…albeit it benefitted 170,000 learners

Literacy: While non-formal education (NFE) has helped around 170,000 learners across the country since its inception in 1992, it still has challenges and system flaws.

This was revealed in the international conference on capacity building in NFE in Bhutan held in Thimphu.

According to report from Non-formal and continuing education division (NFCED), since its inception in 1992, non-formal education has helped nation achieve its literacy rate of 55 percent from 45 percent. Besides it, the programme enabled the adult population read, write and do simple calculations.

The programme has also helped learners take better care of their children and guide them in education. “It helped learners boost their confidence in establishing new businesses and participate in electoral process,” the report stated.

The report also stated NFE learners have also taken lead role in forming farmers’ groups and cooperatives in both livestock and agriculture while many have started contesting in local government elections and serve as local leaders.

NFE has also helped reduce illiteracy in the country by 70 percent, according to NFCED.

Notwithstanding, its achievements, the programme however is facing number of challenges. According to a speaker in the conference, Jagar Dorji,  making the learning materials need based is one of the foremost challenges the NFE should resolve.

He said that learners should be educated on new commodities in the market, money laundering schemes and choice of food items to make the NFE need based. “Teaching and learning materials should be developed jointly,” Jagar Dorji said in his presentation.

Another presenter in the conference from BRAC university of Dhaka in Bangladesh, professor emeritus Manzoor Ahmed, said in his presentation that the NFE programme should link literacy skills to poverty reduction, employment skills and quality of life components.

He also pointed out that while the programme in Bhutan is in line with this objective, the activities in field, however, appear to be inclined towards literacy skills without sufficient links with life and livelihood objectives.

“This situation suggests more careful formulation of learning objectives, content and methods and broadening the scope of NFE centres with necessary technical support, capacity building and integrated development approach especially at district level,” the professor said.

With increasing number of dropouts from the NFE because of lack of helping hands in farmlands and family problems reducing dropout rates has become an important task.

Reports indicate NFE enrollment rate has also been affected because of increasing number of dropouts since 2011-2015.

The other challenge, presenters claim, is NFE instructors leaving the job in considerable numbers. “We must take measures to retain NFE instructors,” a presenter said.

Presenters also suggested enhancement of NFE instructor capacities. “There is pressing need for expanding learning services and effective training and capacity building to enable NFE instructors to do their job effectively,” Manzoor Ahmed stated.

The professor stated that trainings and management strategies are also needed to boost morale at NFE centres. “There is also requirement to develop comprehensive operational framework and regular monitoring and evaluation mechanism to improve and ensure quality and effective programme.”

Professor Manzoor noted that under the present NFE system, instructors do not conduct regular classes as the centres are left solely under their control.

Making the programme accessible to all sections of people, lack of credible and reliable data and adequate advocacy activities and coordination among the stakeholders are also some of the challenges the NFE is confronted with.

While English lessons have begun under the programme, requirement to incorporate information and communications technology has increasingly been felt.

Manzoor Ahmed also noted that though women makes the majority of learners in NFE centres in Bhutan, women particularly in rural areas have had fewer learning opportunities compared to men. “Poverty, geographical isolation and traditional attitude towards women were pointed out as major obstacles for women.”

Presenters recommended that the adequacy of budgetary resources for NFE be examined while allocation criteria be established prioritising to serve the need of the disadvantaged and remoter communities.

NFCED and Department of Adult and Higher Education (DAHE) in collaboration with Korean commission of UNESCO is conducting the international conference.

Speakers from South Korea, India, Thailand and Bangladesh and Bhutan are participating in the conference.

Tempa Wangdi