By Avinashi Paudel
Kathmandu, Nepal- When Rajani Lama, a facilitator of Shree Himalaya ECD Centre, sang an upbeat song about birds and clouds in the sky, toddlers of her class joyfully joined her. Rajani’s face glowed with a sense of pride that her young students remembered the song and the moves exactly the way she taught them.
The ECD centre located at Sipali Village Development Committee (VDC) in Kavrepalanchowk District, almost 50 km east of Kathmandu, was well-managed. The classroom was full of beautiful toys and educational materials while learning corners on various themes were well-placed. The children were alert, social and energetic. The ECD facilitator’s mannerisms with the children was serene and graceful.
“My daughter is very eager to come to school every day and she is very curious,” said Maya Tamang, who had come to drop her daughter at the ECD centre. “Rajani miss invites us twice a month for parental meeting and gives us tips on raising children properly.”
Pointing towards the shelves full of colourful corn-cobs, dolls and wooden blocks, Rajani explained about the parents’ contribution in crafting the play-things from locally available resources.
Thanks to the trainings and support provided by organizations like Save the Children, Seto Gurans and Nangshal Association, Rajani has been able to turn the local goods into invaluable educational materials for the young learners. She has also motivated the parents to do the same for better care and stimulation of the children.
There are, however, more than 30,000 ECD facilitators, spanning across the mountains, hills and plains of the country who have not received such training and due support like Rajani. ECD facilitators are poorly paid and there is a huge gap in parenting education.
Achieving optimum growth and development of young children mostly involves providing them with proper care, protection, nutrition, health, sanitation, education and other services in a holistic manner.
In order to advance its advocacy efforts for the integrated and holistic ECD services, UNICEF Nepal marked the third week of June 2016 as ECD week by organizing series of events across multiple platform.
The highlight of the week was the national conference on June 15 that UNICEF organized in collaboration with the Government of Nepal. The event brought multi-sectoral partners together for increased coordination, investment and accountability in ECD interventions.
The conference saw a wide range of stakeholders from various walks of life – high level government officials and development actors, researchers and trainers, paediatrician and teachers, member of parliaments (MP) and ECD professionals, parents and media persons. Rajani Lama was one of the participants.
Chief Guest of the conference, the then Minister of Education Giriraj Mani Pokharel recalled the story of Abhimanyu from Hindu epic Mahabharatawho entered the Chakrabyuha (the maze) as he acquired the valour and skill by listening to his father describing it to his mother while Abhimanyu was still inside his mother’s womb. “The spirit of the story is in line with findings of scientific study of our times that children’s brain develop the fastest in the early years of life – making a case for us to invest the most during that period,” he said. He further thanked the development partners including UNICEF for helping the Government to introduce the new Education Bill that integrates ECD within the basic education.
Also speaking at the inauguration session, MP Rukmini Chaudhary illustrated her experience of working as the coordinator of the ECD caucus established few years ago with support from development partners including UNICEF. “Working together, we managed to earmark a special recognition for ECD in the Nepali Constitution promulgated in September 2015,” she said.
Reiterating the collective purpose of increased coordination and investment in ECD, Dr. Rownak Khan, UNICEF Nepal’s Deputy Representative said, “Our goal is to ensure that all the children of Nepal are physically healthy, mentally alert, emotionally sound, and ready to learn.”
“We cannot think of a developed nation without developing proper Early Childhood Development system,” she added.
Panel discussions with researchers, development and health professionals brought forth various evidence of neuroscience and other research emphasized that scaled up investment and concerted action on the early years of life is the most efficient way of lifting the children living with disadvantages out of the deprivation and unlock their full potential.
Professor Frank Oberklaid from the University of Melbourne Australia, who served as a key resource person for the ECD week and the conference explained how child development is the result of the transactions between nature and nurture. He presented some of the best practices from Austraila that Nepal can emulate to strengthen quality ECD services for children in Nepal. “The earlier we begin, the better it is,” he asserted.
The engaged audience participated in the conference by raising concerns on the children with disability, early detection of problems in children, Dalit and marginalized children, need for an integrated approach and many other practical hurdles of policy implementation. The participants also enjoyed observing the stalls put outside the conference hall by different agencies displaying interesting teaching-learning materials.
The final panel discussion was amongst the high level officials from the Ministry of Education, Ministry of Women, Children and Social Welfare, the Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development and Seto Gurans, a leading Nepali NGO on ECD matters. The discussion intensely revolved around how ministries can break the silos, do away with the bottlenecks and work with increased inter-ministerial and inter-organizational cooperation and coordination.
Towards the end of the conference, all the participating stakeholders made a collective commitment to continue their efforts in ensuring the basic rights of young children including and vowed to take the legacy of the day-long conference further in every policy they will make and every action they will take.
“I am amazed to see many influential people gathered here talking about ways to better the lives of young children of Nepal,” said Rajani Lama, as she prepared to leave after the closure of the conference. “I have a quite a lot of knowledge and experience to take back with me from this conference.”