His Majesty The King yesterday symbolically handed over to the people of Bhutan two kashos (Royal edict) on the reforms decreed for the education and civil service on December 17.
The Kasho on the civil service decrees that a Civil Service Reform Council be established to recommend the government the directions for fundamentally restructuring the civil service so that it has a renewed vision for the 21st century.
The kasho on education reforms decrees that a time-bound Council for Education Reform be established to prepare a visionary and workable roadmap for the 21st century.
Royal Kasho on Civil Service Reform
Thuchen Choeki Gyalpo Ngawang Namgyal laid the foundation of Bhutan’s public service in Punakha Dzong nearly four centuries ago. Since then it has played a critical role in providing administration, dispensing justice, conducting foreign relations, and defending our sovereignty. It has provided continuity in governance and stability when our country faced severe challenges both externally and internally.
In the twentieth century, our country underwent profound changes in its socio-economic and political structure with the launch of modernisation programmes. In order to respond to the new challenges, His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck initiated far-reaching reforms to streamline and modernise the public service, building upon the modest but important initiatives of our First and Second Kings. Thereafter, the structure, functions, and capacity of the public service had to be continually reformed and strengthened to make it more efficient in the delivery of goods and services and fulfil the aspirations of our people.
His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck established the Department of Manpower in 1973 and transformed it into the Royal Civil Service Commission in 1981. In the subsequent four decades, the civil service grew in organisational sophistication, manpower, and outreach along with the expansion in the magnitude and scope of our national development plans and budget.
After the introduction of parliamentary democracy in 2008, it had to support the implementation of policies of consecutive governments. It also had to ensure continuity of governance during election cycles. This was especially important to sustain and strengthen the confidence of our people in the new democratic processes and institutions.
Supported by their numerical strength of over 31,000 people, repertoire of knowledge, skills, experience, and exposure, civil servants have served our country with loyalty and dedication in fostering balanced socio-economic development and the pursuit of our national vision of Gross National Happiness. They have contributed immensely to the success of our democracy and in nation-building, becoming an admired corp of well-educated, highly trained, and committed officials in the process.
Even as we celebrate their successes and achievements, we have to prepare for our future.
Our people are becoming more educated and skilled, more sophisticated in taste and talent, and indeed more aspirational for greater opportunities and life-chances.
Our future will become invariably inter-woven with regional and global developments as well as the fusion of ideas, innovations, and technologies, which are taking place at a very fast pace. Both the site and space of the future is becoming globalised. Our people’s sense of identity and belonging to national community will therefore, matter even more to enable them to navigate through the complexity and sophistication of the future.
As one of the most important institutions of our state, there is an urgent need for the civil service to re-examine itself so that it is able to shoulder the responsibilities bestowed by the Constitution, live up to the trust and confidence reposed by the Throne, and meet the hopes and aspirations placed by our government and people. To promote good governance and social justice, civil servants must be professional, uphold the highest standards of ethics and integrity, and exhibit qualities of adroitness and compassion.
We need to acknowledge the genuine efforts made at reforms so far. Organisational Development, Leadership Development, Managing for Excellence, Civil Servants’ Well-being, as well as periodic incentives and recognition have attempted to improve the competencies and performances of civil servants. Nevertheless, the core impediments against the development of a more professional and efficient bureaucracy remain entrenched in the system. So we must also have the audacity to equally acknowledge them in preparing for the future.
We are yet to leverage the large size of the civil service and translate it proportionally to performance and prevent it from becoming an impediment to our national development and progress. We have to take on board legitimate concerns over the sense of complacency and indifference generated by guarantee of job security. Protected employment has assumed that competencies and skills, job descriptions, and projects remain valid till superannuation. Seniority has been conflated with authority and competence. Institutions of check and balance have had the reverse effect of stifling initiative and courage in decision-making even as corruption is at risk of being institutionalised as a norm, and accountability has been minimal. Agencies pursue isolated sectoral objectives while administrative processes burden efficient service delivery. Communication and co-ordination has been further sidelined in the quest for autonomy by different agencies. Divisions and units proliferate to justify creation of more departments. Consequently, 35% of services are delivered by one government agency to another rather than to the people. Growth of institutions and increases in the number of civil servants tend to happen without coherence and direction.
