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School Education in Bhutan

Policy, Current Status, and Challenges
  • Kuenzang GyeltshenEmail author
  • Sonam Zangmo
Living reference work entry
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Part of the Global Education Systems book series (GES)

Abstract

School education in Bhutan started in 1914 with the introduction of first modern school in Haa by Gongzin Ugyen Dorji on the command of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck, the first king of Bhutan. It was primarily driven by the need to develop the national human resource capacity and drive the economic development efforts in the country. Though it started in 1914, the system is relatively young because the systematic development of modern school education started only in 1961 with the introduction of the First Five Year Development Plan. Despite the late start, school education in Bhutan has witnessed unprecedented growth and progress within a period of over six decades.

The provision of high standard and quality education that is contextually relevant and meaningful to prepare students with the twenty-first-century skills of creativity, innovation, and intellect is accorded a high priority at both the national and the institutional level. However, the challenges confronting the Bhutanese school education system are equally daunting and herculean. Constraints include inadequate infrastructure facilities and financial resources to support high standards of teaching and learning.

Keywords

School education Gross National Happiness and Assessment 

Introduction

Bhutan became hereditary monarchy in 1907 when Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck unified the country and became the first king (1907–1926). In 2008 the country adopted the constitution and became democratic constitutional monarchy. The first National Assembly election was also held in 2008. The country is divided into 20 dzongkhags (districts). Majority of the people (63.2% female and 46.2% male) are engaged in agriculture farming which accounts for 53.9% of the total population (NSB 2019).

The first king laid the foundation of the modern education in the country by establishing the first modern school in the country and also by sending students to India for studies. Prior to that, only traditional or monastic education was prevalent in the country. Monastic education was mostly training in religious philosophy and religious arts such as liturgy, monastic music, dances, sculpture, and painting. The teaching was mainly related to Buddhist philosophy, soteriology, metaphysics, monastic discipline, and other subjects related to Buddhism. Other subjects such as ethnography and political history were neglected due to the dominant role of religion. However, the tradition of 13 crafts (bzo rig bcu gsum), which is unique to Bhutan, is less associated with religious education and is often practiced outside religious institutions (Phuntsho 2000).

With the introduction of the modern education the emphasis of education has shifted to improving living conditions, obtaining happiness and material comfort for oneself. Unlike the monastic education which is mainly spiritual training, modern education is viewed as means to human development, acquiring knowledge and skills which in turn can contribute toward the development of individual or communal standards of life. Therefore, students are encouraged to opt for subjects through which they can develop skills to earn a better living or choose professions that are financially lucrative and socially beneficial (Phuntsho 2000).

The importance of modern education is enshrined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan (2008) which states that the State should provide education to improve and increase knowledge, values, and skills of the entire population for full development of the human personality. It also mandates the provision of free education to all children of school going age up to the tenth standard and ensures that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all based on merit (RGoB 2008).

History of School Education in Bhutan

The origin of modern education in Bhutan can be traced back to little more than a hundred years. Bhutan saw the inception of modern education in 1914 when 46 boys traveled to study at a mission school in Kalimgpong, India (Wangmo and Choden 2010). In the same year, on the command of Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck the first modern school was started in Haa by Gongzin Ugyen Dorji who was an aide and diplomat for the first king of Bhutan. Hindi, English, Arithmetic, and Dzongkha (in classical form) became the core curriculum (MoE 2014a).

In 1915, second school was opened in Wangdichoeling in Bumthang for the Crown Prince Jigme Wangchuck and the children of the attendants. This school moved to Kuenga Rabten palace in Trongsa during the winter. There were 28 students attending the school in Haa and 21 students in Bumthang by 1919–1920 (Wangmo and Choden 2010). Several schools were constructed towards the end of the reign of the Second King Jigme Wangchuck (1926–1952) (Dorji 1995).

Southern dzongkhags followed the establishment of schools in Haa and Bumthang. In 1947, Nar Bahadur Pradhan, a prominent figure in Chargharey village now called Sangngagchoeling in Samtse dzongkhag, opened one room of his house as a classroom and invited C. M. Rai from India to teach the students. Further, in 1951, a school was constructed by the people of Nainital village now known as Ugyentse. The school started with 12 students. Subsequently schools were also constructed in 1954, 1955, and 1958 in Samtse by residents of various villages (CERD 2007).

In Tsirang dzongkhag a school was established in 1955. Two other schools were opened in 1957 at Darla in Chhukha dzongkhag and Neoli in Samdrup Jongkhar dzongkhag. The present Jigmeling Lower Secondary was also operating in Sarpang dzongkhag in 1957 (CERD 2007).

During the reign of the Third King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck (1952–1972), many schools were established throughout the country. Present Samtse Lower Secondary School was established in 1957 with 109 students on the order of the third king. Following year another school was constructed in Chengmari village now Norbugang in Samtse. This school had 25 students and a teacher which later became Chengmari Primary School. The Royal Government of Bhutan took over the school and admitted 300 students in 1964 (CERD 2007).

In the Eastern region, a school was opened in Trashigang in 1952 under the initiative of Dzongpon (district administrator) Sey Dophu with the permission from the Second King Jigme Wangchuck. There were 32 students including two girls. In 1964, Father Mackay, a Canadian Jesuit priest, was appointed as the head teacher of the school which became Bhutan’s first high school under the name Trashigang Central School (CERD 2007).

Shumar Drungpa (sub-district administrator) Babu Trashi constructed Yurung Lower Secondary School in Pema Gatshel in 1957 on the order of the third king, and the school was opened in April 1959 with 138 students and three teachers. In 1959 Babu Tashi also established another school in Mongar dzongkhag. This school grew from 200 students and five teachers at the time of establishment to 300 students and ten teachers by 1963 (CERD 2007).

In the Western regions Punakha School was constructed in the early 1950s at a place called Lingkanaor Punagom. This was followed by the opening of Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck Higher Secondary School in 1955 in Wangdue Phodrang. There were 46 students when the school was established. In the Central region a primary school with over 100 students was established in Zhemgang dzongkhag in 1958 which was followed by opening of a school in Trongsa in June 1959 at Churathang. Some female students also attended the school (CERD 2007).

In the 1960s, a unified system of school education system and curriculum was established in the country (Hirayama 2015). This was mainly because of the introduction of Five-Year Development Plan in 1961. The languages of instruction till 1961 were Hindi and Choekey (classical Tibetan) (Zangpo 2002). However, English became the medium of instruction in 1962 because it was already a lingua franca of the world (Dorji 2005). The schools followed the borrowed Indian curriculum and almost all the teachers were from India.

During the first Five Year Plan (FYP) (1961–1966) the Education Directorate was established and the Secretary General of the Development Wing acted as the director of education. In 1966 the first set of textbooks in Chokey was developed. The Department of Education conducted its first Bhutan Matriculation Examination for 20 students in 1968 (Mackey 2002).

