To help achieve the adult literacy rate target of 70 percent by the end of the 11th Plan, the education ministry is attempting to rope in local leaders to encourage more learners in the rural communities.

A two-day sensitisation workshop on Non-Formation Education (NFE) for local leaders of around 30 gewogs of Gasa, Wangdue and Punakha began yesterday.

NFE’s continuity division chief programme officer, Norbu Gyeltshen, said that local leaders can play a pivotal role in enhancing adult literacy in the rural areas as they have direct access to communities and therefore the need for the sensitisation programme.

“We have accessibility problems, as most adults reside in far flung rural villages,” he said. “If we can work hand in hand with the local leaders, we would be able to achieve the set target of 70 percent towards the end of the 11th Plan,” Norbu Gyeltshen said. “We are optimistic that we will be able to achieve the set target.”

According to the National Statistic Bureau’s (NSB) Bhutan Living Standard Survey (BLSS) 2012, the adult literacy rate stands at 55.3 percent. The NSB is scheduled to conduct another BLSS survey this year and it is hoped that  the rate has increased beyond 70 percent, said the chief programme officer.

Norbu Gyeltshen explained that even those at the dzongkhag level face challenges in reaching people living in remote communities.

During the tenure of first local government, the division attempted reaching  out to local leaders through awareness raising campaigns during dzongkhag tshogdus, but it was found ineffective, he said.

Norbu Gyeltshen said that the two-year NFE course focuses on basic literacy and post literacy. To maintain their literacy, the ministry is creating a forum where self-learning or life-long learning becomes possible through community learning centres.

The programme is organised by the NFE continuity division, Department of Adult and Higher Education of the education ministry, and is a government-funded programme.

Within the two-day programme, local leaders will come up with gewog-level strategies for NFE, said education officials. The local leaders will also be made accountable for the NFE programme in their respective gewogs.

Presenting the current status of NFE in the dzongkhag, Gasa’s education officer, Sherab Gyeltshen said that while the programme has a two year duration, in places like Laya it may take up to four to five years to complete. He attributed this to frequent leave taken by the learners especially during the cordycep collection season, sang collection time and migration during the winter months, said the education officer.

He added that not having proper NFE centres, lack of facilities like electricity, extreme weather conditions and not getting the required support from the gewog were other issues that hampered the programme.

Of the nine NFE centres in Gasa dzongkhag, five are in Laya, three in Khamoed and one in Khatoed gewog. Lunana does not have an NFE centre. Despite having a good number of centres for a small dzongkhag, most centres have limited learners with some operating with only five.

Punakha’s education officer Tshering Dorji said despite having 11 gewogs, the dzongkhag has only 45 NFE learners in eight centres as of now. There is a need to conduct a survey on the adult literacy rate in the dzongkhag, to form committees at the dzongkhag, gewog and chiwog levels, and to also establish new centres in all gewogs, said Tshering Dorji. The other way forward is to also conduct advocacy programmes at all three levels, he said.

In Wangdue, the number of NFE centres has decreased to 29 from 44 in 2015, and the number of learners has declined from 522 in 2015 to 346 currently, said Wangdue’s education officer, Kencho Wangdi. He said the decline would also mean that more people are literate now, and that it could be taken positively.

However, Wangdue dzongdag, Sonam Jigme, said it is not wise to assume that the declining number of NFE centres means more people are literate today, as it is not possible that all people are literate in the villages. Local leaders should focus on finding out why the number of learners in their gewogs are declining, he said.

He asked local leaders to come up with plans to encourage learners and advocate the importance of literacy, he said.

Meanwhile, Norbu Gyeltshen said that the NFE programme has received much positive feedback from the public.

Dawa Gyelmo | Wangdue