Parenting: His excitement could be clearly seen from the impatience building from waiting outside the gate for the inauguration ceremony to get over.

The four-year-old child cannot wait to get his hands on the newly fitted seesaw and slides at the IT park’s or TechPark’s first Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre that was inaugurated on December 2 in Thimphu.

No sooner did the guests settle for refreshments after the launch, a group of children along with their mothers entered the compound of the ECCD centre.

TechPark’s CEO Tshering Cigay Dorji said that the centre was constructed to help working parents at the IT Park and to ensure that their children have access to a healthy development and help them reach their full potential, as the first years of life are critical to the development of a child.

The lack of such a centre at the park was a growing concern especially among the working mothers said Tshering Cigay Dorji. “At least 10 to 15 parents were bringing their children to the workplace as they did not have anyone to look after the children at home.”

Considering the issue faced by some of the employees at the park, the management last year provided a temporary day-care facility for some 30 children in a room. “However, the condition in the temporary centre was too small and crowded,” he said.

The centre was built at a cost of Nu 2.5 million from DHI and an additional budget of Nu 1.28 million from UNICEF. Tshering Cigay Dorji said that the remaining budget will be used to improve the play area, procure play things, educational toys, equipment and stationery.

The centre has a capacity to accommodate 60 children.

Thimphu TechPark today houses five foreign companies, a data centre and an incubation centre for entrepreneurs and employs around 830 Bhutanese youths of which about 60 percent are women.

He said that in a survey conducted by the park, there are about 40 employees who have children between the ages of 3 months to 5 years. “This number is expected to increase since almost all the employees are in their 20s and 30s.”

Labour minister Ngeema Sangay Tshempo said that the centre will enhance the productivity of the entire TechPark community as well as their wellbeing. “The new working culture has brought an added burden to parents especially working mothers.”

Lyonpo said that the pressure on working mothers causes women employees to give up their careers. He added that this has contributed to the unemployment scenario in the country.

According to the 13th National Labour Force Survey, women unemployment stood at 12.7 percent to 8.2 percent among men. The overall labour force participation rate among women was also recorded at 55.9 percent to 71.2 percent for men last year.

Recognising such challenges and issues the minister said that the government has embarked on a mission to reform the system and address the problem of childcare and development.

Currently, there are seven government agencies in Thimphu where ECCD centres are available. A total of 123 children are enrolled in these centres.

According to education statistics, there are 251 ECCDs in the country of which 198 are government initiated and 53 are private. A total of 5,894 children are enrolled in theses ECCDs, where 4,459 are in government centres and 1,435 in privately owned centres.

“Despite this remarkable progress, we want to go further,” said the minister. “We are urging every office, government or private, to have an ECCD centre in their premise.”

He said that an impact evaluation study on the ECCD centre programmes in the country by Save the Children Fund conducted last year found that having access to ECCD programmes support stronger learning and development gains for children than not having access to ECCDs, and better prepares them for primary school.

“It also shows that early learning programmes help in the wholesome growth and development of the child,” he added.

Younten Tshedup