Realizing the importance of modern education and the need to have national teachers the third king established Sherubtse Public School in Kanglung and Teacher Training Institute (TTI) in Samtse in 1968 to train national teachers. The institute was later renamed as National Institute of Education and now called as Samtse College of Education (SCE). SCE is responsible for training secondary school teachers. Following the establishment of SCE, the Muenselling Institute for the visually impaired in Khaling was established in 1973. This was followed by the establishment of Teacher Training Center (TTC) in Paro in 1975 which later came to be known as Teacher Training College and now named as Paro College of Education (PCE) (MoE 2019a). PCE trains primary and national language teachers.

A new English textbooks series Druk Readers and Druk and Drukpa in Social Studies were published in 1974. This was followed by the development of the first National Education Policy in 1976 which was revised in 1984. Understanding the importance of making the school curriculum more relevant a unit called Curriculum and Textbook Development Division (CTDD) was established in 1985 at the headquarters to look after the curriculum matters. In 1986 a New Approach to Primary Education (NAPE) was introduced to cater to the emerging needs which required change from rote learning to activity-based and student-centered learning (REC 2018).

In 1990 Bhutan History and Geography for classes VI–VIII was introduced and it was extended to classes IX–X in 1993 with the aim to create truly Bhutanese curriculum which is relevant for the learner, society, and the country (Gyamtso and Dukpa n.d.). The Curriculum and Textbook Development Division was renamed as Curriculum and Professional Support Section (CAPSS) in 1996. This later became Curriculum and Profession Support Division (CAPSD) (REC 2018).

This was followed by the introduction of integrated science for classes VII and VIII in 1999 by revising and integrating essential concepts from the three disciplines of sciences. Further, recognizing the inadequacy of school curricula to prepare students to the world, the curriculum reform for subjects like English, Dzongkha, and Mathematics was initiated by Ministry of Education during the 9th FYP (2002–2008) which was followed by science curriculum reform during the last phase of the 9th FYP (Tenzin and Lepcha 2015).

Subsequently, Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment which was known as Bhutan Board of Examinations took over the conduct of class X examination from Delhi-based Indian Secondary Certificate Examination in 2001 and for class XII in 2006 (BCSEA 2019b). In 2010 the Curriculum and Professional Support Division (CAPSD) was upgraded to Department of Curriculum Research and Development (DCRD) which became Royal Education Council on December 12, 2014 (REC 2018). The Bhutan Education Blue Print (2014–2024) was also launched in the same year.

The Bhutan Education Blue Print suggested for curriculum reforms in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) and Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET). It was also suggested that Social Sciences be revamped by including Bhutanese values of Gross National Happiness (GNH) with twenty-first-century skills and pedagogies. Realizing the need to make the curriculum more relevant to the national and global context, the first National School Curriculum Conference (NSCC) was convened in October 2016 (REC 2016). Since then many reforms have taken place in the education system in the country.

Today, the education system in Bhutan has expanded since the first Five Year Plan in 1961 to address basic educational needs and develop human resources required for the socioeconomic development of the country. The modern education system has expanded from about 11 schools prior to 1961 to 1007 schools and other educational institutes in 2019, spanning from early childhood care education to tertiary, technical, and vocational education (MoE 2019a).

Access, Participation, Retention, Transition

As mandated by the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan, Article-9, Section-16 states, “the State shall endeavor to provide free basic education up to tenth standard to all school going age children,” and the Ministry shall ensure that all children have access to quality and inclusive education through necessary provisions.

Based on this, access to school education is free for everyone in Bhutan, including non-Bhutanese residing in the country till the completion of basic education (class X). The total enrolment in 2019 was 166,786 with 84,738 female and 82,048 male indicating a higher enrolment of female students compared to male (MoE 2019a).

There is no disparity in terms of school enrolment in Bhutan. There are schools established in every nook and corner of the country to cater to the needs of the remote villages. Those places located far from the schools have extended classrooms to cater to the needs of the children for schooling. There were 74 extended classrooms, 19 schools with a Special Education Needs programs, 64 Central Schools, and 59 Autonomous Schools which are spread across all 20 dzongkhags in 2019 (MoE 2019a).

Survival Rate

The survival rate measures the retention capacity and also the internal efficiency of an education system. Survival rates nearing 100% indicates a high level of retention and low incidence of dropout. The survival rate for female children (86.8%) is higher than the male (73.3%) children throughout the basic education. About 83.2% of children enrolled in grade PP reach last grade of primary education (class VI). It was also estimated that about 79.9% of children who enter the school system finally complete basic education (class X) (MoE 2019a).

Completion Rate

The completion rate refers to the percentage of children completing education at a particular grade. This indicator, which monitors the education system coverage and student progression, is intended to measure human capital formation and school system quality and efficiency. The completion rate of female students (102.3%) is higher than the male (84.8%). This is also indicated by lower dropout rate for female than the male students. In 2019, the completion rates for primary education and basic education were 93.5% and 87.5%, respectively (MoE 2019a).

Transition Rate

According to the Annual Education Statistics 2019, the transition rate from primary to lower secondary education was recorded at 93.8%. This indicates that 93.8% of class VI students of 2018 have been promoted to class VII in 2019. Similarly, the transition rate of lower secondary (class VIII) students to middle secondary level (Class IX) was 87.1%, and the transition rate of the middle secondary students from class X to class XI at higher secondary level was 89.7%. It is interesting to note that transition rates for female are higher than male at school level (Table 1).
Table 1

Transition rates

Details

Female

Male

Total

Transition rate from primary to lower secondary education

94.5

93.0

93.8

Transition rate from lower secondary to middle secondary education

88.2

85.8

87.1

Transition rate from middle secondary to higher secondary education

89.7

89.7

89.7

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Over the years the Bhutanese school education has seen a demographic shift in the school enrolment especially since 2012. The overall enrolment has been decreasing gradually. Female enrolment has been higher than the male continuously since 2012. These increases can be attributed to factors such as provision of free food and boarding facilities supported by World Food Programme (WFP) and initiatives like the establishment of multigrade schools by the Royal Government of Bhutan (MoE 2014a). It is also due to increasing awareness about the importance of women education. The total enrolment in 2012 was 178,359 which consisted of 89,428 female and 88,931 male. However, in 2019 the total enrolment has decreased to 166,786 with 84,738 female and 82,048 male (MoE 2019a). The decreasing enrolment in the school education is due to the decreasing population (approximately 13%) in the age group (13–16) from 2005 to 2017 (NSB 2017).

Regional Spread: Availability in Terms of Infrastructure, Differentiated Provision

Bhutan has made commendable progress in terms of the school education. Efforts have been made to achieve universal access to education, and for strengthening foundations for learning, develop literacy, numeracy, and skills for work and lifelong learning. In order to provide opportunities to all students to realize their full potential, schools have been established in every region within the country. All 20 dzongkhags (districts) have schools ranging from Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) centers to Higher Secondary Schools. Those places that are far away from the schools have extended classrooms to ensure that students do not have to travel long distance (Table 2).
Table 2

Number of schools by type and dzongkhag

Sl. No.

