One out of five children between the ages of 2 to 4 years in Nepal is not developing on track amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, new data from UNICEF shows. The pandemic has especially affected the health, learning and psychosocial well-being of the children, as per a new survey by UNICEF Nepal.

“The Early Childhood Development Index (ECDI) survey conducted in August showed that children from lower income families, living in rural areas, with caregivers with no or low levels of education, and not attending early childhood education (ECE) programs were at higher risk of being developmentally off track,” the UN agency said in a statement.

“Even among children who attended ECE, those who attended government ECE were at higher risk of being developmentally off track compared to those who attended private programs.”

The phone-based survey was conducted among nationally representative sample of 2,853 households with children to understand the development needs and status of young children aged 2 to 4 years.

“Early stimulation activities with caregivers like reading books, telling stories, singing songs, going outside, naming objects, counting, or drawing things were found to be important for young children’s development and learning. However, the data alarmingly revealed a plunge in parental engagement compared to pre-pandemic conditions.”

Under the dynamic situation and especially in the time when people’s lives were affected by loosening of the prohibitory orders in August 2021, only 31 per cent of children received early stimulation at home by family members compared to 73 per cent in 2019, as per the survey.

With follow up survey in October, it was found that mothers’ engagement improved over time as they got over the hectic time of returning to the normal from the strict prohibitory order. However, fathers’ engagement remained low (6 per cent), maintaining a frequent social norm of fathers’ reduced involvement in parenting.
Half of the surveyed children were found to be enrolled in pre-primary level.

However, during school closure, 34 per cent of children did not engage in learning through alternative learning modalities at all.

Most of the children accessed home tuition, while alternative learning modalities specified by the government’s Emergency Action Plan (e.g., online class, mobile teacher, radio, TV, tele-teaching) were underused. Low-tech solutions, such as educational radio and TV and tele-teaching were almost unused.

High-tech solutions like online class were used almost exclusively among children who attended private ECE. Underused low-tech solutions and unequal access to high-tech solutions might have contributed to the developmental gap observed between children who attended private ECE and other children.

UNICEF has called upon Nepal government, development partners, teachers, parents and other stakeholders to utilize the alternative learning modalities specified in the National Emergency Action Plan in times of school closures; strengthen parenting education, with focus on fathers’ engagement, starting from conception phase through multi-sectoral collaboration so that parents and caregivers receive continuous encouragement and guidance to support children’s learning at home.
“Enhance early stimulation activities by parents such as reading child-friendly books, telling stories, singing songs, taking children outside, playing with them, naming objects, counting, or drawing things together to ensure that all children realize their development potentials and be ready for further learning.”