As a result, we could not capitalise on the strength and opportunities provided by our small demographic and geographic sizes. In the process, we are losing valuable time and opportunity. This will prove costly for our small, land-locked country and aggravate our vulnerabilities to the daunting challenges of geographic and geo-strategic realities.
But we can still turn the tide around and achieve success beyond our dreams by taking advantage of the favourable circumstances arising from the uniqueness of our country’s history, geography, culture, tradition, and indeed our people. We have the energy, wisdom, and blessing of our founders and guardian deities. Moreover, we are at the doorstep of two of the world’s largest economies. We must take advantage of the opportunities they provide to build a strong, sustainable, equitable, and dynamic economy. The twenty-first century economy will be driven by artificial intelligence, robotics, automation, big data, and blockchain, while digital currency, digital wallet, digital banking, and quantum computing will define the financial landscape. We must pre-empt these profound developments by restructuring the budget process, financial norms and procurement systems to fast-track our transition to a knowledge-based and tech-driven economy.
If we succeed in this, we will have built the unshakeable foundations of a vibrant democracy, created the material conditions for realising GNH, and further strengthened our peace and security. If we are passive, slow, and daunted by the speed and complexity of innovation and change, we will not only fall behind others but our economy also risks being terminally dependent on foreign aid and loans. Instead, we must aspire to become self-reliant and a fully developed country within our lifetime. We must compete as equals with other nations and persevere to excel. For that we need highly capable and competent people, who are our most important assets.
So we must embark on a journey now in keeping with the tradition of timely reform, to fundamentally reorganise and restrategise the civil service for the future, with a fearless resolve of the nature that Thuchen Choeki Gyalpo Ngawang Namgyal demonstrated in building our nation.
He said, “My resolve is such that until the task is accomplished, I will persevere even if lightning should strike from above, the space in-between collapse, or the earth below move.”
We must be deeply conscious and cognisant of the fact that our goal of accomplishing the task at hand to fundamentally reorganise the civil service also reinforces the relentless pursuit of our overarching national goal of ensuring the survival of our sovereign statehood. For it is indeed my most sacred mandate as The Druk Gyalpo to safeguard the glorious land of Palden Drukpa.
Therefore, I hereby issue this Kasho on the auspicious occasion of the 113th National Day in Punakha Dzong on 17th December 2020, corresponding to the Third Day of the Eleventh Month of the Male Iron Rat Year, in exercise of powers bestowed upon me by the Constitution to establish a Civil Service Reform Council. I entrust it with the profound responsibility of recommending to the Royal Government the directions for fundamentally restructuring the civil service so that it has a renewed vision for the twenty-first century.
In order to realise the vision, the civil service has to be grounded as a robust organisation that is apolitical, meritorious, innovative, resilient, and driven by a culture of research and state-of-the-art technology, enabling legislations and indeed the highest ethical standards of its leaders and personnel. Only then will we be able to unleash our full potential and serve our people even better. It is my strong belief that a compact, efficient, and strong civil service remains the key to our nation’s present and future wellbeing, security, and sovereignty. If we are able to do this, it will be one of our finest achievements and legacy.
The Druk Gyalpo
Royal Kasho on Education Reform
Standing on the cusp of the twentieth century, Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck saw the importance of modern education in preparing Bhutan for what lay ahead. Despite the daunting challenges of his time, he established schools in Bhutan and sent Bhutanese children to study in India. Realising the importance of advanced monastic education, he also sent senior monk-scholars to train in Tibet. His Majesty King Jigme Wangchuck built upon the early foundations of modern education and pursued the footsteps and vision of his father. However, mass public education was started only after 1955 by His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. By 1959, there were 440 students studying in about 11 primary schools. This increased to 102 schools and over 9,000 students by 1971. The development of education continued to receive privileged consideration during the visionary leadership of His Majesty King Jigme Singye Wangchuck. Today, we have 704 schools, 24 tertiary institutes and a total of 1,85,757 students with nearly 11,000 teachers.
