Children at a preschool in Kavre district
Young, impoverished Nepali children are getting a head start on their schooling through a new Early Childhood Development program started by Nepal Youth Foundation.
This year, we are developing eight centers: five of them are scattered throughout village schools in rural villages outside Kathmandu and three of them are in Kathmandu. Each class has about 20 students.
“This is a first for all of these children,” said Binu Thapa, manager of NYF's new program for children ages 3-5 from poor families. “It will make a big difference later in their lives.”
While public primary school is now widely available to all children in Nepal, preschool is a rarity, especially among the country’s impoverished children. Yet preschool is an essential step in making sure children are ready to learn in primary school.
In a corner classroom in a village school in the eastern district of Kavre, 20 children squirm and giggle as a teacher reads them a story in their native Tamang. A low murmur of conversation among the mothers sitting outside the open door drifts into the classroom. Puzzles, blocks, clocks and books are stacked in in a corner of the brick-floored classroom.
"We started the centers to give children a solid foundation to succeed, and we also want the government to succeed in maintaining the program" said Som Paneru, NYF’s president. “While the government understands the need for early childhood education and has opened over 30,000 centers across the country, the programs are not fully developed. They are understaffed, underfunded with poorly trained teachers. The centers do not have enough books or supplies and the facilities are inadequate.”
NYF’s goal is to help Nepal’s Department of Education to improve the quality of the ECD programs by training teachers, providing teaching materials and improving facilities to develop a model that will be replicable across the country.
Many children and their mothers travel long distances up steep, narrow paths to attend the class held at the local village school. The nutritious meal served daily is a big draw.
“It’s hard for families to feed their children,” Binu explained. “Children need a balanced diet, exercise, and educational stimulation to enjoy their childhoods properly.”
Nearly half of all Nepali children are malnourished. That's why the ECD staff work with NYF's Nutrition Program staff to weigh all the ECD students and assess their health. ECD and Nutrition Program staff will conduct follow up visits with families of children at risk of malnutrition. If children are found to be severely malnourished, they are sent to one of NYF’s Nutritional Rehabilitation Homes for treatment. And all ECD children receive healthy, locally available meals at the centers and their mothers are educated on good nutritional practices.
“Our goal is to prepare these children for a successful entry to first grade,” Som said. "And getting children the nutrition they need is absolutely essential to make it work."
Preschool gives children a head start