The dog year ended on, what is believed, a good note for the education sector.

Bhutan witnessed a major change in policy and the government, in fulfilling one of its popular pledges, did away with the Class X cut off point that had existed for decades to screen students from pursuing higher studies in public schools. The historic move, as touted by the government made cut off point history.

Amid rumours and criticism on the decision including the Opposition questioning its constitutionality, the female pig year will see 12,033 students getting an opportunity to study free education until class XII. A total of 7,808 would study in public and 4,225 in private schools.

This decision is likely to cost the ministry almost Nu 130 to Nu 150 million annually.

In keeping with change, the dog year also saw the education ministry doing away with examinations for classes PP to III from the 2020 academic session.

And for a change, the ministry and government heard the appeals of the teachers. The 19th national education conference resolved to not have classes on Saturday from this academic session. And unlike in the past, this national education conference was open to the media.

Even as the ministry grappled with a shortage of  571 Dzongkha teachers, the sector honoured 43 retired Indian teachers who served in Bhutan on the Teacher’s Day. The celebration was a tribute to teachers, to the third king who started formal modern education and in celebration of 50 years diplomatic ties between Bhutan and India.

Some of the significant changes in the education sector were regularisation of Agriculture and Food Security subject, a subject where students continue to do well, making ICT a compulsory subject for class IX from 2019, prioritisation of housing for teachers in the 12th Plan, infusing EVS in English and Dzongkha subjects, and students to be taught Tha Damtshi and Ley Judrey.

In the north, to encourage and enable students from Laya to complete basic education in their community, Laya Lower Secondary School was upgraded to a central school. But in the south, the ministry moved 57 students from Phuentsholing to Shemagangkha Primary School after it faced a shortage of students.

However, the beginning of the dog year was not as fruitful with the education sector in limelight for all the wrong reasons.

It shocked the nation when the vice-principal of a Charity school in Bjemina, Thimphu was detained for molesting nine girls students aged between 11-15 years and attempting to rape one. The vice-principle was sentenced to 10 years. The incident not only shamed the teaching fraternity but also questioned the recruitment process and security clearance guidelines.

The incident got the ministry to monitor private schools more closely and henceforth, private schools would require the ministry’s clearance for selected teachers.

Before the nation could come to terms with this case, another horrific incident rocked the sector. Phuentsholing police detained another principal, a male teacher and a sweeper from Sertena Primary School (PS) in Haa for allegedly throwing a newborn out of a hotel window. To ensure the schooling of Sertna students was not disturbed, the ministry moved 10 students to Jyenkana LSS.

In another case, Gelephu  drungkhag  court sentenced a teacher of a remote school in Gelephu  for molesting six girls in 2017 to four years and six months in prison.

Another blow struck the education sector when Nganglam Central School’s admission committee came under Anti-Corruption Commission radar for violating admission ethics.  The admission committee reprimanded them for abuse of function, conflict of interest and violating admission ethics.

The sector was yet again under public’s radar after the ministry announced that it would reduce the number of schools to 200 in the 12th Plan to reduce the workload of teachers. It was clarified later that reducing the number of schools was misunderstood.

The dog year was also full of grievances against the Individual Work Plan (IWP), a performance evaluation system for civil servants. Teachers were the most vocal against the system. Although the former prime minister had commissioned a review of the IWP, the RCSC stood its ground on IWP being necessary for teachers.

While the sector has been seeing it for years, the dog year recorded the highest attrition rate in the last 10 years according to the annual education statistics. A total of 355 teachers left the profession between 2017 and 2018. There was also a decrease in enrollment of students in primary and secondary schools almost by 1,886.

But the number of teachers coming in conflict with law soured the noble profession’s perception, there were some teachers who did the vocation proud. Rinchen HSS’s principal opened a cradle room for breastfeeding babies, a special arrangement for female teachers who do not get to enjoy six months paid maternity leave. 

Another principal of Zilukha MSS initiated quality time-sharing period in the school, an activity to know the children better and to understand their problems. The 45-minute quality time-sharing period allows students to spend time with teachers and share their experiences, both happy and sad. 

With several changes, expectations and hopes from the education sector are high in the year of the pig. It is now taking over the feeding programme from WFP and pool in additional resources to sustain the policy changes.  

The country has come on board with the government on the need to invest in children and teachers. Is the education sector up to the challenge?

Yangchen C Rinzin