KP Sharma

THIMPHU — As Bhutan strives to prioritise modern education throughout the country, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development faces the critical task of developing a robust education policy to address existing challenges and obstacles within the education sector.

In the recent Parliament session, MPs repeatedly expressed concerns about the absence of a comprehensive education policy and urged the ministry to expedite the development of such a policy to enhance the effectiveness and reliability of the education system.

Phuntsho Rabten, a prominent member of the National Council, expressed disappointment at the lack of progress and emphasised the urgent need for a strong education policy to streamline the existing challenges within the sector.

Among the issues raised by MPs, particular attention was given to the inconveniences faced by Arts students due to recent policy changes. 

Although the government initiated offering scholarships to affected students, the selection procedure has reportedly demotivated many students.

The recent announcement of enrolling about 75 students in the B.Ed Secondary Programme, specialising in English-History and English-Geography at Samtse College of Education, has generated negative responses, especially from high-achieving students who had to settle for B.Ed Primary Programmes. 

B.Ed in English-History and English-Geography were discontinued in 2019.

These students argue that the high-performing individuals have been allocated to the Primary Programme, while the Secondary Programmes have been offered to students with relatively lower marks or merit rankings.

A student of Paro College said that he would not have opted for the B.Ed Secondary Programme otherwise.

Another student said, “I am shocked to learn that students with outstanding marks were enrolled in the B.Ed Primary Programme. We deserve better.”

After the selection process for Paro College had already been completed, the government announced 140 government scholarships for the B.Ed Secondary Programme in Information Technology (IT) at Samtse College of Education. 

This has raised doubts regarding the ministry’s readiness and planning when introducing these courses.

A teacher in Thimphu pointed out that if B.Ed graduates were previously deemed unqualified to teach higher-level classes, the reintroduction of these courses raises questions about the authority’s planning and research prior to discontinuing them.

Critics argue that the education sector frequently implements new ideas without conducting sufficient research, leading to discontinuations after only a few years. 

The BA Social Work suffered a similar fate, which was discontinued shortly after its inception.

While the ministry cites a shortage of human resources in the education sector as the reason behind these changes, the weak selection process fails to convince the public and their representatives. 

The authority’s implementation of ideas through a “trial and error” approach has drawn criticism for lacking thorough research and planning.

Despite rumours suggesting that the selected B.Ed graduates may be exempted by the Royal Civil Service Examination (RCSC) upon completing their four-year course, the RCSC  clarified that there is currently no exemption.

Furthermore, the government’s removal of the cut-off point for class 10 students has had adverse effects on private schools. The short duration of the government’s scholarship programme for private schools has further impacted these institutions and their employees, leading to the closure of many private schools.

During a question-and-answer session in the National Council, Education Minister Jai Bir Rai acknowledged the existence of an education policy but highlighted the challenges of maintaining a static policy in an ever-changing education sector. 

The ministry has a draft policy called the National Education Policy 2019, but no steps have been taken to formalise it.

Without a firm education policy in place, concerns arise regarding the potential risks of steering the sector towards an unfavourable future. If not addressed with caution, the education sector could remain under the influence of politicians and influential individuals in higher bureaucratic positions, further destabilising it.