Dzongkhag/districts

Public

Private

HSS

MSS

LSS

PS

ECR

HSS

MSS

LSS

PS

1

Bumthang

1

3

1

12

1

1

0

0

0

2

Chhukha

4

8

4

25

6

2

0

0

0

3

Dagana

3

3

3

12

3

0

0

0

0

4

Gasa

1

1

0

2

2

0

0

0

0

5

Haa

1

1

2

5

1

1

0

0

0

6

Lhuentse

2

2

2

10

3

0

0

0

0

7

Monggar

4

5

3

25

11

1

0

0

0

8

Paro

4

4

4

7

0

4

0

1

5

9

Pema Gatshel

2

3

3

13

4

0

0

0

0

10

Punakha

2

4

3

10

7

1

0

0

0

11

Samdrup Jongkhar

2

7

2

16

5

1

0

0

1

12

Samtse

4

3

6

19

14

0

0

0

0

13

Sarpang

3

3

5

11

2

2

0

0

0

14

Thimphu

5

9

4

11

2

7

1

0

9

15

Trashigang

4

7

9

34

3

1

0

0

0

16

Trashi Yangtse

2

2

6

19

0

0

0

0

0

17

Trongsa

2

2

1

14

2

0

0

0

0

18

Tsirang

2

1

1

11

1

0

0

0

0

19

Wangdue Phodrang

2

2

1

23

7

0

0

0

0

20

Zhemgang

2

2

2

23

0

0

0

0

0

21

Total

52

72

63

302

74

21

1

1

15

Legend: Higher Secondary School (HSS), Middle Secondary School (MSS), Lower Secondary School (LSS), Primary School (PS), and Extended Classrooms (ECRs)

Source: Annual Education Statistics, (2019a)

Further, the Royal Government of Bhutan strives to develop infrastructure and facilities within each school to improve the quality of education for attending students. Examples of infrastructure and facilities provided include science laboratories, computers laboratories, internet connectivity, and access to roads and electricity (Table 3).
Table 3

Laboratories in public and private schools

School level

General science lab

Biology lab

Chemistry lab

Physics lab

Computer lab

ECCD

2

0

0

0

0

Primary school

70

0

1

1

18

Lower secondary school

55

0

0

1

43

Middle secondary school

34

43

47

47

67

Higher secondary

25

55

57

53

78

Total

186

98

105

102

206

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Role of the State, Aided, Not-for-Profit/Nongovernmental Organization, and Private Providers of Education

As per the mandate of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan the state is responsible for providing free basic education to all Bhutanese citizens. Article 9 of the constitution states that

The State shall endeavour to provide education for the purpose of improving and increasing knowledge, values and skills of the entire population with education being directed towards the full development of the human personality.

Therefore, providing education is the responsibility of the Royal Government of Bhutan. However, the role of providing education in Bhutan is not confined only to Royal Government of Bhutan. There are many other stakeholders and agencies that have taken the responsibility of providing education to Bhutanese citizens. Private enterprises have played a very important role in providing education since the establishment of first private school in 1987 in Thimphu. In 2019 there were 53 ECCD centers that were established by private enterprises and 38 private schools ranging from primary to higher secondary schools which are spread across the country (MoE 2019a) (Table 4).
Table 4

Number of school and institutes

Schools/institutes

Government

Private

Total

ECCD centers

319

60

379

Primary schools

302

15

317

Lower secondary schools

63

1

64

Middle secondary schools

72

1

64

Higher secondary schools

52

21

73

Special institutes

2

0

2

Total

491

38

529

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Further, Nongovernment Organization/Nonprofit Organization and Civil Society Organization have also shared the responsibility of providing education in the country. As of 2019 there were two Vocational Training Institutes and three ECCD centers established by the Civil Society Organizations (MoE 2019a).

As the country continues to develop there is an increasing number of Civil Society Organizations and private business enterprises that are interested in providing education. This has helped to increase the Public-Private Partnership and thereby reducing the burden on Royal Government of Bhutan for providing education to its citizens.

Private schools generate their own funds through the fees collected from the students or take loan from the financial institutions. As a result, the fees in the private schools are much higher than the government schools. The private schools follow the rules and regulation of the Ministry of Education. The Private School Division under the Department of School Education is responsible for overall coordination of private schools in the country (Table 5).
Table 5

Number of private schools in different dzongkhags/districts

Sl. No.

Dzongkhags/districts

HSS

MSS

LSS

PS

1

Bumthang

1

0

0

0

2

Chhukha

2

0

0

0

3

Haa

1

0

0

0

4

Monggar

1

0

0

0

5

Paro

4

0

1

5

6

Punakha

1

0

0

0

7

Samdrup Jongkhar

1

0

0

1

8

Sarpang

2

0

0

0

9

Thimphu

7

1

0

9

10

Trashigang

1

0

0

0

11

Total

21

1

1

15

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Role of Centre and State in Administration, Role of Local Self-Governments

The Ministry of Education provides the overall policy guidelines for development of education in the country. Further, it facilitates the effective coordination and collaboration within the Ministry, with other agencies, local governments and schools for the development and implementation of educational policies, plans and services. The Ministry also regularly reviews its internal structure and mandates in order to enhance its efficiency and service delivery.

Other professional bodies responsible for the development of school curriculum and standardized assessment and examinations include the Royal Education Council (REC) and Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA). These organizations are required to provide the overall framework and guidelines for the development and implementation of curriculum, assessment, and standardized examinations in the country. They are also responsible for developing teaching, learning, and assessment resources for schools, teachers, and students. Furthermore, these organizations are required to conduct research into effective curriculum, pedagogy, and assessment design and practices.

The dzongkhag (districts) and thromde (Municipal) offices are required to support and facilitate coordination, collaboration, and implementation of educational plans, programs, and services at the dzongkhag and thromde level. It is also their responsibility to ensure systematic planning and budgeting for their respective ECCD centers and schools, and ensure that the quality and performance of ECCD centers and schools are maintained through regular monitoring.

The ECCDs and schools are required to deliver quality and inclusive educational programs and engage community through consultation on current policy issues. This is achieved by soliciting opinions, views, and feedback to strengthen the delivery of educational services. Schools are also required to engage the community through school management boards, parent teacher meetings/associations, and parenting education awareness programs.

Structure of School Education

The school education structure in Bhutan comprises of 11 years of free basic education from classes PP to X, with 7 years of primary education (PP–VI), which starts at the age of 6, and 4 years of secondary education (VII–X). At the end of the basic education (Class X), there is a national board examination, Bhutan Certificate for Secondary Education (BCSE).

