Education: The non-formal education (NFE) program, that once received the UNESCO Confucius prize for literacy for empowering more than 160,000 people, is in need of attention.

Both an increasing number of learners and instructors are dropping out of the NFE every year.

At least 1,142 learners dropped out in 2014, of which 666 were basic learners. Currently there are a total of 7,390 NFE learners.

As of December 2014, there are 726 NFE centres and 715 instructors across the country excluding Dagana, whose data is yet to updated.

According to the annual education statistics, there were 13,360 learners in 2012. The number dropped to 9,628 in 2013. The number of learners further declined to 8,079 last year.

This trend was one of the main reasons many dzongkhags have not been able to meet the ‘enhancing adult literacy’ target in the annual performance agreement (APA).

The dropout rate is 20 percent, of which the majority are women. Bhutan’s adult literacy rate is 55.3 percent, according to the latest figures of the Bhutan living Standard Survey.

Samdrupjongkhar, Mongar, Chukha, Dagana, Samtse, Sarpang and Tsirang, among others, have high NFE drop out rates.

Non-Formal and Continuing Education Division’s deputy chief program officer, Ugyen Tshomo, said a certain percent of the drop out rate will always remain, but close attention and review is required to reverse the recent trend.

“The program itself is ‘non-formal’ in nature, so drop outs are inevitable,” she said. “Learners are those who have important commitments at home (rather) than the programme.”

After most districts reported the NFE scenario deteriorations during the APA review meeting in February, the Ministry of Education (MoE) conducted a consultative meeting. It was found that the program was somehow left out. It was not receiving enough support from the local government leaders as well as policy makers.

Some of the reasons found for the trend include long walking distances and with learners being mostly women (75 percent), difficulty making time for household chores and seasonal businesses. The NFE instructors’ job being temporary, their lack of commitment also contributed to the increased drop out rates.

Samtse education officer, Karma Sonam Chophel, said the drop out rate is high in Samtse mainly because of the long walking distances to the centre. Samtse has the lowest adult literacy rate at 40 percent.

“Samtse has scattered settlements and learners walk about an hour or two to the centres,” he said. “Learners also give farming first priority.”

Mongar NFE focal person, Rinchen Samdrup, cited similar reasons for the drop out rate. He, however, said that the adult literacy rate needs a review because the percentages were different in the National Statistical Bureau and Bhutan living Standard Survey.

Although, at least 10 learners are required to set up a NFE centre, some centres are functioning with less than the required number.

Instructor Dawa Dema in Laja gewog in Dagana conducts classes often with three learners. She had 11 learners but three women have recently dropped out. She said she sends back if only one learner turns up for the class.

“People are interested to learn, especially English in the post-literacy course but because of their priorities they drop out or attend classes irregularly,” Dawa Dema said.

Meanwhile, Lyonchhoen Tshering Tobgay during the mid year review of APA had said the NFE centres would be reviewed.

“It has been a lot of years since NFE was incepted and no review has been done in between,” lyonchhoen had said. “We’ll review it.”

By Nirmala Pokhrel