Making Economics an optional subject is cited as one of the main reasons why students consistently perform poorly every year.

Most teachers, Economics framework developers and subject officials Kuensel talked to shared that the Economics textbooks today are broad and have vast syllabus without relevant to the current scenario. “Not many take Economics subject seriously even though it is so relevant in the day to day life,” one official said.

With Royal Education Council (REC) introducing new optional subjects in recent years, Bhutan Council for School Examination and Assessment’s (BCSEA) subject officer for Economics, Kencho Dem said that students opt for the new subjects over Economics since they find it easier to comprehend and score good marks.

The new optional subjects are IT, Agriculture for Food Security, and Environmental Science for class IX. Officials are however, unable to explain how and why it was decided to make Economics an optional subject. Education ministry officials did not respond to Kuensel’s queries.

“Most of these students join classes XI and XII without learning any fundamentals of Economics,” she said. “As required by the curriculum, grade XII students have to learn many of the Economics concepts, theories and principles at a broader level. These factors normally contribute to poor performance in Economics.”

Some schools do not even offer Economics as a subject because it is not a scoring subject, which later impacts their performance at the undergraduate level.

BHSEC examinations 2018 saw the worst performance in Commerce and Economics subjects. The mean percentage for Economics was 45.53. For Commerce, the mean percentage was 47.68. In 2017, the mean score for Business Mathematics was 47.69 percent and 49.95 percent for Economics.

Kencho Dem said the poor performance was also because of the rating ability being kept at par with other optional subjects, which are easier to learn and score.

“However, some students do extremely well especially those who opt to study Economics from class IX. This is because the majority of topics learnt in class XII are built on what has already been learnt in the lower classes (IX & X),” she said.

A former Economics official with REC, Sonam Phuntsho said that the contents of the Economics textbook is of high standard, which has also led to students’ under performance.  The textbook, he said, was never refined or made relevant to the country’s context and students are still taught from textbooks written by foreigners.

He said Economics changes with time, human disciplines, customs and traditions and other factors.

“The subject is taught based only on what is prescribed in the textbook and the revision of the textbook took so much time that students do not take the subject seriously,” he said. “No detailed study has been carried out to see the issue on Economics and also, constraint of budget is an issue to study the subject.”

After a framework for Economics was developed in 2017, the REC has now revised and refined the text for class IX in 2018, which is relevant to the current scenario, according to Sonam Phuntsho.

However, he said, the refinement and revised textbook would take at least two years to come into effect because of the lengthy protocols involved.

“We’ve to wait for the budget and then write the text, which will at least take a year,” he said.

Then, he said, it has to go through the subject committee at the REC, tested through a quality assurance committee and then vetted by the curriculum technical advisory board, which is chaired by the education minister, secretary and other education officials.

“This happens only once in a year towards October or November and only after they have approved, will it become a full fledged textbook for implementation. If they reject, it will have to go through all these protocols again.”

Sonam Phuntsho said that the revised textbook should come into effect by 2020 and simultaneously, this winter, the textbook for class X should be developed because the first batch that will study the new textbook should have a new textbook for class X.

This means in four years, four new Economic textbooks would be developed because revising the Class IX textbook would automatically demand new textbooks until class XII.

“This is how textbooks take so much time to come into effect,” he said. “ Budget also has a huge implication because it would require at least Nu 1.5 million to develop one textbook.”

While the content remains an issue, some teachers said that the performance of the students solely depends on the learners’ interest and motivation from the teachers to learn the subject.

Vast syllabus to prepare for the board examinations, studying without any basics learnt in the lower classes, and ability rating at par with other subjects at Royal University of Bhutan colleges were some of reasons teachers cite for poor performance in Economics.

Some blamed the curriculum gap where the subject is not taught as the curriculum was designed.

“The one who assess have module answers and if the chief of assessment is strict, he or she would not let us vary from the module answers,” a teacher said. “This is what is happening and affecting the subject because Economics is not about right or wrong answers.”

A lecturer of Economics at Gedu College of Business Studies, Indra Tirwa said that to improve the students’ understanding of the subject and obtain better scores in examinations, Economics, as much as possible, should be quantified, interpolated (proved), and extrapolated using tables, graphs, and equations.

“Teachers and students should use data from banks, trade offices, commerce and business houses, NSB, Population Surveys, education and Health Statistics, market surveys and verify if Economic theories are true,” he said. “Focus on General equilibrium Models which apply realistic assumptions and teachers should focus on case studies and their critique.”

He added that the fundamental principle of Economics itself says, “People respond to incentives,” which would credit the subject. “Further, Economics deserves to be a must-read subject in schools and business colleges, not an option, as per its wide scope.”

Yangchen C Rinzin