Students either continue their education in higher secondary schools, enroll in the technical training institutes, or enter the job market after completing class X. Enrolment in higher secondary school is determined by their performance in the Class X board examinations. Students who do not qualify for public higher secondary schools have the option to continue their studies in private higher secondary schools or enroll in vocational courses offered by public and private training institutes.

After completing class XII, some students continue their studies at the tertiary institutes within the country for a diploma or bachelor degree, or enter the job market. Those who do not qualify for public tertiary education institutes attend private tertiary education institutes in the country or abroad. A limited number of students are selected for scholarships for professional studies abroad. A few graduates from the Technical Training Institutes continue their education at the tertiary level (Fig. 1).
Fig. 1

Structure of school education in Bhutan. (Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE 2019a)

Levels of Schooling

Early Childhood Care and Development

Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) provides opportunities for all children aged 3–5, including those with special educational needs, to develop to their full potential. ECCD programs and services provide strong foundations for learning, lifelong development, and a smooth transition from early childhood education to school. Considering the benefits of the Early Childhood Care and Development, the Ministry of Education has initiated ECCD programs. The ECCD program is implemented through community-based ECCD centers. These centers are run by the private sector, NGOs, and corporations. There are 379 ECCD centers with 8,743 children and 820 facilitators (MoE 2019a) (Table 6).
Table 6

Number of ECCD centers

Types of ECCD

No. of centers

Enrolment

Female

Male

Total

Government

319

3556

3631

7187

Corporation

4

62

60

122

NGO

3

42

30

72

Private

53

642

720

1362

Grand total

379

4302

4441

8743

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Extended Classrooms

The establishment of Extended Classrooms (ECRs) was initiated as an intervention to improve access to education especially in remote, rural, and scattered villages where students have to walk long distances to school. ECRs are an extension of the nearest school (parent-school) and are generally housed in lhakhangs (temples), community learning centers, Non-Formal Education (NFE) centers, outreach clinics and village houses, and temporary classrooms. The ECRs are conducted in multigrade settings with a minimum of 20 children under the supervision of one or two teachers who have been trained in multigrade teaching. The parent-school supports the ECRs in terms of teachers, teaching learning materials, and overall management.

In 2019 there were 1572 students enrolled in 74 ECRs across the country, of which 975 were female and 777 were male. There were 127 teachers teaching in ECR of which 22.8% were female and 77.2% were male (MoE 2019a).

Primary Schools

Primary education in Bhutan consists of 7 years of schooling starting from pre-primary to grade VI. Pre-primary is the first grade in primary education and the official enrolment age is 6 years and above. The investment in primary education has long-term impact in reducing poverty and inequality. Recognizing this, the Royal Government of Bhutan accords high priority to primary education.

As of 2019, there were 11,852 students enrolled in pre-primary education and 89,894 students enrolled in primary education (PP–VI) in the country which constitute about 54% of the total school enrolment. Out of the total enrolment 44,409 were female and 45,485 were male (MoE 2019a). There were 2481 teachers teaching in the primary schools. Out of this 892 were female and 1404 were male teachers in public schools while the private schools had 124 female and 61 male teachers (MoE 2019a).

Lower Secondary Schools (VII–VIII)

Lower secondary education comprises of 2 years of school after primary education. The total enrolment in lower secondary education across the country was 27,454 in 2019 which constitutes around 16% of the total school enrolment in the country. Female enrolment in both the grades are higher as compared to male. The higher female enrolment is due to increasing awareness about the importance of female education which is the impact of modernization (Table 7).
Table 7

Enrolment in lower secondary schools

Grade

Female

Male

Total

VII

6,973

6,729

13,702

VIII

7,212

6,540

13,752

Grand total

14,185

13,269

27,454

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Middle Secondary Schools (IX–X)

Middle secondary education consists of 2 years of school after the completion of lower secondary education. At the end of the middle secondary education (which is also the end of the free basic education) students are required to appear a nation level examination conducted by the Bhutan Council for School Examination and Assessment.

There were 26,767 students enrolled in middle secondary education in 2019 which constitutes 16.04% of the total school enrolment. Male enrolment was lower than the female enrolment in both the grades (Table 8).
Table 8

Enrolment in middle secondary schools

Grade

Female

Male

Total

IX

7,330

6,556

13,886

X

7,031

5,850

12,881

Grand total

14,361

12,406

26,767

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Higher Secondary Schools (XI–XII)

The higher secondary education comprises of 2 years of schooling after the completion of secondary education. The total enrolment in 2019 in higher secondary schools across the country was 22,671 which constituted around 13.6% of the overall enrolment in the country. Female enrolment was higher than the male in both the grades (Table 9).
Table 9

Enrolment in higher secondary schools

Grade

Female

Male

Total

XI

6,212

5,538

11,750

XII

5,572

5,349

10,921

Grand total

11,784

10,887

22,671

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Education Governance: Provision, Regulation, and Funding Systems

The responsibility for the administration of education in Bhutan is shared among the Ministry of Education (MoE), Royal Education Council (REC), Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA), Ministry of Labour and Human Resources (MoLHR), tertiary education institutes, dzongkhags, thromdes, gewogs, and schools. The Ministry of Education is responsible for policy formulation, planning, and administration of basic education (Classes PP–X) and higher secondary education (Classes XI and XII).

The Ministry of Education has three departments to govern the various educational institutions in the country. The Department of Adult and Higher Education is responsible for higher education, while the Department of School Education is responsible for School Education. The Department of Youth and Sports looks after the youth, sports, and scouting activities of the students (Fig. 2).
Fig. 2

Organogram of Ministry of Education. (Adapted from MoE 2020a)

The Private School Division under the Department of School Education is responsible for regulating the private schools in the country based on the rules and regulations developed by the Ministry of Education for the private schools. Private schools also follow the same curriculum and assessment system that are followed in the public schools which are developed by Royal Education Council and Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment.

Although there is a guideline for the private schools in Bhutan, there is no comprehensive Government policy to govern them especially the operational aspects of the private schools in the country. For instance, the basis for fee structures and their proposition is being left to the discretion of the proprietors. The professional development services for the teachers do not receive much priority, which would have implication on the quality of teaching and learning (National Council 2016).

The development and review of the curriculum is carried out by the Royal Education Council (REC). The national assessment for the school education is carried out by the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA).

The dzongkhag and thromde administrations are entrusted with a range of responsibilities in the education sector spanning both the formal and nonformal realms. These responsibilities include school construction and maintenance, supply of teaching learning materials, deployment of teachers within the dzongkhag/thromde, and implementation of national policies.

Ministry of Labour and Human Resources is responsible for providing technical and vocational education and training for class X graduates. Similarly, tertiary education institutes are responsible for the provision of higher education programs for class XII graduates.

