The Royal Kasho on Education Reform on the National Day of 17th December 2020 is a Royal Calling for a future Bhutan. The Kasho must be understood as an ideological, ethical, and sentimental state apparatus for bolstering of national priorities and materialising the national dream through transformation in the education sector.

Bhutan has progressed from one of the least-developed countries to a developing nation thanks to education. But education must also change with the changing times.

Despite being the birthplace of the globally acclaimed philosophy of Gross National Happiness, Bhutan is witnessing increasing problems of citizen unemployment, youth issues, social inequities, mental health issues, domestic violence, and degeneration of moral and ethical values, among others. Educating for Gross National Happiness (EGNH) was introduced in the Bhutanese education system to essentially reorient and reconnect to the primordial call for a humanistic education, steeped in our national ethos. The idea was to give relevance to modern education.

It is a known fact that the gestation period of education policy is long and requires consistent nurturing. But the education policies have been subjected to twists and turns with each election cycle. For example, the first democratically elected government – Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (DPT) launched the Educating for Gross National Happiness programme but barely five years into implementation, the People’s Democratic Party (PDP) introduced the Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024 as a reform strategy masterplan. The Blueprint is suffering a similar fate now under the Druk Nyamrup Tshogpa (DNT) government.

As Bhutan prepares to graduate from the Least Developed Country (LDC) status, demands for the knowledge, skills, and attitude of the country are changing.  The Royal Kasho cautions: “unlike the past century, this one (new era) is qualitatively and quantitatively different.”

Furthermore, the surge of Covid 19 pandemic has caught the system unawares, compelling us to make a dramatic shift from the conventional classroom to the virtual modes of learning. The cost of such a leap, fuelled by infrastructural, logistical, technical, and pedagogical limitations, are intimidating. There is a need to develop a shock-resistant education ecosystem.  As a tiny country sandwiched between giant neighbours and faced with an ever-increasing surge of globalisation ‘knowledge, attitude and innovation’ is not only inevitable but an indispensable one.

The launch of the first Five-Year Plan in 1961 heralded a planned socioeconomic development in the country. His Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck accorded the highest priority to education sector as the engine of growth to meet the country’s goal of a self-reliant, economically prosperous, environmentally sustainable, culturally vibrant, and politically sound nation. With a modest start through conscription to get children to school, His Majesty’s efforts produced a generation of pioneering nation builders in various trades. The reign of the Fourth Druk Gyalpo was quintessentially marked by an exponential growth and diversification of education landscapes to meet the skills requirement of the country.

The Royal Kasho, while acknowledging the development of national human resources in diverse fields and reducing dependence on foreign experts, calls for a quantum transformation to prepare for the country to forge into the 21st century.

It is undeniable that Buddhism plays an integral role in the Bhutanese context from historical, cultural, and educational angles. Hence, the foundation of Bhutan’s education system is laid on the Buddhist precepts and of right view, right intention, right speech, right action, right livelihood, right effort, right concentration, and right mindfulness. In this respect, His Majesty the Fourth Druk Gyalpo envisioned that education in Bhutan is should not focus only on sharpening one’s knowledge and skills but, more importantly, would be a tool to impart and inspire the development of good human character.

The landscape of Bhutan’s education system has been continuously and consistently adapting to fulfil the needs of the emerging times. With a modest beginning to basically impart the literacy and numeracy skills to manage clerical and developmental tasks for the country’s socioeconomic development, the need for the nation is now driven by emergent economic realities, socio-cultural assimilations, and global conditions. A globalized economy demands education systems to explore new ways to cultivate dispositions such as creativity, innovativeness, and adaptability. Therefore, the form and content of educational change are invariably driven by the local needs to suit the globally driven outcomes.

In this context, Bhutan’s education system must aim to citizens with the right skills to go global. The Royal Kasho calls for a new vision of an education system that can “create enlightened citizenship that is as much local as it is trans-local.”

The Royal Kasho is His Majesty’s deep concern for Bhutan’s education system. It shows us the future.

Phuntsho Wangdi

P.hD Student of Public Policy

Chiang Mai University School of Public Policy