Younten Tshedup | Gelephu

As Bhutan prepares to embrace the fourth industrial revolution, it is imperative that Bhutanese speak ICT as its third language for education to keep up with the rapidly changing digital world. 

Prime Minister Dr Lotay Tshering, while interacting with participants of the ongoing coding workshop for ICT teachers in Gelephu on February 2, said that besides Dzongkha and English, ICT has to be the third primary subject that students need to compulsorily pass in order to move onto the next grade. 

He said in the 21st century, students would be as good as uneducated no matter how much they learn in the classrooms without the digital knowledge.

“Leaving ICT as an optional subject would not serve the purpose. I’m personally excited and ready to make this change should you all, the teachers agree,” he said. “Through policy interventions, we can make this happen if you think this is the correct step.”

The crowd of over 130 teachers resounded in agreement. 

 Lyonchhen agreed to take up the idea with the education ministry and relevant stakeholders to discuss it further. 

It was suggested that by next year when all schools in the country are equipped with an IT lab, the idea could possible roll out. 

He said that in terms of learning and education, Bhutan has come a long way and the way forward, as envisioned by His Majesty The King, was to leverage on technology and use ICT as a vehicle of modern education.      

“This would be a long journey but the process has started,” he said. “You all are the pioneers in this field and in the next 10-15 years when our school system revolutionises and our children are equipped with 21st century knowledge and skills, it would be your efforts that made it happen.” 

ICT teachers from government and private schools, the Royal University of Bhutan, Royal Education Council, Royal Bhutan Army and Office of the Royal Media are attending the first phase of the workshop that began last month in Gelephu. 

As a part of the education flagship programme, the coding workshop is organised to equip participants with python programming skills and orient ICT teachers to roll out the ICT and coding curriculum in school education starting from pre-primary to grade XII starting this academic session in all levels of schools. 

One of the participants from Samtse middle secondary school, Tshering, said that although ICT is gaining importance in the country, challenges for smooth implementation remains, especially in remote schools. 

He said that senior teachers were reluctant to accept the changing technology, which in turn hindered effective teaching and learning in schools. 

Lyonchhen said that he is aware of the digital divide that currently exists between the different generations in the education system. “When we say we want to bring about a systemic change, it doesn’t mean we have to reject all the traditional ways of doing things,” he said. “We have to work this out intelligently. We’ve to see how we can improve on the existing practices and make it more workable in the modern century.”  

Another participant shared the challenges posed by lack of resources and facilities and a stable internet connection.     

The Prime Minister said that the government, through policy interventions, is doing everything possible to facilitate this change. 

He said that the idea is to make all energy-efficient appliances and electronic gadgets affordable and accessible.   

“To do this, the government has only one tool and this is through policy interventions in the taxation front,” he said. “We would do away with tax on all IT gadgets and bring down data charges to as low as possible and ultimately make it free. The recent decision to do away with the tax on mobile vouchers was also in line with this idea.”  

Lyonchhen said that while the public sees this initiative having a negative impact on the nation’s revenue, individual citizens are benefitting directly from this measure.  

The Prime Minister shared how digitisation of schools complemented the governments’ digital drukyul flagship programme and also communicated on the progress of the programme. 

He said that the digital movement would also be the biggest component of the ‘action-packed’ 21st-century economic roadmap that has been envisioned by His Majesty The King.