The Covid-19 pandemic has affected the lives across the world and impacted the wellbeing of children and families. Particularly worrying is the unprecedented disruption of learning for all children, including preschool children, due to school and Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centers closure.
In Bhutan, ECCD centers have been closed since March and this has impacted about 9,400 children between 3-5 years from 495 ECCD centers which includes 51 private ECCD centers.
Despite challenges, ECCD facilitators are going beyond their call to ensure children are engaged at home during the closure of centers. The facilitators in the country walk through the rains and dense forests, creating learning materials online and reaching out to ECCD children in their homes and carried out to monitor children’s progress as well as to provide hands on support to caregivers/parents.
While participation in Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) has a positive impact on child outcomes with children who attended ECCD more ready for school than those who did not, access to centre-based ECCD programme is still low, found an ECCD Evaluation Report that the Ministry of Education (MoE) and UNICEF Bhutan released today.
The Report is the first comprehensive national evaluation of ECCD that focuses on ECCD services in the country through multi-sectoral lenses It assessed the relevance, effectiveness, efficiency, and sustainability of the provision of existing ECCD services in Bhutan. The evaluation was based on samples from nine districts across all three regions (east, central, west) with survey responses collected from about 1,036 respondents, child data from 584 children, and 54 interviews.
Education Minister JB Rai said the findings of the report and experiences from the facilitators would give the ministry and its partners, a solid foundation to look forward and achieve the target set by the Government.
The main findings are that Participation in ECCD has a positive impact on child outcomes; Children who attended ECCD have higher Early Childhood Development Index (ECDI) scores than children who did not across all sample districts. ECDI measures development potential in early childhood for children of 36-59 months; There are no gender difference in nutrition status, infant and young child feeding practices, childcare, health-seeking behaviors, immunizations and disability prevalence; Significant differences in ECDI scores were found between children who received breastmilk for longer than eight months and those fewer than eight months; Children who attended ECCD start formal school at a stronger trajectory, which means they are more ready for school than those who did not; Children whose parents reported as difficulty (e.g. seeing, hearing, self-care)/ special needs had substantially lower ECDI scores that children who were reported to have no difficulties;
An interesting finding is related to stunting rates. Within the study’s sample, the overall stunting rate for children aged 36 to 59 months was 21 per cent. The rate for children attending ECCD was lower at 3 per cent lower. A further analysis is, however, required to understand this finding.
The study also highlights gaps in access, quality, planning, implementation, budgeting and coordination.
Access to centre-based ECCD programme is still low. There is a need to explore alternative models to increase outreach.
There is a need to reinforce a whole systems approach, which means a strategic multi-sectoral system to improve both access and quality.
Creche caregivers, ECCD facilitators and health workers requested for more professional development opportunities.
The National data indicate a high prevalence of disability among young children, which requires further study and targeted strategic interventions.
Learning conditions in centres could be improved.
The report recommended a whole-system approach through multi-sectoral collaboration is recommended as a high priority; Improving professional development and provision of better learning conditions; An evidence-based approach to ECCD planning and implementation is seen as a key strategy for addressing the gap in planning and implementation.
It said it is important to promote a common understanding of ECCD as a holistic programme focusing on health, education, nutrition and protection through continued advocacy efforts.
UNICEF Representative Dr Will Parks said ECCD facilitators form the bedrock of the government’s effort to strengthen ECCD services in the country to ensure that children and parents receive the support they need to ensure the best start in life for every child.
He said the Royal Government of Bhutan accords high priority to ECCD and recognizes the loss of nutrition, protection and stimulation from talk, play and responsive attention in these early years. The reopening of private ECCD centers is evident of this. UNICEF commits to work closely with the education ministry to ensure safe reopening of public ECCD center in the country. There is much to do in preparation for the reopening of public ECCD centers so that they can build on the momentum they have achieved over the years and at the same time address the unforeseen consequences center closure could have had on children during this pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Ministry of Education and UNICEF together launched the compilation of stories shared by the ECCD facilitators along with the ECCD Evaluation report.
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