Every child learns
Providing early and quality education for every child in Bhutan
UNICEF Bhutan works with partners to contribute to the national and global goals in education through Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD), basic inclusive education focusing on the most marginalized, and education of children in monastic institutions.
Early childhood (0-8 years) is a critical period for children’s brain development. Care and stimulation during this period help build the right foundations. Current ECCD services in Bhutan are centre-based, often leaving out the most disadvantaged and vulnerable groups such as those in remote and rural locations.
Only one in every five children between the ages of three to five attend ECCD Centres.
Bhutan’s rugged geographical terrain and scattered settlements make it hard and expensive to reach out to all children. Thus, most children are missing out on appropriate care, stimulation and protection to reach their full potential in life. For example, less than one per cent of children from the 3-5 age group in Pema Gatshel district - a predominantly rural and remote district - has access to organized ECCD services, compared to about 19 per cent in more urbanized districts.
Today, ECCD enrolment has grown from 3% in 2011 to 21% in 2017 with UNICEF support.
Bhutan has also made remarkable progress achieving the millennium development goal of universal primary education. However, this has not translated in terms of education for children with disabilities. Access to quality education is still a distant dream especially for those children who cannot walk to schools which are often situated in the rugged terrain, or those who cannot follow the lessons being taught in class because they suffer from a cognitive disability.
Around 2 percent of the school-going-age children are out of school. Of these, a significant percentage are children with disability.
Some of the challenges are limited social services (particularly related to health and education) available for children with disabilities. This includes limited infrastructure such as ramps and accessible toilets in schools and hospitals.
The difficult geographical terrain also affects accessibility and mobility for those with physical disabilities. There is also limited capacity of teachers and ECCD facilitators in early identification of disabilities and to deliver inclusive and special education to CWDs.
At present, there is no Sign Language for the profoundly Deaf to access education, compounded by the absence of teacher capacity to teach the Deaf. In addition, parents have limited or poor knowledge on issues related to children with disabilities.
Lack of employment opportunities for persons with disabilities and the nascent stage of civil society organizations and disabled persons’ organizations, and absence of an organized parent support groups are also some of the challenges.
About 200 ECCD centres across rural and remote locations were established, representing 70% of ECCD centres in Bhutan. The Net Enrolment Rate for ECCD has also increased to 22%. To further increase equity, ECCD programmes need to be expanded by designing and implementing alternative models of ECCD service provision other than centre-based programmes. These should be suitable for mountainous terrain and scattered settlements in rural and remote locations.
Bhutan has also achieved almost universal education in the past decade.
There are 16 schools that support access to children with disabilities (CWD) following the ‘Special Education Needs’ (SEN) approach. We have also supported the creation of Wangsel institute, the only institute in the country for children with deafness. UNICEF in partnership with the ministries of Education and Health is also piloting the construction of inclusive sanitation facility.
UNICEF will continue to work with partners to bring the issue of disability on the forefront of national agenda by advocating for equal participation of persons with disabilities. UNICEF works closely with the National Commission for Women and Children to advocate for the rights of CWDs. To create an enabling environment, we are supporting the Gross National Happiness Commission to develop the National Disability Policy.
A Knowledge, Attitudes and Practices Study on CWDs was also launched in 2017. The findings of the study is expected to help develop a comprehensive advocacy and communication for development plan to change negative perceptions and beliefs surrounds children and persons with disabilities. The Rapid Neuro-Development Assessment Tool within education and health systems for early detection, referral, diagnosis and follow-up interventions for CWD.
UNICEF is building the capacity of the government and civil society partners to deliver quality education by training pre-service and in-service teachers; and procurement of essential teaching-learning materials and assistive devices.