The Bhutanese education system is built upon the concept of free services from primary to tertiary level. Funding for school education in Bhutan has been mainly provided by the Royal Government of Bhutan, and through external aid, mostly provided by the Government of India, Japan, and European Union countries. Students are not only given free tuition but also provided with textbooks, sports-items, and learning materials as well as stationery and boarding facilities and food based on need.

At the same time, cost-sharing is also encouraged among those population that are in a position to contribute to their children’s education. Students studying in the urban areas arrange their own stationery.

All students are required to contribute to the School Development Fund. In primary schools (PP–VI) students pay Nu. (Ngultrum) 30 per annum, while in the lower secondary schools (VII–VIII) students pay Nu. 100 per annum. The School Development Fund in middle and higher secondary schools is Nu. 200 per annum.

The education sector has always received the highest share of the total budget allocation. Tables 10 and 11 show the budget allocation for education sector.
Table 10

Capital outlays (1992–2018) and education sector budget (Nu. in million)

Plan period

7th plan

8th plan

9th plan

10th plan

11th plan

Year

(1992–1997)

(1997–2002)

(1997–2007)

(2007–2013)

(2013–2018)

Total government budget

15,590.70

34,981.70

70,000.00

73,611.76

92,000.00

Education budget

1738.00

3,292.70

10,209.40

73,611.76

7438.74

% of total budget

1738.00

9.40%

14.50%

12.80%

8.01%

Source: Gross National Happpiness Commission (GNHC) (2012, 2013)

Only capital budget outlay

Table 11

Annual budget and expenditure of the Ministry of Education for FY 2017–2018

Department

Budget (million ngultrums)

Expenditure (million ngultrums)

Current

Capital

Current

Capital

Secretariat

71.852

20.008

65.862

16.390

Department of Adult & Higher Education

20.080

327.279

19.392

298.798

Department of School Education

497.713

1233.492

360.510

898.257

Department of Sports and Youth

33.838

41.923

32.621

37.982

Total

623.483

1622.702

478.386

1251.427

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

The Ministry of Education established Education Endowment Fund on June 1, 2014. The Education Endowment Fund was officially launched on August 23, 2016 (MoE 2018). The Fund is managed by the Board under the chairmanship of Hon’ble Education Minister supported by the Technical Committee. Teacher Professional Support Division, Department of School Education is the Secretariat of the Fund. The main purpose of the fund is to enhance the quality of teaching and learning through promotion of action research in the schools.

Legal and Policy Framework

In 1976, the first National Education Policy was drafted on the command of His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. This policy was revised in 1984 to make the education system in the country more relevant (Rabgay 2012). The 1984 Education Policy reiterated the need to make the school curriculum more relevant to the need of the learners, society, and the country at large. In 2018 a new education policy was drafted to make the education in the country more relevant to the needs and aspirations of the country. However, it is still in the draft form.

The Article 9: Principles of State Policy of the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan (2008) states that the State should provide education to improve and increase knowledge, values, and skills of the entire population for full development of the human personality. It also mandates the provision of free education to all children of school going age up to the tenth standard and ensures that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all based on merit.

The draft Education Policy 2019 further states that the schools shall offer opportunities for all students to realize their full potential by addressing access, quality, and equity so that students can become socially useful and economically productive citizens. Hence, the school education policies are geared toward developing a system of education that shall be dynamic and responsive to the changing local, national, and global needs. It states that all Bhutanese children of school-going age shall have equitable access and opportunity to free quality basic education as defined in the Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan (MoE 2019b).

The policy also clearly mentions that all schools shall put in place appropriate measures for all students, including children with special educational needs, across all grades to ensure equitable access to and participation in school. This includes support with specialized, appropriate educational services and facilities, including trained personnel. Furthermore, there is also a mention about the special provisions and considerations that will be made for schools with exceptional circumstances, such as extreme remoteness, high altitude, and socio-economically disadvantaged communities.

Legal or Administrative Grievance Redressal

There are no legal or administrative redressal systems for the school education system. School teachers are classified as civil servants and are governed by Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations (BCSR) 2018. A civil servant aggrieved by a decision of the Disciplinary Committee has the right to appeal to the Appellate Authority. In case an aggrieved civil servant or oversight that the Agency has observed inconsistencies in the disciplinary action, the case may be appealed to the Appellate Authority (RCSC 2018).

According to the BCSR, a respondent civil servant may appeal against a decision of the Disciplinary Committee within 10 working days from the receipt of the decision. A decision on the appeal shall be rendered within 30 days from receipt of the appeal. Further, an aggrieved civil servant, if not satisfied with the decision of the ultimate Appellate Authority, namely, Administrative Tribunal, may appeal against such decision to the High Court or Supreme Court. In the event the High Court or Supreme Court acquits the respondent civil servant of all charges on reviewing the appeal against the decision of the Administrative Tribunal, the penalty will be revoked. However, if the Court finds guilty on some charges the person shall be imposed such administrative penalty as deemed appropriate (RSCS 2018).

In addition to BCSR 2018, the teachers are governed by the Teachers Code of Conduct. Teaching is considered to be the most important profession and the teachers are main pillars of a progressive society. Teachers pass on knowledge and values to the students and prepare them for future. Therefore, the direction and scope of future that a country aspires toward is in the hands of the teachers. With the infusion of Gross National Happiness (GNH) in school curricula since 2010, the demand for teacher professionalism has received even more attention. Teachers are considered as role models, mentors, and the architects for their communities. This places teachers in a special position of responsibility that requires exceptionally high standards of behavior and conduct. The Code of Conduct is meant to support in creating conditions for effective teaching – learning in the schools as well as to inspire public confidence in teachers. The Code of Conduct also provides a framework of reference for both the school management and the teachers when it becomes necessary to initiate corrective measures (MoE 2012).

However, the Code of Conduct is not a means of imposing sanctions but rather designed to create conducive environment and standards within the system. Should there be a breach in any of the provisions of the Code of Conduct for Teachers, the teachers are dealt as per the Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations, 2018.

Except for the school Discipline Policy there are no grievances or redressal systems for the students in the school. However, when it comes to the national level examination, if a student is not satisfied with the marks he or she has got in the subject, students can apply for reevaluation of the paper on payment of Nu. 300 per paper which is non-refundable.

Innovation and Reforms: Quantity to Quality, Learning Outcome, and Methodologies

The education system in Bhutan has come under increased public scrutiny and debate due to the system’s perceived inability to provide the necessary knowledge and skills to meet the new challenges of the twenty-first century. This established the urgency for an ambitious review and reform actions in the education system at the earliest. The requirements for a radical and systemic education reform were confirmed through various studies conducted by the Royal Education Council, Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment, Ministry of Education, and other independent bodies. These studies indicate that a growing gap exist between the current and the desired state of quality of learning outcomes.

