Of the 53 private ECCD centers in the country 14 private ECCD centers have already reopened, 15 are reopening in August, 8 centers are still undecided on whether to reopen and they are consulting parents if they should reopen and the rest 16 are not reopening this year.
Education Minister Jai Bir Rai said the reopening of private ECCD centers has been prioritized because there are only about 53 ECCD private centers in the country, and proprietors and center managers directly manage them.
He said the government has issued instructions on reopening of private ECCD centers after taking into consideration the benefit it has on the working parents, children’s learning and development and ECCD facilitators.
As directed by the government, the Ministry of Education (MoE) has been carrying out the study to look at the readiness of the private ECCD centers. ECCD centers must put in the safety protocols as per the guidelines developed by MoE. The reopening of private ECCD centers will entirely depend on the agreement between the proprietors and the parents.
Children enrolled in the private ECCD centers are to be dropped off and picked up directly by the parents. As private ECCD centers are located in urban centers where parents go to office from 9 am to 5pm, one aim is that the reopening would help to ease the pressure and stress on them and enable them to work effectively in office.
Lyonpo said there is also an economic dimension to private ECCD centers as private ECCD centers remain closed for long then would mean that proprietors lose out on business and facilitators are deprived of their livelihood, as they do not get their salaries. Opening in a phase wise manner with smaller number of children is seen as an easier way to manage the centers.
The government has directed to reopen private ECCD centers while the government ECCD centers will reopen at a later time. Lyonpo said there is a huge number, about 350 government ECCD centers, which will be difficult to manage and monitor.
However, with the experience gained in successfully managing the private ECCD centers, there is high probability of opening the government ECCD centers as well said Lyonpo.
The government ECCD centers are mostly located in the rural parts of the country with less number of children. So looking at the risk factors, in the second phase, the government will plan accordingly whether to reopen or not.
According to the government, the decision to reopen the private ECCD centers comes as most parents of children in private ECCD centers are educated, and hence they can make informed decisions. Lyonpo said if suppose there is community transmission then the parents can immediately troubleshoot.
“We need to see the confidence level. We are worried that parents in the rural parts may not be able to manage if suppose there is community transmission in their locality,” Lyonpo said.
Lyonpo said that as per the WHO standard, all the schools, institutions should be opened if there is no community transmission but in Bhutan, in order to maintain the safety and security and not to leave even a small chance to bring in local transmission, it closed all the schools and other learning institutions.
The facilitators in the government ECCDs visit the children two to three times in a week to look the cognitive level of the children.
The other main purpose is to study the situation or psychosocial issue at the children’s homes due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Meanwhile, MoE has issued the comprehensive guidelines for the safety and wellbeing of children. All the precautionary safety measures that centers need to practice are listed in the guidelines.
In addition, ECCD centers will be assessed using the safety checklist and are to be certified only if they meet with the safety requirement.
The government decision while supported by some parents has also come in for criticism from many people for risking the safety of students and families going to private ECCDs at a time when classes from PP to six have been called off till December fearing community transmission.