On 30th August 2018, The Economist wrote “When the island of Singapore became an independent country in 1965, it had few friends and even fewer natural resources. How did it become one of the world’s great trading and financial centres? The strategy, explained Lee Kuan Yew, its first prime minister, was “to develop Singapore’s only available natural resource: its people”. This is apt in the current situation of Bhutan. Many Bhutanese citizens [at-least in Social Media] expressed their concerns on the aftermath of allowing even students getting just 35% to continue for class eleven. The most cited concerns revolved around “quality” of education; budget; student-teacher ratio; and classroom space. All arguments are valid within their confined areas of belief.
Let’s also accept that some of the world’s best education system has scrapped examination; grades; homework systems. The question of “cut-off” doesn’t appear at all where there are no grades. A prominent example that featured are from Finland and Singapore. Finland routinely tops ranking of global education systems and is famous for having no banding systems. All students, regardless of ability, are taught in the same classes. Finnish schools also give relatively little homework and have only one mandatory test at age 16 and that’s not for “cut-off” but to allow students to choose between academic and vocational track, both of which leads to a university degree. Singapore, which consistently tops as having one of the best education systems in the world is gradually scrapping grading system in schools and instead focussing on more of a classroom discussion and skill development.
Let’s look at the quality of education since it seems to be the talk of the town now. Defining quality is difficult for many researchers and education practitioners due to its illusive and intangible nature. When referring to “quality”, are we talking about “knowing the subject”; “knowing how to behave”; “knowing how to read and write”; “grades” etc. What exactly is the “quality” are we referring to? Where is the evidence that those getting best marks do well in life, or contribute more to the society? [Of course, there are some, but there are also some who used to be worst performing students in exams but doing exceptionally well in life]. In fact it is the exam-oriented “quality” assessment, which we are so used to, not even realizing assessment of “quality” by such approach makes the class “exam directed” and whatsoever is taught is based on past exam paper practice. Where and when are we teaching concepts; skills and “true” knowledge? Bhutan is a “young” society and 2017 Population and Housing Census showed it to us.
According to the 2018 Statistical Year Book of Bhutan published by National Statistical Bureau (NSB), about 19% of the Bhutanese are within the age group of 10 to 19 years and 21% constitute age group of 20-29 years. Bhutan is comprised of young people with about 46% of the Bhutanese being younger than 24 years of age in 2017. NSB also published a monograph titled “Crime and Mental Health Issues Among the Young Bhutanese People” in 2015. The monograph said crime registered with the RBP had increased from 1243 cases in 1986 to 2926 cases in 2013. The monograph made a clear case of the crime among young people becoming more prevalent with over 40% of the offenders in 2013 being below the age of 25. Similarly, according to the Global Youth Tobacco Survey 2013, a prevalence of tobacco use has increased from around 10% in 2006 and 2009 to over 20% in 2013 among youth aged 13–15 years in Bhutan. This, according to the report is highest in the region as well as globally. I think we should be worried for almost half of Bhutan is below 24 years. Emerging empirical evidence suggests that one of the important reasons for youth involvement in criminal activities including going into drugs as education deprivation. Thus, I suppose, if we are to invest in the future of the country, we should invest in providing education to our youths.
I ‘m in total agreement with the argument supplied by HE Lyonchen. Our kids complete class ten when they are barely sixteen. Do we want them to loiter in urban areas hunting for jobs and finally getting into crimes and drugs? Or should we invest in providing opportunities for them to study for another two more years. Who knows those students who made to class eleven with just 35% turns the opportunity for good and excels in class twelve. It is a possibility and even if it doesn’t become a possibility, we are at-least sending them out with some level of maturity. Equipping young people with the skills to achieve their full potential, participate in an increasingly interconnected global economy, and ultimately convert better jobs into better lives is a central preoccupation of policymakers around the world let alone Bhutan. It is unfortunate that our opposition doesn’t see the value in it or maybe I’m totally missing another visionary angle. Well, with regards to budget, let the government of the day figure it out. There are many countries in the world who invest more than 4% of their GPD for education. Perhaps they understood the value of investing in human development of the nation.
Whatsoever be the argument or whosoever may be right, I shall not allow my kids to dis-continue education from class ten even if they do not get 35%. I shall make them re-appear and continue education till they are able to decide on what they want to do.