There is gap in learning achievements between rural and urban children as well as between boys and girls, this is a much-needed development for both quality and equity outcomes. The curriculum reform process must consciously aim to reduce the existing learning gaps to achieve optimal learning results for all children regardless of gender, socioeconomic background, or ability (REC & Educational Initiative 2011).

From Table 12 it is evident that the performance of male students are relatively better than the female students in class X, while in class XII female students are performing better than the male students.
Table 12

Student performance by gender at different class

Year

Class X

Class XII

Female

Male

Female

Male

2014

92.93

94.60

88.58

87.83

2013

94.00

96.00

86.20

87.00

2012

96.19

97.53

87.78

85.88

2011

96.62

97.46

84.76

87.18

Source: Pupil Performance Report – BCSEA (2016)

Table 13 indicates that students in urban areas are performing better than students in rural areas. It is also clear from the table that the performance of the students in higher classes is better than the lower classes.
Table 13

Students performance by location of school

Subject

School category

Class IV (%)

Class VI (%)

Class VIII (%)

English

Rural (R)

38.28

50.49

50.20

Urban (U)

40.08

55.71

56.78

Mathematics

Rural (R)

51.14

56.02

55.94

Urban (U)

53.29

55.53

54.41

Environmental studies

Rural (R)

44.00

47.95

52.22

Urban (U)

45.08

48.91

53.52

Source: Bhutan annual status of students learning, 2011

Inspired by the national aspirations of preparing Bhutanese children to be nationally rooted and globally productive, the government in the 33rd session of Lhengye Zhungtshog (cabinet) approved the Ministry’s proposal for the development of Education Blueprint. The document has been prepared in 2014 based on a comprehensive review of the current education system and nationwide public consultations. The Blueprint presents a time-bound strategic roadmap for a systematic transformation of the school education system in terms of achieving access to education, achieving quality education, achieving equity in education, and achieving system efficiency (MoE 2014b).

Further, realizing the importance of teachers in providing quality education, the Ministry of Education launched national level professional development (PD) programs in July 2016. Through this program, teachers were trained on Transformative Pedagogy to equip students with twenty-first-century skills. This was followed by English for Effective Communication in July 2017. PD on Search Inside Yourself and Helping Skills were conducted to promote students’ well-being in July 2019.

The twenty-first century is the digital age. Education without the knowledge of ICT is incomplete. An infusion of ICT knowledge and skills in teaching and learning is not a choice but a necessity. So Information and Communication Technology Literacy has been introduced from class IV to X in the schools as a compulsory subject. Lately, the Ministry of Education launched the iSherig-2: Education ICT Master Plan 2019–2023, which will serve as the guiding document of creating a technology-enabled education system. This will help to enhance the ICT competency of students and teachers, which is one of the core focus of this guiding document (MoE 2014c). However, the problem is with ICT facilities to facilitate such teaching and learning. Many of the schools need infrastructural development before the implementation of such curriculum.

Coinciding with the teacher’s day on May 2, 2019, the Ministry of Education launched Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers (BPST), a framework for development of teachers. The BPST would measure the competencies and practices of teachers to improve the quality of education in the country (Zangmo 2019). The BPST is built on the unique Bhutanese values of tha dam-tshig ley gjudrey and philosophies of child centeredness, inclusivity, and lifelong learning (MoE 2020b).

Further, the Ministry of Education is going to introduce Technical and Vocational Education and Training as optional subjects from classes IX to XII from the 2020 academic session in seven pilot schools (Rinzin 2019). This would help academically disqualified students to go for vocational education and improve the employability of TVET graduates and secondary school students.

Curriculum, Assessments, Examination Systems

Curriculum

The objective of school education is to groom citizens to become knowledgeable, skillful, creative, innovative, enterprising, and capable of responding to the national needs and emerging global trends. Students learn basic literacy and numeracy skills, knowledge on country’s history, geography, culture and traditions, and the fundamentals of agriculture, health and hygiene, and population education at the primary level. Moral and value-based education is given special attention through activity-based learning. Students can choose between Economics, Environmental Science or Agriculture, and Food Security when they reach class IX while in higher secondary education students must choose between Arts, Commerce, and Science. From 2011, five schools located near technical training institutes also offer vocational skills as an optional subject for classes IX and X.

The curriculum is central to education and plays a very important role in achieving the purpose of education. It secures the right of all children and young people to a broad and balanced education, and provides a variety of experiences and knowledge to enable students to think rationally, be reflective, understand the world through its various disciplines, and foster aesthetic appreciation and global harmony. Curriculum also promotes the country’s unique culture and tradition, values, while learning to participate actively in the process of building an educated, enlightened, and cohesive society.

The Royal Education Council is responsible for the development and review of the school curriculum. The development and review of the curriculum is based on the curriculum framework for each of the subject which is also developed by REC with the help of teachers and members from relevant stakeholders such as teacher education colleges, Education Monitoring Division, and Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessments.

Following the National School Curriculum Conference 2016, there was major review of the school curriculum. Based on the resolution of the conference the Royal Education Council decided to develop Curriculum Framework for all the subjects taught in the schools. These Curriculum Frameworks are used as the guideline for reviewing and developing curriculum and textbooks for the schools.

The framework is like a blueprint for a subject that describes its purpose, goals, standards, learning outcome, key stages of each curriculum, and how each topic should be taught. It guides the topics and teaching methods. Each curriculum framework provides teachers, learners, parents, employers, and educators of higher education institutions with a clear statement of what learners are expected to achieve from the particular subject from pre-primary grade to XII. The framework also has an enabling condition, which would tell teachers from where they can get support from while teaching.

Further the curriculum framework also has Gross National Happiness (GNH) as one of the guiding principles which has helped to infuse GNH principles and values in the school curriculum at all levels. This emphasis on deep critical and creative thinking, ecological literacy, practice of the country’s profound ancient wisdom and culture, contemplative learning, a holistic understanding of the world, genuine care for nature and for others, competency to deal effectively with the modern world, preparation for right livelihood, and informed civic engagement (Hayward and Colman 2010). Teachers are required to infuse GNH values into their daily teaching activities.

Differentiated Curriculum

Currently there is no differentiated curriculum for the schools. However, the Royal Education Council is in the process of developing differentiated curriculum in Social Science, Science, and Mathematics for classes IX and X. According to the Director General of Royal Education Council, differentiated curriculum for the selected subject is going to be implemented in the schools by February 2021.

The current curriculum does not offer choices for student to opt basic or advanced level studies in the subject based on the interest. The same curriculum is offered to different individuals born with different competencies. The differentiated curriculum would offer choices for the students to opt for basic or advance study in the subject areas of their interest. The children who are incompetent in particular subject despite their hard work and teacher’s effort can opt to study the basic level and high achievers can opt to study the advanced level. This would take care of the different abilities of different individuals.

