Making school education responsive and relevant

Bhutan’s education debate has always centred around quality, albeit we could even now argue that much needs to be done apropos of quality refinement that is required. Structural changes are being made along the way and the process must continue. What is important, however, is that our interventions—small, big and myriad—should result in a signal change in the system.

Educationists and the so-called experts argue that there has never been a sound or reasonable basis to measure education quality. Maybe there never was but when the issue of quality of education has become a growing concern for parliament and legislators, not to mention parents and a growing number of employers, the claim sounds more like foot-dragging than anything else. Why and how did we run short, all this long, of even a modest home-grown system to keep a tab on how the country’s education system and quality are faring?

Our failure to rise to the occasion may have already cost us some critical opportunities in this fast-paced world of 21st century, but that is no reason or excuse to not wake to the new challenges that are knocking at the door. To survive in the global competition of growing innovation and excellence Bhutan’s education system should call for and foster competency.

The good news is, thanks to Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment we now, finally, have what it calls the National Education Assessment Framework. It is an important document in that we can now conduct assessment at the various “key stages” of learning which will enable us to monitor the “health of our education system” to inform and advise policy reforms. The findings of the assessments can urge pedagogical shift, resource allocation, curriculum development and teacher training, among others.

The document comes with the promise to fulfil education ministry’s mission to “provide equitable, inclusive and quality education and lifelong learning opportunities to all children and harness their full potential to become productive citizens”. As Education Minister Jai Bir Rai put it at the document’s launch in Thimphu yesterday, the framework should make Bhutan’s school education system dynamic and responsive to the changing local, national and global demands.

But then, we would do well to remind ourselves that one swallow does not a summer make. Rules, frameworks and guidelines can easily be consigned to the musty shelves, as it happens often, if we do not succeed in giving them teeth to effect the change they are designed to bring. Our hope is that we no longer have to talk about the deteriorating quality of education but forge ahead with confidence in a system that assess and better the relevance and changing needs of Bhutanese school education.

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