Yangchen C Rinzin  

The education sector will be remembered for three events in the year of the Earth Pig. Cut off point for class X students became history. Teaching became the highest paid profession in the country and enrolment age for pre-primary (PP) was brought to five years from six. 

Political promise triggered the first two changes while the latter was revised to align with the National Service programme, the Gyalsung.

Starting 2020, all children who turn five years on or February 5 were made eligible for admission in PP. The debate on the admission age continues into the male rat year as the government grunts for space and resources to accommodate more children in primary schools.

The change in the admission age came at a time when the ministry until the announcement of the Gyalsung, was adamant to not change the admission age. For most of the pig year, the ministry grunted about the rationale of admitting children at 6 years and revoked admission of 890 PP students in public and private schools across country.

As was the case in most sectors, representatives of parents, proprietors and principals of private schools filed a petition to the Prime Minister to consider five years as entry age for PP. The ministry declined. But the Prime Minister’s instruction to the ministry to reconsider for one last time led to the change, which was to become a policy in the following months.

The pig year was messy for the education sector, from pre-primary to the tertiary level. Tussles continued between the education ministry and private schools even though the schools, parents and students got more time off with the government doing away with classes on Saturdays.

Despite the hues and cries from 21 private higher secondary schools, the ministry placed 7,808 class X students in public schools giving only 4,225 students to private schools on government scholarship. The ministry provided scholarship fee of Nu 30,000 for day scholars and Nu 50,000 for boarders.

The year indeed was bad for private schools. The Private School Association of Bhutan also petitioned the Prime Minister to do away with the Class X cut-off policy or give them time to remodel their plans.

Although the request was not heeded to, the government decided to allow students completing Class X to choose between private and public schools without having to follow the ranking system in 2020 academic session. The fee was also increased to Nu 40,000 for day scholars and Nu 70,000 for boarders. However, the number of students’ intake in private schools decreased.

The rat year will see no examinations for classes PP to III and in preparation, the Royal Education Council (REC) will train 180 primary teachers on continues formative assessment.

Given the digital age, the REC’s decision to allocate two classes for Information and Communication Technology (ICT) literacy from class IV to X from 2020 academic session was much lauded. But just as things change in a digital age, the education ministry decided to do away with the decision.

The pig year recorded some nurturing in the education sector. To ensure school children receive nutritious food, a food and dietary guidelines for school-aged children was released and the stipend for school feeding was increased by 50 percent. Vocational education got a boost with the ministry earmarking 15 percent of undergraduate scholarship for Technical and Vocational Education and Training for the first time and the ministry announced to open 30 more central schools in the country.

The ministry is also working on revising the National Youth Policy 2011 to cater to increasing challenges and issues related to young people.

Having learnt a painful lesson from a private primary school incident in Bjemina where a vice-principal molested and attempted to rape girl children, the ministry revised the guidelines for private schools to keep track of teachers’ record.

With formal approval from the Royal Civil Service Commission to recruit additional 201 Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) facilitators, ministry is confident that no ECCD centres would remain without facilitator in 2020.

However, against efforts to keep the education sector well nourished, the sector suffered a hard blow when it was reported that 200 BEd graduates were left unemployed and the ministry is yet to confirm the cause of glossitis (inflammation of the tongue) after several schools reported of an outbreak.

Another development that shook the education sector was the news of nine lecturers from College of Language and Cultural Studies allegedly sexually harassing female students. The case is in court. The ministry was also blamed for not implementing its own rule on not allowing teachers to conduct tuitions. Several teachers from both private and government schools in urban areas were reported providing tuition to students for monetary benefits.

One of the highlights for education sector in the pig year was the fat pay raise to teachers, making teaching the highest paid profession in the country.

However, the raise did not stop teachers from leaving the profession. A total of 480 public school teachers left the profession between 2018 and 2019 with the pig year recording the highest attrition rate of 5.44 per cent in the last five years, according to Annual Education Statistics 2019.

In the Rat year, the education sector will implement the Education Flagship programme, which focuses on digitalising schools and use ICT to engage children from grade PP onwards. The schools will also see a major curriculum reform.

The education sector remains one of those areas where change is constant.