Examination and Assessment

Examinations and Assessment system has been an integral part of the modern education system in Bhutan. This has grown with the development and advancement of education system in terms of measurement approaches and assessing educational outcomes. Education systems in the country are assessed at school level and national level in line with both national and international standards. The assessment from class PP–XII comprises of Continuous Formative Assessment, Continuous Summative Assessment, and Term End Summative Examination.

The Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA) conducts the national examinations for various levels. At the end of grade III and VI, students appear for a year-end Competency Based Assessment Test (CBAT). In this case, the question papers, model answers, and marking schemes are provided by BCSEA, while the administration and evaluation are carried out by the respective schools as per the examination standards set by BCSEA (2010). BCSEA also conducts Council examinations at the secondary and higher secondary levels. These are considered high stakes examinations and are administered to the students at the end of grades X and XII. Pass Certificates are awarded to candidates who score a minimum of 35% mark each in English, Dzongkha, and other three subjects and also receive a minimum of grade D in Socially Useful and Productive Works (SUPW) (BCSEA 2018).

The school level examinations and assessment across the country are conducted as per the learning standards given in the curriculum framework developed by Royal Education Council (REC). Scores of these examinations and assessment are used to determine students’ learning achievements, and provide timely interventions for improvement. The examinations and assessment are guided by the National Education Assessment Framework.

There are also changes in the assessment practices in the school education system. The test questions are based on the learning standards of the curriculum framework for each subject that is developed by Royal Education Council. Unlike in the past Competency Based Questions are used to test students learning.

The Ministry of Education is going to do away with the exams for primary schools in phase wise (Palden 2018). This is because exam learning, classroom- or textbook-oriented learning, and exam-oriented assessment are something that are very conventional. Formative assessment is expected to help the children to develop their cognitive, social, emotional, cultural, and physical skills to the best of their abilities and prepare them for further learning. Students are going to be assessed on their class work, participation in schools, and through other formative assessments.

Inclusive Education

The first ever school for the disabled was established in 1973 which was named as Zangley Muenselling Institute in Khaling, Trashigang. This school was designed to cater to children with visual impairment in the country. In 2002, a Special Educational Needs (SEN) program was introduced in Changangkha Middle Secondary School in Thimphu to integrate children with disabilities into mainstream schooling (MoE 2019a). There are teachers who are trained in inclusive education to cater to the need of students with disabilities. The long-term objective of the SEN program is to provide access to general education in regular schools for all children with disabilities, including those with physical, intellectual, and other types of impairments (MoE 2019a). The Royal Government of Bhutan thus emphasizes on inclusive approach to strengthen educational access to quality education for children with disabilities and learning difficulties.

In 2019 there were 19 schools with SEN program and two specialized institutes which were spread across all 20 districts in the country to meet the special education need. In addition, there were two Draktsho Vocational Training Centers. A total of 797 children were enrolled in SEN programs in these institutes and schools. Enrolment of male students (62%) was more than the female students (38%). Specifically, two Vocational Training Centers managed by Draktsho, a nongovernmental organization, also provide basic education and vocational skills to about 145 learners (MoE 2019a).

Successful inclusion is not only about accepting the differences (differently able) but it is also considering the importance of including them in the provision of access to and quality education. An inclusive National Education Assessment (NEA) will thus assure and ensure that children from diverse backgrounds are not only included but are given equitable opportunity to participate in the assessments without any bias built in the tools and processes for appropriate support and interventions. Therefore, the National Education Assessment Framework (NEAF) aims to not only ensure that every child has an equal opportunity to be included in the National Education Assessment (NEA) but also that the assessment is fair to every child of diverse needs (BCSEA 2019a). This approach of universal inclusion is achieved through various means of appropriate accommodations in the tools, such as allocation of extra time, seating, presentation and response format, administration, and assessment.

While there are currently few schools and institutes in place for directly serving the disabled population, these institutions are challenged by limitations of access especially at the middle and higher secondary level. Most of the students need to study in the mainstream education. However, this is expected to change once the National Disability Policy, which is in its final stage of development, is formally endorsed as a policy document (Table 14).
Table 14

Number of SEN students in school offering SEN programs

Sl. No.

Name of school

Enrolment

Female

Male

Total

1

Changangkha MSS

20

42

62

2

Damphu LSS

3

16

19

3

Drukgyel LSS

8

26

34

4

Gelephu LSS

11

23

34

5

Gesarling CS

5

8

13

6

Gonpasingma LSS

11

8

19

7

Jigme Sherubling CS

6

6

12

8

Kamji CS

19

22

41

9

Khaling LSS

28

34

62

10

Mongar MSS

17

31

48

11

Muenselling Institute

13

15

28

12

Phuentsholing MSS

14

23

37

13

Samtengang CS

3

2

5

14

Tendruk CS

24

36

60

15

Tsenkharla CS

3

10

13

16

Tshangkha CS

10

15

25

17

Wangsel Institute

48

58

106

18

Yangchengatshel MSS

3

13

16

19

Hemgang LSS

6

12

18

Drakstho Vocational Training Institute

20

Thimphu

33

45

78

21

Trashigang

20

47

67

Grand total

305

492

797

Source: Annual Education Statistics, MoE (2019a)

Persisting Issues and Challenges

From just a single school in 1914, the country has now grown to about 1007 schools and institutes spread across the country. The total number of students enrolled in school education within the country has increased from few hundreds to more than 166,786 in 2019 (MoE 2019a). In a short period of time, the education sector of Bhutan has witnessed extraordinary growth and development. The country has succeeded in making significant progress within the development of school education. The growth and developments in the school education especially in the last decade or so have been spectacular in terms of infrastructure facilities, quality, and diversity of the academic programs offered and the enhancement of the educational qualifications of teachers. These advancements have resulted in a direct positive impact in the quality of classroom teaching and learning.

Despite this phenomenal growth, like education systems in many other developing nations, the challenges confronting the Bhutanese school education system are many and numerous. Some of the key challenges are included in the following paragraphs.

Lack of Resources

Inadequate financial and human resources are one of the greatest challenges. The infrastructure and other facilities cannot be expanded or improved to increase the access due to financial constraints. The government has to depend on the aid and grant from various countries to improve the infrastructure. Further, it has impact on the human resource development as human resources cannot be trained. Most of the teachers have to depend on the external scholarships for upgrading their knowledge, skills, and academic qualification. This finally impacts the quality of education. For instance, during the financial year 2015–2016 the budget allocation for professional development was just Nu. 271.79 million (2.39%) out of the total budget of Nu. 11,395.475 million which is very less to achieve the intended result (National Council 2016).

Access to Education

The Royal Government of Bhutan aims to provide access to education to the entire Bhutanese children at all levels to realize their full potential. However, factors such as socio-economic background, economic status, disability, academic performance, and geographical location act as barriers to access to educational opportunities.

The increase in enrolment at the primary education level resulted in overcrowding of classrooms and admission pressure in the secondary schools especially in the urban schools. This has also caused strain on the limited resources and increase in the workload of the teachers. Therefore, there is a need to increase the level of resources to support both future expansion plans and initiatives in order to enhance access to quality basic and higher secondary education in the country.

