Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

Of the many transformations the country saw in the year of the hog, the year gone by recorded a clear vision laid down from the throne.

His Majesty The King called on the country and people to leverage technology for education, job creation, good governance and effective and timely delivery of services to the citizens.

Capitalising on digital transformation has become a priority today to harness the growing dominance of technology.


Laying the foundation

Setting a solid foundation for effective digital learning was one of the major activities in the pig year. Of the many flagship programmes the government devised for the 12th Plan, the education flagship and Digital Drukyul programme would drive this foundation.

To make students IT-literate, the education flagship programme focuses on digitalisation of schools. This means that students entering the formal education setting would now have an opportunity to learn ICT, which until now was available from secondary school.

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering during a gathering with teachers also proposed the idea of making ICT as the third language in schools. Lyonchhen added that for a student to graduate to the next higher grade, he or she had to compulsorily pass the ICT subject.


Flagship programmes and finance

With the foundation taken care of, the ICT flagship programme, Digital Drukyul is also underway to digitally empower the citizens.

The Digital Drukyul flagship programme intends to create a digital ecosystem for citizens unencumbered by bureaucratic red tape and allows quick and equal access to all services.

Through this initiative, Bhutanese will be provided a digital identity that can be used to access multiple online government services such as healthcare and others.

An enhancement of the current physical identity, the numeric digital ID, unique to every citizen, would have access to all relevant digitised data of an individual held by various different organisations.

Technological revolution has touched every aspect of people’s lives from shopping to banking. With financial sector seeing rapid technological advancement, the central bank felt the need for an international payment gateway and e-commerce platform for the country.

In pursuit of digital financing, the Royal Monetary Authority (RMA) carried out a feasibility study on payment gateway and e-commerce modalities.

The finance ministry launched the electronic public expenditure management system (ePEMS) and global interchange for financial transaction (GIFT) payment system to enhance public financing.

With the introduction of the two systems, public finances such as salaries, pensions, benefits and allowances no longer have to be manually recorded and processed through cheques.

Records with RMA show at least 28 percent decline both in number and value of transactions in the use of paper-based banking instruments.

Druk Holding and Investments (DHI), the commercial arm of the government also joined the digital bandwagon and instituted a new department, the innovation and technology department to collaborate, build programmes and invest in relevant technologies.

To embrace technologies such as machine learning, artificial intelligence, data analytics and block chain that are changing the landscape of business, governance, and societies, DHI plans to establish a research and development (R&D) and technology centre of excellence through the new department.

The new department would undertake research and development in specific areas relevant to Bhutan, data management and building technology-based platforms.


Business, learning and space

Entrepreneurs capitalising on digital platforms also came out as one of the many solutions to challenges faced by the sector today. Many established and budding entrepreneurs endorsed online presence to get more sales and markets – local, national and international.

Then there were the tech-competitions at the national and international levels where Bhutanese took part.

For the first time, four engineering students from College of Science and Technology (CST) reached the finals of a robotic competition at IIT-Bombay, India.

Even in space, Bhutan has started to make her presence. While the journey in space technology began as early as 1988, when the country became a member of the International Telecommunication Union (ITU) and was allotted its first orbital slot in the space, it was only in 2019 that things began to materialise.

BHUTAN-1, a nano-satellite developed and designed by a team of four Bhutanese engineers was the country’s first satellite to be launched into orbit on June 29, 2019.

The satellite currently operates in a low altitude (500km to 1,500km) and orbits around the country three to four times a day for about five minutes.

Coinciding with the national day last year, the country named a star and its planet as Gakyid and Drukyul in the constellation of Cancer, which further strengthened Bhutan’s presence in the space.

Taking on the more complex phase of digital technology, many youth including teachers began to take up various coding workshops to understand concepts like artificial intelligence, big data, quantum computing and internet of things, among others.

A vision has been provided and the priorities set. As challenges are aplenty, Bhutan has made a progressive start.

The hog has played its part. The baton has been exchanged and now it is upon the rat to swiftly and successfully deliver it to the finish line.