Access to ECCD low though children who attend are more ready for school, says report

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, according to an evaluation report released yesterday by the Ministry of Education (MoE) and UNICEF Bhutan.

The report also found out 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, and ECDI measures development potential in early childhood for children of 36-59 months. 

The report also states that there is no gender difference in nutrition status, infant and young child feeding practices, childcare, health-seeking behaviors, immunizations, and disability prevalence. The report found out significant differences in ECDI scores between children who received breast milk for longer than eight months and those fewer than eight months.

Further, the report says children who attended ECCD start formal school at a stronger trajectory, which means they are more ready for school than those who did not. It also states that children whose parents reporte difficulty and special needs had substantially lower ECDI scores that children who were reported to have no difficulties. 

The study also highlighted gaps in access, quality, planning, implementation, budgeting, and coordination where the access to center-based ECCD program is still low and there is a need to explore alternative models to increase outreach. And it also needs to reinforce whole systems approach where a strategic multi-sectoral system is needed to improve both access and quality.

The report states that there is a need for crèche caregivers where ECCD facilitators and health workers request for more professional development opportunities. And the national data indicate a high prevalence of disability among young children, which requires further study and targeted strategic interventions.

Education Minister Jai Bir 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.

Lyonpo also said the findings call for collaborative effort for effective ECCD programming at different levels which could address quality issues, “Which is one of the findings of the study and the professionalization of ECCD programmes is one of the major factors that address the quality issues at the service delivery level.”

The report will serve as a critical reference document for the first multi-sectoral ECCD Strategic Action Plan of Bhutan, which is currently being developed by the Ministry of Education and UNICEF, Lyonpo added.

UNICEF representative Dr Will Parks said, “UNICEF commits to work closely with the Ministry of Education to ensure the safe reopening of public ECCD centers in the country.” 

Moreover, he said there is much to do in preparation for the re-opening of public ECCD centers, “We can build on the momentum which we have achieved over the years and at the same time, address the unforeseen consequences center closures have had on children during this pandemic.”

The purpose of the evaluation was to assess the relevancy, effectiveness, and sustainability of the provision of ECCD services in Bhutan. ECCD programs are recognized in providing strong foundations for human development and lifelong learning in the 12th Five-Year-Plan (FYP) and the Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024.

The Ministry of Education (MoE) and UNICEF together launched the compilation of stories shared by the ECCD facilitators along with the ECCD Evaluation report. The evaluation of the ECCD in Bhutan focuses on the critical contributions of ECCD service in achieving national objectives and global priorities that are aligned with UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) which targets a country to ensure that all boys and girls have access to quality early childhood development, care, pre-primary education so that they are ready for primary school. The Report is the first comprehensive national evaluation of ECCD that focuses on ECCD services in the country through multi-sectoral lenses and it also assesses 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, and west with survey responses collected from about 1,036 respondents, child data from 584 children, and 54 interviews.

Sonam Tashi from Thimphu