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.