There were 366 students with special needs which is negligible compared to the estimated population of 5,110 children aged 6–16 years with some form of disabilities (MoE 2014a).

Quality of Education

Quality education must enable physical and psychosocial growth and development of learners. It should foster acquisition of twenty-first-century skills of innovation, creativity, enterprise, universal human values of peace and harmony, and the principles of Gross National Happiness. The leader in the schools must be visionary and proactive to improve the school and teachers. Schools must use child-centered teaching and assessment approaches to promote understanding in all learners.

The Bhutanese education system, over the years, has produced the current work force in the country. Students continue to graduate through the school system to pursue higher education and return to the work force in the form of academics and professionals. However, the main challenge facing the education sector as a whole is how to increase the proportion of students achieving the expected learning outcomes specified for different stages of school education.

The level of learning of Bhutanese students is lower than average international levels as represented by studies like the Trends in International Mathematics and Science Study (TIMSS) and the Progress in International Reading and Literacy Skills (REC & Educational Initiative 2011).

Student’s substandard mastery in core subjects indicates a major gap in levels of understanding. If the students do not acquire competencies at primary level, particularly in English and Mathematics, they will encounter serious learning challenges later in life. This is also demonstrated by results that Class VII had one of the highest secondary education repetition rates (10.9%) and dropout rates (7.15%) in a 6-year period (MoE 2014b).

Though students are learning certain competencies well, some of the gaps demonstrated in the learning – in both basic concepts and intermediate concepts – are a cause of concern and an area where improvement should be targeted. Language in the lower classes is a major area of weakness. That is why the performance of the students is poor in the lower classes compared to higher classes. However, students develop language competency as they progress to the higher classes and the performance also shows some improvement (refer Table 13) (REC & Educational Initiative 2011).

Equity in Education

Equitable education systems are fair and inclusive, and support the students in reaching their learning potential without either formally or informally creating barriers or lowering expectations. According to MoE, schools in Bhutan are categorized according to their access and geographical location into Difficult (D), Very Remote (VR), Remote (R), Semi-Remote (SR), Semi-Urban (SR), and Urban (U). The Annual Status of Student Learning (ASSL) revealed a significant difference in the average performance of students in Science, Mathematics, and English subjects based on the access categories.

Bhutan stands well in comparison to many other countries in terms of access to education. However, NEA 2003 has shown that gender differences exist both in the academic attainment and the choice of study pursued by the students. In the Bhutan Annual Status of Student Learning (ASSL) 2011 where over 20,271 girls and 19,645 boys from grade 4, 6, and 8 students participated, it was observed that there was a significant difference in the performance of students based on gender (REC and Eduactional Initiative 2011).

The female literacy rate is 63.9% which is less than the male 73.1% (NSB 2017). The unemployment rate for women is higher at 2.9% compared to 2.1% for men, a trend that is much higher in the urban areas with 6.6% for females compared to 3.3% for males (NSB 2017).

System Efficiency

The education sector must work systemically in order to improve access, quality, and equity. The past efforts to improve education have largely been input oriented, primarily considering additional resources such as infrastructure, facilities, and human resources (MoE 2014b). There has been limited attention given to improving efficiency of the system as a whole. An education system may be called efficient when it attains the maximum level of results for a given level of investment. Achieving such efficiency requires well-coordinated organizations staffed with capable, professional, and dedicated people. Additionally, good information flow, a solid legal basis and authority, effective public private partnership, and sufficient resources are all required for system efficiency. Only if these issues are tackled holistically, the system efficiency can be improved.

The policy formulation and implementation are currently categorized by top-down commands to initiate policies without dialogue, constraining control over administrators, and energy wasted in complying with administrative procedures. At the local level these issues are compounded by a lack of appropriate mechanisms to facilitate community involvement in the planning and management of primary education. This has resulted in failed implementation of its policies and has failed to produce intended results. The service providers at the local level, the Dzongkhags and schools, often do not have clear understanding of the policies.

Lack of Education Act or Policy

Bhutan does not currently have an education act or policy. The education policy that was drafted in 2018 is still in its draft form. Therefore, a legislation such as an Education Act may provide a timely direction to maintain a high standard of school education comparable to any international standards.

Globalization and Education

Despite the fact that modern education system started late in the country, globalization has its own share of impact on the Bhutanese education system. Bhutanese education system is influenced by international practice in terms of the curricula design, delivery, and assessment of students learning. India has played a significant role in the establishment of modern education system in the country. In addition, education systems of countries like Finland, Singapore, Japan, Australia, and Canada have influenced the Bhutanese education system.

Although modern education became an essential part of globalization to advance socioeconomic development in contemporary Bhutan, the education system pays particular attention to imparting to the students sense of belongingness and respect for the culture and tradition. Bhutan today is faced with the challenge of balancing the desire for the preservation of traditional values and culture with values introduced and emerging in changing socioeconomic conditions.

In the Fifth Five Year Plan (1981–1987), suggestions on the integration of modernization as well as traditional values and the preservation of culture in formal education were also included (Planning Commission 1981). In the Sixth Five Year Plan, the protection and promotion of national identity was raised as a national objective and a complete reform of education was put into effect. This was basically due to the fact that there was deterioration of tradition and culture which is an important identity for the country.

Conclusion

Bhutan has made commendable progress in education. However, much more needs to be done to improve the overall educational quality. In response to extensive challenges, numerous measures have been initiated such as school reform programs, teacher development programs, and curriculum and assessment reforms.

In light of ongoing reforms within the sector and to make education more relevant for changing needs and expectations, the National Education Policy 2018 was drafted with an aim to provide overarching directions for building and nurturing an education system that prepares citizens who are nationally rooted and globally competent.

In spite of the unprecedented growth and development, school education in Bhutan is still grappling with challenges such as inadequate intake capacity and ability to absorb the increasing population in the urban areas. The quality of education and alignment of the student knowledge, skills, and competencies with the world of work is a recognized area of growth for the current system. Finally, inadequate financial resources to support the overall development initiatives of the school education system in the country also present a large challenge.

Nevertheless, with the current political ruling government’s commitment and priority to invest in the health and education sector in the next 5 years of development, school education in Bhutan is expected to improve considerably in terms of both quality and quantity in the years to come.

References

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Copyright information

© Springer Nature Singapore Pte Ltd. 2020

Authors and Affiliations

  1. 1.Samtse College of EducationRoyal University of BhutanSamtseBhutan
  2. 2.Samtse Higher Secondary SchoolSamtseBhutan

Section editors and affiliations

  • Archana Mehendale
    • 1
  • Tatsuya Kusakabe
  1. 1.Centre for Education Innovation and Action ResearchTata Institute of Social SciencesMumbaiIndia

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