The rooster year was an eventful year for the education sector.

As part of the major education reform process and to promote holistic education through theatre, the education ministry launched the National drama festival on August 16, hosting 50 plays in 50 days. The decision to revive this culture in schools started in 2016 after Shakespeare returned to the curriculum.

In response to the Teacher Need Assessment 2012, which found that both teachers and students have low English proficiency, the ministry launched an English for effective communication programme, training more than 150 teachers from 20 dzongkhags. A similar training for Dzongkha was also launched.

To supplement reading materials for children and to encourage them to read and write at a young age, 30 children’s books written by children in the country were released last year. Students from grade VI to XII wrote the stories.

What is also touted as an achievement despite issue with logistics, four colleges in the east were opened. They are the Yonphula Centenary College in Trashigang, College of Rigney in Trashiyangtse, Jigme Namgyel Engineering College in Dewathang, and Gyalpoizhing College of Information Technology in Mongar.

To break the menstruation taboo, safe and low-cost sanitary pads were made available for every girl student. The rooster year also saw Environmental Studies (EVS) subject infused in English and Dzongkha for pre-primary to Class I.

In its effort to improve nutrition in schools, the ministry began providing fortified rice to all the schools under the government’s feeding programme.

To assess the competency of students in Bhutan, the ministry initiated the Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA-D). Participating in PISA-D was to mark the baseline of competencies and knowledge of the students as the country has not participated in an international test before.

The education sector also grabbed headlines for wrong reasons. In what is almost becoming a ritual, the BCSEA miscalculated the Arts topper’s Dzongkha II marks. Later, it forgot to attach the atomic weight table for Class X Chemistry examination. Here, BCSEA clarified that the table was not necessary since it was a new curriculum.

While central schools remained in the limelight, Tendu Central School showed how a school should not function. It hosted a party in the school’s campus and Pakshikha Central School saw its warden being convicted for battering two class 10 students. The year also saw more than 200 students in Thimphu suffering from chilblain.

But what the people, both at home and abroad didn’t appreciate was the education minister’s comment of Bhutanese going to Australia to look for toilet cleaning jobs. His comment went viral and the furor forced the minster to apologise even though he insisted that his message to a targeted group of audience was pulled out of context.

The Thimphu Thromde education conference’s decision to disallow students from wearing tracksuits during the morning assembly and in classes was unpopular among parents. The ministry later issued a notification stating that students across the country would be allowed to wear tracksuits only during health and physical education.

The debate on central schools re-emerged in the National Assembly where members cited issues faced by central school students such as insufficient school assets and lack of hostels. Members also questioned the education policy and Dzongkha curriculum. The minister also reported that of the total 4,668 students recorded for abusing drugs in 2016, about 4,000 are from schools in Thimphu.

While it had a majority of its Thimphu students abusing controlled substances, the ministry was also grappling with teacher shortage. A total of 120 teachers resigned in five months leaving the ministry short of about 400 teachers. It recruited 316 general graduates as national contract teachers for 19 dzongkhags and thromdes.

For the second time, the media was barred from attending the Sherig conference in Zhemgang. The ministry said it didn’t invite, not bar, the media to ensure that participants had candid discussions.

It was informed that the conference decided to provide a laptop for every teacher in the 12th Plan, to revive national education assessment programme for classes III, VI and X, and to introduce differentiated curriculum. The conference also recommended providing principals’ automatic promotions to P1 from P2 and endorsed the draft national education policy.

Yangchen C Rinzin