired to do better and help the children who attend ECCD centre learn more.
Despite these positive differences, school readiness assessment conducted on 2012 by the education ministry and Save the Children, show that with the gains achieved from attending the ECCD centres at an early age, children were found to be weak in three areas – early literacy, early numeracy and social-emotional development.
The school readiness assessment was conducted at the Royal Bhutan Police’s ECCD centre over a period of three years involving over a hundred children.
The same results were further substantiated by the National ECCD impact evaluation study that was conducted in 2015.
Focal person from Save the Children, Karma Dyenka, said that due to these findings, Emergent Literacy and Math (ELM) project was implemented in ECCDs across 10 dzongkhags.
“Under the ELM project, five necessary foundational skills that the children should learn in early literacy and early maths were identified,” Karma Dyenka said. “A basic training under the ELM project was already provided to the 195 ECCD facilitators in 10 dzongkhags in the beginning of this year.”
Phub Zam was one of the facilitators who attended the basic training of the ELM project this year. The remaining dzongkhags will be trained next year.
Talking and listening, understanding print, knowing what books are, understanding words and sounds, and knowing the alphabets were the five foundational skills identified under early literacy. Learning patterns, numbers and counting, sorting and classification, comparison and measurement and geometry were five foundational skills identified under early math, which will strengthen and develop learning of maths, Karma Dyenka said.
“The ELM project will support children between the ages of three and five acquire these foundational skills through play-based activities. This will in turn strengthen their school readiness skills so that they become ready for primary school and beyond,” Karma Dyenka said.
The ELM project is important for the students who attend the ECCD centres since it will support the development of young children’s foundational literacy, numeracy, cognitive, linguistic, socio-emotional and motor skills, Phub Zam said.
“I’m going to emphasise more on teaching children how to differentiate between sounds and letters in English and Dzongkha since many children fail to do that at an early age. We have number cards at the centre that will help children identify numbers. This way, children will understand math and not just simply memorise it,” Phub Zam said.
Pema Eden, 23, from Yangchengatshel ECCD centre in Chamgang, Thimphu, said ELM project will help children not only understand literacy and math, but also love these subjects.
“To help them do that, children have to be taught to understand the basics of math by identifying the number, not only by looking at the numbers but also by touching them. This way, children will be introduced with math. They will learn to see math in the daily life and not be scared by it,” Pema Eden said. “The project also focuses on improving reading skills among children and help them learn new letters and words. “
Programme officer with the education ministry, Karma Gayleg, said that looking at the findings from the two studies, in early literacy domain children made the strongest gains in oral comprehension and weakest in the area of phonemic awareness. Similarly, in early math, children had the strongest gains in shape identification and puzzle completion but weakest in number identification since children simply memorised the numbers.
“These studies have 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 studies towards quality and expanding access to areas in as many communities as possible,” Karma Gayleg said.
Providing equal facilities to children in rural areas is more important because at an age of six when children join the school, the ability to learn differs. Providing ECCD programmes in rural schools widens children’s ability to learn more in schools later on, Karma Gayleg said.
And he added: “It gives rural children an opportunity for a fair start in life and better academic results. ECCD also ensures that 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.”