But in the last one decade, enrolment has plummeted by more than 7,000 learners
Non-Formal Education (NFE) has not only educated people in rural parts of the country but has also provided a platform to produce grass root leaders.
Today, there are 151 local leaders who are beneficiaries of NFE, serving as Gups, Mangmis and Tshogpas across the country.
Among the 151, four are Gups, 38 are Mangmis and 297 are Tshogpas. Of the 38 Mangmis, only two are females while 95 of the 109 Tshogpas are females.
Records with Non-Formal and Continuing Education Division of the education ministry show that 343 NFE graduates participated in the 2016 Local Government elections. Eight contested for Gup, 38 for Mangmi and 297 for the post of Tshogpa.
Despite NFE programme making a significant change in the society, the number of enrolment have been decreasing over the years.
In the last one decade, enrolment has plummeted by more than 7,000 learners. Compared to 14,694 learners in 777 NFE centres in 2007, there are today 6,728 learners in 668 centres in 2017 (see graph).
However, in the last decade, more than 113,802 people have benefited from NFE programmes of which 85,078 are females. Women participation in NFE is more than men but that changes when it comes to taking a leadership role.
Non-Formal and Continuing Education Division’s Chief, Norbu Gyeltshen said that decreasing enrolment indicates a good coverage of NFE programmes in the villages. “The centres are closing down as most of villagers are already beneficiaries of the programme.”
Norbu Gyeltshen said that although no studies have been done to ascertain whether decrease in enrolment has a direct influence on the sustenance of the centres, it is understood that learners have decreased drastically as most have passed from the centres. “Lesser the centres, the greater the achievement,” he said.
At least eight learners are required to operate a centre. Without the required number of learners, the centre does not function due to high operational cost. NFE programmes function out of classrooms, gup’s offices, out-reach clinic (ORC) and private residences.
When the programme started, there were 20 to 30 learners in each centre but today some centres in rural areas have between eight to 12 learners.
To encourage people to undergo NFE programmes, the education ministry has been organising sensitisation programmes through local leaders and relevant stakeholders. The ministry so far has covered 18 dzongkhags in giving advocacy on the importance of education through NFE.
To address the problem, the ministry has plans to introduce mobile NFE instructor where an instructor can cover at least two centres a day. The ministry also plans to work with the media so that the sensitisation messages get across all level of society.
Despite all these measures, the willingness to learn is a major concern, said Norbu Gyeltshen. “From our side we try our best to let them know how NFE programme helps in education.” “Some do not take it seriously,” he said.
Non-Formal Education Programme Review Report of October 2015 revealed some of the issues and challenges faced with NFE programmes.
Absence of comprehensive operational framework, high dropout rate, inadequate capacity among the stakeholders, absence of effective monitoring, support and evaluation mechanism, lack of proper instruction guidelines to implement the curriculum are some of the challenges.
Besides, inadequate advocacy programme, lack of supply chain of resources, accessibility to unreached population, unavailability of reliable adult literacy data, and high attribution rate of NFE, and competency and capacity of the instructors have also been identified as challenges.
The study also found that NFE programme is not only developing literacy and numeracy skills but also empowering the learners, especially women. NFE learners have reported being more aware of health and nutrition issues, becoming more independent and economically productive.
NFE programmes have significantly contributed in improving literacy rate of the country. According to the Bhutan Living Standards Survey report, 2017, about 11 percent of the population have received NFE.
Of the two programmes under NFE, Basic Literacy Course aims to provide functional literacy equivalent to Class VI Dzongkha in formal education system while Post Literacy Course is equivalent to Class VIII Dzongkha and Class VI English. Both programmes are for a year.
The National Women Association of Bhutan (NWAB) initiated the NFE programme in 1981 to empower women. Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) took over the programme in 1992.
Later, looking at its appropriateness, the education division took over the NFE programme in 1993 diversifying the programme by starting Continuing Education (CE) in 2006 and Community Learning Centre (CLC) in 2003.