Pema smiles for the camera and holds up a rabbit stuffed animal. He and his friend Chimi are using their imaginations in a learning corner, set up at a preschool in Bhutan. The Red Nose Day Fund helped Save the Children improve the quality of education in more than 200 preschools in Bhutan, training teachers to incorporate play-based math and reading activities that help increase school readiness. Photo credit: Susan Warner/Save the Children, March 2016.

Pema stretches his imagination at preschool.

Red Noses Helped a Pre-school in Bhutan

Unlike any of his family members before him, 4-year-old Pema puts on his traditional Bhutanese robe each morning and walks through his parents’ fields of rice, corn and buckwheat, tended by his family for generations. Then he starts to climb the foothills of the Himalayas. Ascending for nearly 15 minutes, Pema reaches his destination – a non-descript building once used as a natural resource center. The building has recently gained new life as a preschool in this remote village.

In a country where kids’ reading, writing and math skills are below the minimum grade-level expectations, [1] many children are falling behind even before completing the first grade. Working against this trend, Save the Children is training preschool teachers throughout Bhutan to give children the skills they need before going to elementary school.

Pema’s teacher, Rinchen, has opened up the classroom’s learning corners, designed to develop children’s early reading and math skills, and helping stretch their imaginations in the pretend play and building block areas. The room is abuzz, as the children quickly pick their first learning corner.

Pema quickly goes to the math corner, playing a local game with painted rocks – called dapee –  with his friend Chimi. The boys take turns in the fast-paced counting game, trying to flick rocks to hit the others, and pocket the ones they hit. When all the rocks have been taken in, the two friends quickly count their loot and realize Chimi came out on top today.

But Pema’s favorite corner is pretend play. There, he can pretend to be a farmer like his parents, putting the yoke between the imaginary oxen to align them for plowing the corn fields. Today, Pema pretends to cook Bhutan’s most popular dish, ema datsi, with locally-grown chiles cooked in cheese and poured over rice.

“Before the training, pretend play here was playing with dolls,” said Rinchen, referencing the support from Save the Children. “Now we include community elements, like the farming tools. The children take interest because they have seen their parents using these.”

Pema’s mom Jamba said preschool has given him a jump on the essential skills he’ll need to start elementary school. “He knows his ABCs and is starting to read.” This makes Jamba especially proud as she herself cannot read.

Despite the obstacles, Jamba mother is determined all her children will continue to further their education. “I want them to pursue an occupation they love,” she said.

For Pema, the current odds lean toward gourmet chef, but thanks to the learning corners, he’ll have many more chances to set his imagination free.  

[1] Bhutan Ministry of Education sector review 2009


Thank you for signing up! Now, you’ll be among the first to know how Save the Children is responding to the most urgent needs of children, every day and in times of crisis—and how your support can make a difference. You may opt-out at any time by clicking "unsubscribe" at the bottom of any email.

By providing my mobile phone number, I agree to receive recurring text messages from Save the Children (48188) and phone calls with opportunities to donate and ways to engage in our mission to support children around the world. Text STOP to opt-out, HELP for info. Message & data rates may apply. View our Privacy Policy at