Taking early learning opportunities to every child
A home-based intervention programme is making early moments matter for children in remote Bhutan
Every month, Kelzang Pelden travels for about four hours, on foot and in hired cars to meet a six-year-old child and her parents in Wama, one of the most remote villages in the far eastern district of Mongar.
Kelzang is an ECCD facilitator at Silambi village who conducts home based intervention programmes for children who aren’t able to access centre based ECCD services in the village. “She is the only child in the village who stays home, and this programme gives children like her equal opportunities,” says Kelzang as she walks through the fields with a backpack filled with play and learn materials. “Other children in the village, the boys, are enrolled in monastic schools."
Taking the play and learn materials to children and their parents who were unable to attend center based early learning services is already showing results, she says. “When they remained isolated in remote pockets, the children were deprived of any opportunities. Now, children can easily socialize and make friends. They have become confident and also learn well.”
To ensure all children are reached with early childhood care and development services, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development in partnership with UNICEF piloted the Home-Based Intervention programme in six districts. The generous funding support from the Al Abdulla family through the UNICEF Gulf Area Office and the Japan Committee for UNICEF has supported UNICEF reach 123 children, 61 boys and 62 girls across Bhutan with early learning opportunities.
The programme identifies children who aren’t accessing centre based ECCD programmes in the country’s most remote communities and reaches them in their homes with play and learn materials. Facilitators like Kelzang conduct home visits at least once a month to interact with the children and parents and support the child’s development.
More than 500 kilometers away in the southern district of Dagana, ECCD facilitator Norbu Jamtsho is supporting about 35 children with home-based intervention services. Travelling the dirt road for hours, Norbu reaches every child in Lajab village, the district’s most remote community once every month.
“When I visit them, I play with the children and interact with the parents. The children are excited as they have never seen such play and learning materials before,” he says. “Once I return to my station, I support and clarify their doubts through video calls.”
A facilitator for more than three years, Norbu says, this programme has given him an opportunity to interact with children beyond his center. “I feel I have got the best opportunity as I could impart equal opportunities for children to play and learn even if it is only once a month,” he says.
The parents are as supportive of the programme and help the facilitators engage with their children. In Wama, Mongar, Rinchen Khandu is happy to see his daughter’s communication skills improve. “I can see lots of changes in her since the institution of this programme,” he says. “The facilitator guides us on how to support our child and in the process, we are also learning.”
In Lajab village, Lok Bdr Gurung is happy to see his youngest child avail early learning services. “My two older children joined school without attending ECCD, but I am glad that my youngest daughter got the opportunity,” he says. Adds a mother, Phul Maya, “When our government is initiating such programmes for the benefit of the children, as parents, it becomes our responsibility to support such initiatives.”
Support from parents is critical, says ECCD facilitator Pema Choki in Sombaykha village, the far-flung village in the western district of Haa. In her community, a group of volunteer parents arranged a place to conduct the home-based intervention programme where all children and parents gather once a week to play and learn together.
“I prepare sessions, record them and share with the parents through a group chat. And the parents take turns to share these sessions to their children,” she says. “When we gather and interact, the children become confident, and the parents understand the benefits of early intervention. I am optimistic that this programme will help children in remote communities do as well as those living in urban centers.”
Programme Analyst with the education ministry’s ECCD and SEN division, Karma Gayleg says the ministry aims to reach 50 per cent of children aged 3-5 years old with ECCD services by 2024, and all children by 2030.
“The home-based intervention programme, is introduced to support those handful numbers of children in remote pockets and we make sure to gather parents and children together once or twice a week to share their learnings, their children’s development and challenges,” he says.
Reaching every child, the facilitators say, is not without challenges but they cherish the opportunity to reach the unreached children with early learning opportunities. As Pem Chuki puts it, “Despite the challenges, it gives me immense happiness to help nurture the future leaders living in remote areas.”
When our government is initiating such programmes for the benefit of the children, as parents, it becomes our responsibility to support such initiatives.