Education; Text books; Students and Quality in Bhutan

Education in Bhutan began with monastic schools and it was during the reign of the second King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Wangchuck that Bhutan opened its first secular schools with “Hindi” as the medium of instruction borrowed from India. Recognizing the importance of communicating with rest of the world, it was the third King of Bhutan, His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck, in 1960s, introduced English as the medium of instruction in schools. This laid the foundation for modern education systems in Bhutan. Today, the education system in Bhutan includes formal, non-formal and monastic schools and government provides free education to all students till grade 10 and scholarships to students meeting the requirements for higher studies.

According to the National Statistics Year book 2014 (NSB 2015), Bhutan has 1050 educational institutions including institutes; schools; day care centers and Non-Formal Education (NFE) centers. Based on the data presented by NSB 2015, about 29% of Bhutanese were attending schools and institutions and of these about 6% were attending monastic schools in 2014. I calculated the teacher student ratio [included institutions; NFE; day care centers and monastic schools] to be 1:21 [approximately] and if we are to divide all students equally, every educational institution should have about 205 students and 10 teachers.  Bhutan’s student – teacher ratio is calculated at 23.99 by NationMaster, which I believe is comparable to some of our neighboring countries: India – 35.35; Bangladesh – 40.21; Nepal – 27.53; China – 16.79; Thailand – 15.99. However, the ratio of the developed world looks like: Finland – 13.67; Sweden – 9.27; USA – 14.29; Australia – 17.88; Japan – 17.5. If we are to debate on the number of teachers in each school, our ratio indicates that Bhutan now has adequate teachers, but the irony is, every year we hear complains on the shortage of teachers working in our schools. However, may I also reflect here that, I didn’t segregate teachers and students in monastic schools; tertiary institutions, private schools and NFE’s, which might be playing a role in calculating fairly high student-teacher ratio.

Of-late there have been many talks going on that education quality in Bhutan is undertaking a negative trend. While, I am open to such criticisms and concerns being a Bhutanese, it also calls upon us to reflect on the basis which draws such concerns and criticisms. This gained highest concern, to the extent that a special committee for education was formed, which submitted their report to the 18th Session of the National Council in November 2016. The report dwells around teacher performance; curriculum; and assessment. (Click here for the report)

During the national seminar on Quality of Education in Bhutan [7 – 10 December 2008], Royal Education Council in their article titled “The Quality of Education in Bhutan – Reality and Opportunities” makes following bold statement [those in italics are my comments against the statement]: (Click for report)

  • The overall level of performance of most students is at a low level, just above passing grades

What’s the evidence that a decade back students were able to obtain higher grades, or what percent of students is the article referring to.

  • Many students do not possess the minimum expected competencies in core subjects at their grade level

How these are even measured? What are the expected competencies? And how is it classified according to the grade level?

  • Majority of students are unable to understand core concepts and apply knowledge to real life situations across grade and subjects

What are the core concepts? Do we have evidence of similar activities being undertaken a decade back?

  • There is variance in the outcomes between schools in Bhutan. Students in private schools tend to perform higher and students in community primary schools tend to perform lower

This is expected as students in private schools are given more attention than in government schools. However, this does not mean our teachers in government schools are not working hard. I think it is all to do with the kind of facilities our students are exposed to.

  • Graduates lack basic analytical and communication skills and the attitudes needed as entry-level professional

Where is the proof that during our time we had “basic” analytical and communication skills

While, I applaud the task undertaken by Royal Education Council, it may be good on our part to look at the main causes of failure if at all quality of education is deteriorating as reported by certain institutions and individuals. It is also likely that we are expecting too much from our students and graduates and start comparing their competencies to our standards, which is totally not correct.

In the midst of many conversations with regards to quality of education, let me take things to the basics. Here’s what His Excellency Dasho Sonam Kinga tweeted:

  • August 11, 2016, “Finished editing Cl. V Social Studies. Deeply disturbed! Will stop reading other books this year. Only textbooks. Want to help improve them!”
  • August 14, 2016, “Finished editing class IV Social Studies today. Much better than Class V SS. More grammatical errors than facts. Typing the corrections now”

Dasho’s tweets carry one message – TEXT BOOKS are sub-standard. How can we expect our students to do well when what we are supplying those to study aren’t of the quality. I know that teachers are there to correct some of the mistakes and I came across many dedicated teachers always coming forward to make changes and correct mistakes reflected in the text books. Here are the two examples of blunder in the teaching materials supplied to schools:

  1. A text book for Class VIII titled “Introduction to Map Reading – Basic Skills” shows North-east direction is between North and West and South-east is between South and West. If we are teaching such directions to our students, how can we expect them to find directions? But, I have full faith in our teachers that they must have pointed the mistake and made necessary changes in the text book.
  2. I received a call from a teacher working in Sinchula Primary School yesterday seeking some clarifications on the name of some trees. After having answered his questions, I shared my e-mail ID to the teacher and he sent me the photos of the poster. My heart sank! It is a poster prepared and supplied by Yangbum Publishers and Consultancy. This poster is a perfect example of our complacency ‘heights’ in maintaining standards of the teaching materials we supply. I shall leave the readers to make your own judgments on the poster.

I acknowledge that our schools today are safe and conducive to teaching and learning with all the basic resources adequately in place. With the implementation of disaster management programs, schools are becoming safer and child friendly. Thus, instead of dwelling into mode of language at which some subjects should be taught, we might want to get our basics correct and work on improving the standards of our text books and in making conducive environment to retain good and experienced teachers.

Let’s remember that quality of education is not about building or providing all modern amenities, or teaching some subjects in Dzongkha, but it is about how our teachers are treated; it is about the teaching materials supplied. It’s about time that we look at our teachers with respect and provide conducive working environment, as they are doing their best.

2 thoughts on “Education; Text books; Students and Quality in Bhutan

  1. Explicitly written and well researched post. I wasn’t aware of blatant blunders in the textbooks..this isn’t acceptable..who are we messing with? –future nation builders who will be deluded and forced into thinking that those mistakes are actually right? As pointed out, teachers, who spend time worrying if their syllabuses would finish on time and if their students grasped what was taught, need public reverence, state solidarity, handsome perks, adulation and acknowledgement for laudable jobs they do every moment of every day…and believe me, even after giving all these, we would still be falling short of what they (Teachers)actually deserve..loved this post, sir.

    Liked by 1 person

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