Keeping up with change

This week, the government of India approved a new education policy that paves way for radical reforms in the education sector. The policy, in a nutshell, lays the foundation for transforming the education system to suit the needs of the 21st century. From emphasising on learning outcomes and making education relevant, the policy is received well.

At home, many are not only talking about the policy, but also reviewing it with many appreciating the overhaul in the Indian system. Education is one sector Bhutan is closely linked with India. The generation of leaders, both in the government and private are the products of an Indian education system. While some have studied in Indian schools and colleges, most are taught by Indian teachers. Our children are still taught Indian history.

There is interest in change because we are talking along the same lines. Quality of education is high on the priority list. The need of a new policy has long been recognised. In fact, we drafted one about a decade ago. It has been fine-tuned and submitted to the Cabinet just before the Covid-19 pandemic forced school to close, it is learnt.

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced us to reprioritise a lot of activities and policies. We have waited long and we can wait until the pandemic is over. The waiting time could also be used to review our policies. The new Indian policy sounds familiar, as we had been stressing on similar changes in the education system. Besides, thousands of Bhutanese study in India on government or private scholarships.

Learning coding or computational thinking, problem solving and integrating vocational education as early as early as in the sixth grade, reducing rigid course structures are some of the new ideas we had been talking about for a while. Recently, the focus is on STEM subjects and there is emphasis on contemporary learning subjects from the highest authority.

While the importance of contemporary subjects like Artificial Intelligence, Design Thinking, or Environment Education specified in the new policy (Indian) are seen as India’s future and its leadership role in these fields, our leadership has stressed on these for a long time. His Majesty The King had been expressing the importance of these contemporary subjects at every meeting with educationists, policy makers and even young students.

The Indian reform starts from pre-school to reforming examinations to system of assessment and teacher education. While we do not have the resources and the expertise to overhaul a system like the new Indian education policy, we are well aware of our needs. We need not copy policies. But given the similarities of the system, deep rotted thus far, it is relevant to Bhutan. There are more students finishing university degrees from India than from home colleges.

In more than half a century of modern education, we can be proud of as far as our schooling system is concerned. We have come out of rote learning, adapted to changing syllabus and always forged our own curriculum. While we insist on an independent policy, a Bhutanese system encompassing our development philosophy, we should accept that the way we educate our children are changing. We have to change because the purpose of education has changed. From filling minds with facts, a long time ago, it is now to make children explore and think, the most relevant in current times.

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