Facilitators visit homes to help children

Chimi Dema & Phurpa Lhamo

The Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centres provided the much-needed relief to working parents both in urban and rural Bhutan. It not only provided early learning and care, but for many, a safe space to drop in their children.

For working parents without a babysitter or parents to look after their child, the centres came as a solution. In rural Bhutan, farmers leave their children in the centres and attend farm works. However, with most of the centres closed following the school closure notification in early March, both parents are coping with the new challenge of balancing work and family. For those with young children at home, it has become difficult.

In Mendrelgang, Tsirang, since the ECCD was closed, Tshering Lhamo has become busier. Besides meeting demands of domestic chores, she caters to her four-year-old daughter and three-year-old son with their preschool lessons at home. She teaches alphabets, painting and drawings to her children with the help of educational videos online and nursery songs.

Tshering Lhamo said, “Although learning at home isn’t as effective, I feel happy when I see my children learning at least something.” Her husband is a teacher in nearby Mendrelgang Central School.

A teacher of the Central school, Namgay, said that she doesn’t feel comfortable leaving her kids alone while both the parents are at work. “Even though the workload is the same, sending children to the centre was safer.” 

Namgay has prepared a timetable for her children and assigns them tasks in the morning before she leaves for work.

In Wangdue, a mother of two said that she was forced to leave her children home after the centre closed. With both parents working, children are left at home. There are three ECCDs in Wangdue, but all are closed.

Pema Tshoki, a mother of a four-year-old and a year old child, said that managing home with children was difficult. “I do help my children to study. But with a baby, it is difficult. It is much better if they study at the centres.”

However, facilitators from the ECCDs have started visiting homes distributing study materials and checking on the children.

The facilitator with ECCD centre in Pemashong, Mendrelgang said that the centre is now focusing on parenting education to help keep students engaged. Recognising the role of parents in educating children at home, the facilitator said it was important to educate and sensitise parents on safety measures first. 

“We have completed two sessions so far and would continue in the following months,” the official said. The sessions cover directives on keeping students engaged and healthy both physically and mentally while at home.

The official said that they have initiated E-learning in the beginning. “However, given only a few parents owning social media accounts, I didn’t see the initiative effective.”

On visiting students at home, the facilitator said that it is feasible only for those residing in the vicinity, given other official tasks at the centre. The facilitator of Zomlingthang ECCD in Gosarling gewog assigns tasks through social media accounts to keep students engaged.

However, with parents attending farm works, the official said that lessons couldn’t be continued effectively. 

The facilitator at Wangdue Dzong reconstruction ECCD, Kinga Dechen said she conducted a meeting with the parents and encouraged them to continue lessons from home.

Today, the three facilitators from the centre visit parents every week to assess the student according to the week’s task.

Another facilitator Dawa Dema said that while the facilitators visited homes, it was difficult to meet parents and the children. “Most of them are working and they tend to not give priority to students going to the ECCDs.” The ECCD has around 25 students today.

Meanwhile, ECCD operators are planning to open the centres. The owner of Lamsel Day Care in Damphu said that they would soon meet with parents to discuss whether to reopen or not. Tsirang dzongkhag education officials are also planning to visit the centre to ensure all the safety measures are in place if the owner decides to reopen.

In Wangdue, most parents are awaiting the opening of the ECCDs. While there are no plans to open the public ECCDs, the three private ECCDs in Bajo are preparing to open.