The National Statistics Bureau’s new quarterly labor force survey shows a significant improvement in youth unemployment since the pandemic years, but it remains high at 16%. There are many deep issues that are depressing youth employment. Weak private sector development leaves the country with limited routes to stable employment. An outdated education system creates a mismatch between the skills needed by modern employers and the skills that youth graduate with. And Bhutan’s small market and challenging geography make entrepreneurship an even harder path to livelihood than in other countries. 

To help improve the situation, the Ministry of Education and Skills Development (MoESD) and Asian Development Bank (ADB) are partnering to provide free licenses to edX (one of the world’s top massive open online course providers) to Bhutanese youth. A grant from ADB has purchased 1,000 edX licenses through the end of October 2024, and some of them will be made available to applicants for free on a lottery basis.

A predecessor initiative was piloted by the erstwhile Ministry of Labour and Human Resources in partnership with ADB during the Covid-19 pandemic. 1,000 learners were given licenses for SkillShare (a creativity focused online learning community) from February 2021 to January 2022. Anecdotes from the past initiative show the potentially transformative effect of online learning. One user found that taking courses in Finance and English helped prepare her for the world of work and convert an internship into a full-time job at a private IT firm. Another former jobseeker said that taking courses on basic coding and digital marketing provided valuable skills that he uses in his current job. 

This new edX initiative is an improvement on the previous SkillShare initiative in that it offers professional skills development courses that are relevant to all youth (regardless of their academic background and professional interests) and their efforts earn globally recognized certifications. edX provides students with access to hundreds of job-relevant courses, including on interview techniques, business skills, graphic design, and computer programming. Through edX, students earn qualifications from the world’s top universities and companies, such as Harvard University and Google.

While this initiative will not create jobs, the hope is that access to these courses will alleviate other important barriers to youth employment in Bhutan. Modern skills may help youth secure jobs domestically, give them fresh ideas for businesses that will contribute to Bhutan’s economic aspirations, and increase their job preparedness so that they are more competitive for opportunities in the global job market. 

Students and jobseekers can register for a free license here: [] before April 17. 

Contributed by Milan Thomas and Ryotaro Hayashi, 

Economists, Asian Development Bank