Bhutan today is going through a catharsis of sorts. The whole of our education system is undergoing a significant revolution. Perhaps time has now arrived for us to think about education in the broader sense of the term. That means including not just campuses and classrooms, teachers and textbooks, and curriculum. There is today a need to look at relevance. Are we teaching our children the right skills and preparing them to face the challenges out of classrooms? More importantly, are we including each and every Bhutanese in the education system?
Non-formal education (NFE) has had a big success in Bhutan. According to some reports, the programme empowered close to 200,000 citizens in the country with basic and numeracy courses. That is almost half the population of this country. About 80 percent of total NFE learners have acquired life skills education. Many of them have undergone vocational skills training and are doing well. Because the real idea behind the programme is to create a system of lifelong learning opportunities for all to build a skilled and knowledge-based society, Bhutan’s NFE programme and efforts were also have been recognised with UNESCO Literacy Awards. While we have done almost enough with learning centres, we have done not quite all right with NFE instructors.
Reports claim that about 90 percent of the NFE instructors have been trained on teaching methodology, adult dealings, and life skills education programmes. But that is all we have given to recognise their priceless contribution to the nation. NFE instructors are today among the lowest-paid in the country. They fall nowhere in the country’s employment category. This has made recruitment of NFE instructors expensive. When question was raised about it in the Parliament recently, education minister said that if the concerns were genuine, the solution was to make the instructors part of civil service. We are told that education ministry has proposed to the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) to include NFE and early childhood care and development instructors part of the civil servants and to place them at grade S5A. This is a good development. Enhancing adult literacy rate to near 100 percent by 2020, providing learning opportunity to illiterate, neo-literate and dropouts, providing lifelong learning opportunity through continuing education programme will remain a challenge otherwise.
Strategic Plan for NFE Programme (2016 – 2018) says that finding adequate number of academic personnel with higher qualifications is a challenge facing the programme. This could be true because NFE instructors need more than just Nu 8,300 monthly salary. They need to know their employment status and where they belong. It is upon RCSC and education ministry to follow up and decide whether NFE instructors could be counted among the civil servants. Because we are talking about education, it matters all the more.
A nation that thinks about education of its citizens and makes sure that it goes beyond school and college systems to involve all who missed the bus or dropped out along the way is a forward-looking nation.