Schools for Asia - Stories from the field

Bhuttan 2017
UNICEF Bhutan 2017
17 August 2020

Jigme’s first month in his second home

Housed in an old, single-storey building in the village of Zungnye is the local ECCD centre, made special by the presence of 24 little children. Among the children, all busy playing games and with toys, is Jigme, who has just turned 3. Although the youngest at the centre, he is self-assured and carries himself with a knowing smile. Each day Jigme walks about 25 minutes from his village to the centre and back home again, accompanied by his father, mother, or grandmother.Most often it is his grandmother who drops him off and picks him up. She leaves him with a lunch pack containing some rice, two or three items of curry, and plenty of fruit.

At the centre, Jigme particularly enjoys block games and role playing with his friends. Children spend about eight months in the centre befor moving on to primary school. Tashi Wangmo, 27, who manages the centre along with her colleague Kezang Wangmo, 28, says Jigme is talkative, uncomplaining, and endearing. Tashi also conducts two-hour classes for parents twice a month.

Established in March 2011, the Zungnye ECCD centre caters to children of seven villages and hosts between 25 and 35 children each year. The centre has two classrooms colourfully decorated with collages of drawings, charts, pictures, and texts. One room is kept as a nap room for sleepy children. The backyard is crowded with slides, swings, and old tires planted into the ground for children to ride on.

UNICEF has supported the centre with basic teaching-learning resources and the training of facilitators,including the training of facilitators to provide education classes to parents. The centre contains toys, rag dolls, charts, and a number of books, including titles like The Adventures of Wangay, What’s in the Bag, and Writing Practice ABCD.

“My teacher has told me not to use dirty and unkind words.”

Jigme Namdel Zangpo, youngest child at the Zungnye early childhood care and development centre

Zungnye is part of UNICEF’s nationwide support to establishing ECCD centres, usually in rural, remote, and disadvantaged communities. On average, the organization helps to establish about 30 centres a year across the country. The process includes building new centres and renovating centres where the government or community provides a building; two weeks of intensive training for new facilitator recruits; community orientation (including hands-on workshops for parents to develop play materials and an outdoor play area using locally available resources); and the provision of basic teaching-learning materials.

UNICEF also supports the development, printing, and publication of key documents, such as the Early Learning Development Standards for Bhutan, parent education manuals, guidelines and procedures to establish ECCD centres, reading materials for children, and communication and advocacy materials in the form of print and audiovisuals.

Jigme’s mother, Yeshi Lhamo, says the ECCD centre is a boon to her child and that Jigme is a different child just a few days after going to the centre. His table manners have improved and he has become the standard bearer in terms of the words the family members use. “My Miss has told me not to use dirty and unkind words,” he often reminds his parents and grandmother. Besides, Yeshi says the ECCD centre is convenient for farming parents such as herself, as now they can go to work without worrying about their children.

Over their eight months at the ECCD centre, Jigme and the other children will learn not only about themselves but also about their friends, health, vegetables, fruits, seasons, parents, colours, sports, animals, birds, dresses, and being thankful, among other topics.