… approach aligns well with the 21st century education

The country is set to embrace inquiry-based and explorative learning, a transformative approach where everyone is considered a scientist and mathematician. Qualifying for this mindset demands children to possess the ability to explore ideas, employ critical thinking, and stimulate curiosity through practical experiments and processes.

For example, children can create glue using four types of powder- salt, flour, baking soda, and cornstarch- by leveraging their own ideas and exploring processes. This process is not only interesting, fun, and educational but also involves hands-on participatory science and maths skills.

This explorative learning process is integral to the Great Exploration in Math and Science (GEMS), a leading resource for innovative science and mathematics education developed at the University of California, Berkeley. GEMS, a popular active learning programme, is used in schools, kindergartens, nursery schools, and children’s centres throughout Japan.

GEMS equips students with the strength to predict, experiment, grasp basic concepts, and apply them to develop their own ideas. Building on the successful implementation of GEMS for Japanese students, this new approach is being introduced in Bhutan.

Fifty-four teachers from various schools returned home this week with the GEMS approach, which would be a significant paradigm shift from the conventional teacher-centred and rote learning form of education in the country.

This approach aligns well with the 21st Century education framework and principles, according to teachers who attended one of the two leader’s workshops on GEMS in Thimphu., according to teachers. “I will try to apply the concept of GEMS, which is similar to STEM, in our school from this academic year,” said Sangay Dorji, a teacher at Moshi Primary School in Wamrong.

The 21st-century education paradigm warrants a shift in curriculum design and development, including pedagogy, to align with competency-based learning. This approach emphasises that learning in the 21st century is for the development of competencies through active learner engagement in learning experiences, guided by the formation and utilisation of working knowledge.

The framework states, “This empowers learners to take responsibility for their learning and develop ‘portable skills or soft skills,’ such as critical thinking, creativity, communication, and collaboration, vital for all individuals with unique talents and competencies.”

Existing traditional practices, according to participants, focus on teacher-centred teaching that emphasises the syllabus, learning materials, and suggested solutions provided by teachers. Participants feel it is time to encourage students to take responsibility and ownership through self-inquiry-based and explorative learning rather than relying solely on teachers for solutions.

One challenge faced by teachers today is the heavy syllabus they must cover in a given time. “We don’t get time to engage students in activities to explore their ideas and skills, especially in science and maths learning through experimental processes,” said teacher Karma Leythro.

Concerned about the relevance and quality of the curriculum in all subjects, the Royal Education Council (REC) initiated major curriculum reform to facilitate quality learning for 21st-century education. The Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024 also acknowledged the heaviness of the existing curriculum.

The two leader’s workshops focused on two pedagogies that support GEMS—experiential learning theory and eight kinds of multiple intelligence theories. Participants also learned how to construct a program that connects experience to learning and how to talk to children to ignite their spirit of inquiry through actual examples.

A teacher from Punakha said, “Through interactive sessions with three facilitators from Japan and by skimming and scanning GEMS programs, I found them worth exploring and trying out in our classrooms. It aligns well with the national curriculum in Bhutan.”

The workshops from January 13 to 16 were organised by Athang Learning Institute in collaboration with the Japan GEMS Center, and JICA.


Contributed by

Rinzin Wangchuk