Quality education ought to be the centrepiece of our development policy. For far too long, however, we have struggled with deteriorating quality of education. Many reforms were instituted to address this reality, from access improvement to teacher-student ratio to curriculum to consolidation of schools. Results, though, have not been very encouraging.

Bhutan’s education blueprint 2014-2024 has identified several strategic interventions for the overall development of quality of education. Adopting international benchmarking systems such as Programme for International Student Assessment for Development (PISA-D) is among the major recommendations. Because the many measures that we employed over the years did not help us raise the quality of education significantly, adopting a global assessment and competency-testing system could be the solution.

What the system can do is allow us to emphasise on the quality and equity of learning outcomes for our children, young people, and adults. The findings from the system can, among others, help us gauge knowledge and skills of our students, establish benchmarks for educational improvement, and understand opportunities and challenges for their education systems. More importantly, it will help us not just examine whether our students have learned what they are taught, but also assess whether they can use what they know creatively and critically.

These developments are critically important for the Bhutanese education system today. The challenge we have been grappling with involves a large segment of our population that is becoming unemployable by the year. It is obvious that lack of skills and creativity in our children contribute largely to the rising youth unemployment problem in the country. As important as degrees and certificates are, our education system should be built in a way that can prepare our young people for life beyond classrooms.

More than 2,000 Bhutanese students between the ages of 15 and 16 years will attend PISA-D between November 1 and 15. This will help us identify and understand the status of education in the country. This is a good beginning. But are all our schools adequately prepared to take part in PISA-D?

If we fail to prepare, we could be preparing to fail.