Pre-school established for children of nomads in Lungo village

The first-ever Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centre established in the hard-to-reach Lungo village in Laya

In a bid to render educational services and opportunities equally across the country, a centre for Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) was inaugurated early this month in Lungo village in Laya.

Lungo is one of the most remote settlements in Bhutan at almost 4,000 meters above sea level. As there is no road to Lungo, people trek for two days to get to Layagewog and then to Lungo village.

With UNICEF and the education ministry inaugurating the centre on April 10 this year, more than15 children (ages ranging from 3 to 5) of the nomads of this far-flung village surrounded by snow-capped mountains and yaks spend time at the ECCD centre. This is the first time that an ECCD centre has been set-up at such a remote community on a high altitude, where the temperature drops to minus -6 degree Celsius even during spring time.

UNICEF Bhutan Representative Rudolf Schwenk said, “This is in fact a perfect example of ‘reaching the last mile’. For us, every child is important. A child in Lungo should have access to the same services and opportunities as a child living in Thimphu. The establishment of the ECCD centre is a testimony to that commitment.”

Meanwhile, the centre was built with support from both UNICEF and the local community. Since its inception, children and families come to learn, share and play together from 9am until 2pm. The centre caters to 64 households with a catchment area of three villages, including Lungo.

Pego, a 32-year-old mother to one of the children attending the ECCD centre for the first time, said they are very happy that their children can come together, play, interact with each other and learn.

She said the children usually followed their parents to herd the yaks, moving from one pasture land to another and didn’t have the opportunity to interact and play with other children.

“We are also busy with our work that we could hardly give them quality time,” Pego added.

Meanwhile, UNICEF and the education ministry carried out the study ‘Early Childhood Care and Development in Bhutan: A Case for Investment’ in 2017, which presented a compelling case for the need to increasingly invest in ECCD programs with emphasis on quality, equity and sustainability.

According to the report, a child’s most important steps happen before they set foot in a primary school. By their fifth birthday, children’s brains are 90% developed and the foundations for success at school and in later life are in place.

“This makes a child’s early years a critical window of opportunity – to set the foundations for life-long success, first at school, and later in life,” states the media release from UNICEF Bhutan.

Meanwhile, ECCD services in Bhutan have increased from 3% in 2011 to more than 23% in 2018. On average, 1,000 new children gained access to ECCD centres each year in the past five years. However, UNICEF Bhutan maintains that much remains to be done as only one in every four young children in Bhutan is enrolled in pre-primary education or ECCD centres, just as the case in other low-income countries.

Education ministry’s ECCD focal person Karma Gayleg said, “We hope to be able to provide access to 50% of all children aged 3 to 5 by 2024 and 100% by 2030. So, if we are able to achieve this target, we would have made substantial contribution to children’s development and preparation for school.”

He added, “And as a nation that promotes Gross National Happiness it is our duty to ensure that all children have a good start in life and that all children develop to their full potential.”

Meanwhile, in a transformational shift this year, UNICEF in partnership with the education ministry is trying to set up a multi-sectoral ECCD committee and multisectoral ECCD strategic plan to influence upstream policy making. UNICEF and partners are also exploring alternative models of ECCD and not centre-based approach alone in order to reach every child.

UNICEF Bhutan Representative Rudolf Schwenk said UNICEF will continue to work together with partners in Bhutan to ensure the best start in life for every child not just in Lungo or Laya, but in every part of Bhutan.

“It’s a moral obligation that children in remote areas, like here in Lungo, have the same opportunities. I think that it is very important also for the future of the country to strengthen its human capital, the cognitive capital,” he added.

Tshering from Thimphu