A study report on Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) has pointed out the need to provide safe and appropriate infrastructure and environment for ECCD centres, explore innovative models to reach out to scattered rural communities and to provide stable and secure position for facilitators.

ECCD’s programme officer, Karma Gayleg, said there was also a need to provide opportunities for professional development for facilitators like ECCD Diploma and to make ECCD programmes more inclusive to enable access to children with disabilities.

“Establishment of more ECCD centres in rural areas may encourage people to move out from urban areas and help combat rural-urban migration,” said Karma Gayleg.

Karma Gayleg said that the case investment was necessary because the ministry has come a long way in implementing an ECCD programme, which now requires looking into strengthening of the programme. He added that it was necessary to take stock of the achievements and to further promote the programme by way of policy and strategy development.

According to the report, private ECCD centres have not grown in the last six years compared with community-based ECCD centres established with the support from Save the Children, UNICEF, and the government.

Today, 18 percent of children ranging from three to five years of age have access to ECCD services with over 7,500 children in about 300 centres. There are 1,595 children and 216 facilitators in 55 private ECCD centres, 276 children and 18 facilitators in nine workplaces, and 5,379 children and 438 facilitators in 243 community ECCD centres.

Karma Gayleg said the report found that investment in the ECCD has contributed to helping children develop and saving cost by not having to repeat the class, including saving cost on lifelong health among many reasons. He said that one of the benefits was returns in the form of increased productivity, reduced gap among privilege and the under privilege children.

“For instance, 587 children repeated in class PP that cost government additional Nu 10,172,123, which could have been prevented through early ECCD programme. The goal of the government is to reduce such cost, as low as possible,” said Karma Gayleg.

Education ministry strives to provide access to at least 50 percent of children by 2024 as articulated in the Bhutan Education Blueprint and to achieve 100 percent by 2030 to meet sustainable goal. The ministry has adopted the initiative to have one ECCD centre for every chiwog to ensure in 205 gewogs by 2028.

The study found that it takes about Nu 1.4 million to build one community-based ECCD centre with all the facilities but only half a million if the ministry utilises the existing infrastructure.

“We’re trying to utilise the existing infrastructure as much as possible. The study mentioned the cost of supporting each child is Nu 8,300 a year compared with the expenditure in class PP, which is Nu 21,000.”

The study also found that government has contributed Nu 81 million, which constitutes 45 percent of the total expenditure, including salaries for facilitators. UNICEF contributed about 74 million for the construction of centres, putting in place WASH facilities. Save the Children contributed Nu 23 million for quality enhancement of the programme.

The report highlighted the challenges that need to be looked into, such as quality of infrastructure, limitation posed by the criteria of minimum of 15 children for establishment of a centre, professional capacity of ECCD facilitators, their remuneration, and inclusion of children with different abilities.

Some of the improvements mentioned in the report were developing strategies for holistic ECCD centres, decentralisation of the planning and budgeting for establishment of centres, need to explore mobile centres or facilitators, promotion of childcare or crèche services, and the need to review PP-II curriculum.

Education Secretary, Karma Yeshey, said the ECCD centres play increasingly significant role in preparing children for school as the first step in the transition to school.

“We have seen that the concern about poor learning outcomes and grade repetitions in school can be addressed through quality ECCD,” Karma Yeshey said. “We have even more reasons to invest in ECCD, as it also contributes to strengthening parenting practices and helping young children learn the values and culture very early in life.”

He said the findings of the national ECCD impact study shows that it makes difference to children’s learning and that even one year of intervention could have a significant effect in enhancing the developmental outcomes, particularly for children from disadvantages backgrounds.

“The expansion of ECCD will continue to remain priority for the education ministry since it not only enhance children’s development, but also saves costs,” Karma Yeshey added. “We’re committed to carving out the programmes.”

Karma Yeshey added that there was a need to strengthen existing partnerships and forge new partnerships in order to integrate policies and strategies to foster cross-sectorial collaboration, as the ministry alone cannot cater holistic development of young children. “The report comes at a time when we are defining the way forward in strengthening the ECCD programme as we plan for the 12th Plan. It would serve as an evidence to develop and plan strategies.”

Works and human settlement minister, Dorji Choden, said that government remains committed to providing all manner sof support for the development of ECCD.

UNICEF’s regional director, Jean Gough, said the ECCD would not only benefit children, but also the whole community.

Lyonpo Dorji Choden and Jean Gough launched the report at Le Méridien, Thimphu.

Yangchen C Rinzin