From just a few centers in 2008, Bhutan now has 165 Early Childhood Care and Development centers, including those run by private, non-governmental organizations and corporations. What initially came about as a daycare system has today moved away from the concept of babysitting to an educational one.
Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centers are critical components of early stimulation in that they foster the creative, intellectual and social development of young minds.
While the need for ECCD centers in Bhutan was felt by the government early on, it only got officially mentioned for the first time in the Education Sector Strategy in early 2000.
Today, the Ministry of Education plays an important regulatory role formulating policies and standards while establishing community-based ECCD centers. These centers are attached to mainstream schools in the area so children graduating from the centers can enroll into the schools, thereby ensuring continuity. Most of these centers are supported by UNICEF and to some extent by Save the Children.
The ECCD center in Chamgang, Thimphu has 29 students who are engaged from 9am-5pm through activities based on six domains namely communication, art, literacy, drama, short-stories and building-blocks.
The establishment of the ECCD center in Chamgang in 2012 has brought immense relief to parents residing there as most children in the center are raised by their mothers. “You don’t see a lot of men coming to drop or pick up the kids,” says 23-year-old Pema Eden, one of the two teachers at the ECCD center. “That is because more than half the men are serving time at the Chamgang Central Jail (correctional facility).”
By providing early care and education to children the ECCD centre not only prepares them for primary school but also educates parents on positive child-rearing methods. “We encourage parents to actively participate in their child’s upbringing. This will hopefully help them understand and consider their child’s specific development interest and rights,” says Pema Eden.
Teachers like Pema and her colleague Neten Dema regularly undergo workshops, trainings and refresher courses organized by UNICEF to upgrade their skills in regard to dealing with children.
While toys, books and teaching-learning materials are provided by UNICEF, the parents volunteer to build play stations for the children. “I find it nice coming here and helping out. It provides me with a sense of purpose,” says Gyan Maya Gurung, a parent. “Also, I receive advice from the teachers on raising my daughter. I now understand why it is so important to send children to an ECCD center. All that my daughter has learnt here will definitely help her when she goes to primary school.”