Early Childhood Development (ECD) refers to the holistic physical, psychological, and social development of children in their early years, defined in the national ECD framework in Nepal as up to 8 years of age. These early years are important in the psychological and physical development of children, determining success in their future schooling years. During these years, children not only gain important physical and motor skills, but also emergent literacy skills such as phonological awareness, familiarity with print, and basic listening comprehension. Moreover, children enrolling in primary school for the first time are assumed to already have somewhat mastered these skills.
Throughout Nepal, the state of ECD has dramatically improved in recent decades. Several ECD centers have been established in many rural communities, although they have so far only provided services to children aged 4-6 years. The government has also published many Early Grade Reading (EGR) materials. Most recently, the National Planning Commission has published a framework for integrated early childhood development throughout Nepal, which takes a more holistic approach to early childhood development than previous attempts. But most of these policies, learning resources and the underlying curriculum have been yet to be properly developed or implemented.
In remote and high-mountainous regions like Dolpo, providing good nutrition and year round education to young children–many needing to walk long hours from home to school– is especially challenging. In fact, there are only a handful of ECD centers, most of them being operated within the primary school (for e.g. CMS runs pre-primary classes through Grade 10).
Many children at Crystal Mountain School (CMS) in Dho Tarap are already 7 years or older when they first enroll in school. They are then placed in pre-primary classes, which have an inadequate number of teaching staff and very few learning resources. The classrooms are not designed for pre-primary education and are filled with students who are not in their age-appropriate classes; the national curriculum assumes students will be enrolled in Grade 3 or higher by the time they are 7 years old. There are many of these challenges not just in Dho Tarap, but throughout Dolpo.
Additionally, the harsh geography and climate, especially during the winters, present even more challenges. The proposed project attempts to highlight a few of the major challenges facing early childhood education in Dolpo, and possible solutions. A pilot ECD program is also proposed in Dho-Tarap.
Objectives of ECD program
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This program and proposed pilot project for development of Early Childhood Center in Dho/Tokyu has following objectives
- Tackle challenges like 6 month schooling gap during winters for youngest students (from pre-primary to grade 3) that CMS is facing with regards to early childhood development in the Dho-Tarap valley
- Design, build and implement a climate friendly, sustainable and adaptable pilot ECD center in Dho/Tokyu village that runs through the harsh winters as a replicable model suitable to the whole Dolpo region
- Design and implement under the holistic early childhood development framework, National ECD strategy 2077-2088 B.S.
- Empower local government and community members to design, build and operate ECD centers
- Develop ECD centers across Dolpo after monitoring and evaluation of pilot center in partnerships with local governments, community members, and outside partners and donors
Vision for Early Childhood Development
Our vision is to create safe and engaging all season learning environments for young children until 8 years of age in Early Childhood Development (ECD) centers in each ward of all rural municipalities in Dolpo, built and operated with locally adapted frameworks under the National Strategy for Early Childhood Development 2077-2088 B.S.
These centers will offer day-care services for children aged 2-3 years, ECD national curriculum (and a local supplementary curriculum) for children aged 4-8 years, as well as provide nutrition, health (including maternal care) and sanitation services for the children and the community members.
Adhering to sustainable design principles for all facilities within the ECD centers, these centers will be built with passive solar technology adapted to maximize the use of local architecture and building practices enabling the centers to operate throughout the year. Local community members and the local governments will be engaged in the design, construction and operation of the centers.
The first ECD campus– to be piloted in Tokyu village, Dho-Tarap– will be able to cater to 80-100 students until 8 years of age, significantly reducing the burden on Crystal Mountain School for operation of ECD program while inspiring similar initiatives throughout Dolpo. The public land chosen for the campus was based on consultation with community members and local government officials to ensure optimum distance for majority of the houses in the village. The campus adheres to sustainable building design practices (including the use of local resources and building practices), is optimized for earthquake safety and passive heating for continuous operation throughout the winters.
The project is led by Vision Dolpo with extensive support from local community and the local government, and selected partners for technical expertise.
Prototype ECD center design
With help from funds raised through our GlobalGiving campaign, we have been able to prepare designs for the pilot ECD center.
This center has been designed with a holistic overview of the necessary components for effective early childhood education, suited to the local context and needs. Inspired and informed by the National Early Childhood Development Strategy 2077-2088 (by National Planning Commission), this center based in Tokyu village of Dho Tarap Valley will provide maternal care services to expecting and new mothers, day care services to children aged 2-3 years, and early childhood education to children aged 4-8 years old. Apart from classrooms, nursing/health area, and day-care area, the center will be equipped with eco-friendly dry compost toilets, solar powered shower, an indoor courtyard, a multi-purpose hall that will also serve as community center in winters, a library, and a digital lab.
The campus design is based on vernacular architecture of Dho Tarap valley and optimized for optimum use of local building materials and building expertise, with careful modifications– to facilitate easy transfer of technology to the local community— for effective passive solar heating and insulation, and floor structure based on needs of campus users and standard design principles for early childhood centers.
Pilot ECD costs, design refinement, and construction plan
A lot more work is to be done to finalize this design. Interior design, and design of outdoor spaces in the ECD campus are also remaining. Our project team of architects, sustainable building experts, engineers and educators are heading to the project site in August for further research on local building materials, and engagement with local community members for feedback on current design. Final design will be available by the end of 2022, upon design refinements based on collected feedback.
We have estimated costs for the construction of the entire ECD campus, which totals over Rs. 5,00,00,000 (>$420,000). Due the difficulty with transportation and acquiring wood for construction, costs in Dolpo are generally much greater than in other regions of Nepal. To minimize costs, our team has maximized the use of local building materials like wood, stone, and mud, and techniques like stone walls and rammed earth. After the site visit in August, our team is expected to be able to think of further avenues to reduce costs, for e.g. by using available local resources as insulation material.
Due to the increased scope of this project, we have decided to pursue the construction of this ECD center in two phases. In Phase 1, the southern block of the campus will be constructed, which will enable running of essential services at the center while the northern block is being built in Phase 2. The estimated costs for construction of Phase 1 is expected to be over Rs. 2,40,00,000 (>$200,000).
We have decided to seek support to cover major costs of Phase 1 by approaching different types of donors, including id agencies, embassies, philanthropic groups or individuals.
As a result, we are now pivoting our crowdfunding campaign on GlobalGiving to cover partial costs of Phase 1, especially to source wood and stone locally, which must start this summer for expected start of construction in April 2023, and thus will require immediate support which may only be possible via crowdfunding. Additionally, the funds raised from our GlobalGiving campaign will help cover other essential costs of the project, including architecture/design and engineering costs (which gave us this beautiful design of the campus), as well as administration costs (hiring of local site officer in Tokyu village, program management, marketing).