KP Sharma

Despite facing digital disparities and limited access to resources during the pandemic, Classes X and XII students achieved laudable academic results compared to countries with similar economic development levels.

This information is based on a research study conducted by the Asian Development Bank (ADB) which focused on how school closures affected the level of educational progress that had been achieved before the pandemic.

The study compared test scores in English and Dzongkha of about 7,000 students, both during and before the pandemic. The difference was “slightly low”.

It revealed that the government’s actions during school closures were successful in minimising lesson losses.

With the prioritisation of students preparing for the BCSE and BHSEC exams, learning setbacks were likely the least severe, particularly for secondary school students.

The study attributed the limited learning setbacks to the government’s measures, including the implementation of social safety nets targeted to vulnerable households, education-specific policies that included home-based instruction methods such as radio, television, social media, printed materials, Google Classrooms, and curriculum prioritization, and reducing subjects to 65 percent of the core curriculum.

While video lessons broadcast on Bhutan Broadcasting Services served as the primary source of remote instruction, 71 percent of schools supplemented the lessons with social media apps adding that the ministry gave special attention to disadvantaged and vulnerable students.

Approximately 30,000 secondary school students who had poor internet connections and no access to television received printed self-instructional materials.

Further, Bhutan repurposed school facilities to expand boarding capacity and transferred students from non-boarding to boarding schools as a part of the Covid-19 education response.

This was particularly important for Class X and XII students in high-risk areas of Covid-19 infection, which were relocated to one of Bhutan’s 177 boarding schools to ensure uninterrupted education.

However, out of more than 6,000 students, only 16 percent of students had one parent with a higher secondary education, indicating potential challenges in receiving academic challenges at home.

 While 42 percent of students had access to computers at home, the coverage of television was 89 percent and mobile phones were 98 percent, which is higher than the accessibility to computers.

 This indicates the importance of offering a variety of remote learning solutions, especially for the 40 percent of the students attending schools without boarding facilities.

The report also touched on the impact of closure on employment, marriage, and legal matters which contributed to increased dropout rates and reduced enrollment in upper secondary schools in Bhutan.

According to the education ministry, 114 Class X students and 96 Class XII students had not returned to school after schools reopened on July 1.

Together, 210 students dropped out of school in 2020 for various reasons.