MoE and UNICEF inaugurate first model inclusive ECCD center in Thimphu

To ensure that children with disabilities are able to access early learning interventions, the Ministry of Education (MoE) and UNICEF inaugurated Bhutan’s first model inclusive Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) center in Changangkha Middle Secondary School yesterday.

The model inclusive ECCD center is designed for children with disabilities and the urban poor, and can accommodate about 30 children. The ECCD is located strategically next to an inclusive school to facilitate transition for children with disabilities to formal schooling.

Education Minister Jai Bir Rai, said enhancing access to early learning for children is a national priority for the Royal Government of Bhutan and acknowledged the critical role ECCD facilitators play in nurturing the development of children.

“We have seen the positive impacts of accessing early learning on children, and the opening of an inclusive model ECCD center today is an important step towards enhancing access for children with all abilities,” Lyonpo JB Rai said at the inaugural, and added, “The ministry thanks UNICEF and partners for their continued support towards children’s development and well-being in Bhutan.”

The model inclusive center in Thimphu is the first of three-model inclusive ECCD centers that UNICEF in partnership with MoE is establishing in the country. The other two centers are in Gelephu in Sarpang, and Trashigang to cover all three regions of eastern, western and central Bhutan. The centers in Gelephu and Trashigang are also located in inclusive schools to facilitate transition to formal schooling for children. The cost of constructing the three model inclusive centers is about USD 180,000. 

Evidence-based research provides strong rationale for investment in ECCD, especially for children with developmental delays or disabilities. While ECCD services have been expanding in Bhutan over the years, the services did not facilitate enrolment of children with disabilities. This was identified as a gap in the 2020 Bhutan ECCD Evaluation report.

Therefore, the establishment of the model inclusive ECCD centers is expected to increase ECCD access for children with disabilities as well to facilitate the provision of early intervention services in the country. The inclusive ECCDs are also expected to serve as resource centers for early intervention in the country so its services can be replicated nationwide.

UNICEF Bhutan Representative, Dr Will Parks, said providing ECCD interventions to all children and families is critical to ensure all children reach their full potential.

“When ECCD centers are inclusive, we can provide early intervention services for children with developmental delays or disabilities to ensure their optimal development,” Dr Will Parks said.

Thimphu was chosen as the location for the first model-inclusive ECCD center, given the high prevalence of children with disability and the urban poor.

The Principal of Changangkha Middle Secondary School, Nyendo, said that according to the PHCB 2017, there are 131 children with disabilities aged 3-5 years in Thimphu, and that 19.28 percent of these children are living in the Thimphu Thromde.

The school has 983 students including 105 children with disabilities.

“There are around 11 types of disabilities among the 105 students studying from grades pre-primary to X, and they did not get any preparation from an early age since there was no inclusive ECCD center in the community,” the Principal said, and further added, “Now with this inclusive model ECCD center, many children with disabilities in the community will have access to intervention and other services from an early age.”

Early childhood offers a critical window of opportunity to shape the trajectory of a child’s holistic development and build a foundation for their future. Coinciding with the Birth Anniversary of His Majesty the Fourth King and the National Children’s Day, the country’s first model inclusive ECCD center is dedicated to the children of Bhutan.

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