Bhutan’s education program, both modern and monastic, has been a success story. Our general literacy rate today stands at 71.4% and youth literacy rate at over 93%. Mass education and literacy resulted in the creation of a corp of administrative and technical personnel which was required for development while reducing our dependence on foreign experts. We have come a long way in developing our national human resource in diverse fields.
More than a hundred years later, we find ourselves on the cusp of a new century again and in need of a new vision to prepare for what lies ahead. Unlike the past century, this one is qualitatively and quantitatively different. It is defined by the accelerated rate of change in all aspects of our lives because of rapid technological advancements and globalisation. The future will be more wired and digital, driven by sophisticated technologies in towns and villages alike, as well as in homes and in workplaces.
Since the introduction of parliamentary democracy, our time and energy have largely been committed to the establishment of democratic institutions and ensuring their success. This remains a national priority. However, we need to bring into focus other equally compelling national priorities. Education is an indispensable one.
The Ministry of Education has made commendable efforts to initiate reforms in our education system. It is now time to give renewed life to these efforts by reorienting our school structures for the need and challenges of a different social context. We must revisit our curriculum, pedagogy, learning process, and assessments to either transform or rewrite them in view of the challenges and opportunities of the twenty-first century. Otherwise, continued focus on textbooks and content without integrating technology and social learning risks perpetuating passive modes of learning. Then, whatever education our children acquire today will become irrelevant and obsolete when they graduate. Their competitiveness in an increasingly progressive and fast-changing world will be compromised and the nation will suffer by paying a heavy price.
Therefore, our generation has the sacred responsibility of radically rethinking our education system and transforming curriculum, infrastructure, classroom spaces, and examination structures. Educationists and experts have identified what twenty-first century competencies mean for children everywhere. By developing their abilities for critical thinking, creative thinking, and learning to be life-long learners, we have to prepare them to be inquisitive, to be problem-solvers, to be interactive and collaborative, using information and media literacy as well as technological skills. We must prioritise self-discovery and exploration, and involve learners in the creation of knowledge rather than making them mere consumers of it. We must make STEM subjects part of their everyday language.
In preparing our youth for the future, we must take advantage of available technologies, adapt global best practices, and engineer a teaching-learning environment suited to our needs. Technology is the argument of our time and a major indicator of social progress. The irony in our context is the absence of technology in classrooms for a generation of students who are exposed to, and live in the digital age. To ensure that teachers are not disconnected from their students, professional development of teachers should integrate technology, digitalisation, artificial intelligence, and automation.
The process of reforming our education system must aim for standards and goals which are of the highest possible order. We cannot compare present progress with our past and celebrate it as a measure of success. We cannot compare with our neighbours and draw satisfaction from having caught up with them. Instead, we must aspire to be ahead of them and become the standard-bearers. Such an aspiration is not an expression of misplaced idealism. Rather, it is founded on the strength of conviction that our survival as a sovereign state will depend on the physical, emotional, psychological, intellectual, and moral make of our children and indeed their competencies.
These are not neutral qualities and cannot be dissociated from the identity of our children as Bhutanese. As we prepare to educate and equip them with competencies for the twenty-first century, we must equally prioritise their holistic development so that they become caring, dependable, and honest human beings as well as patriotic citizens. We need to embed in them the conviction and sense of pride as a Bhutanese by grounding them in our country’s history, culture, tradition, and value system. In their thoughts, attitudes, and actions, they must live the very ideals and values which define us as a unique nation and people, who have overcome all odds stacked against our survival.
The new vision for our education system must encompass the drive to create enlightened citizenship that is as much local as it is trans-local. This can only strengthen the quality of our democracy and secure our sovereignty. Each of our children must embody the fine blend and balance of our native grit and intellect with acquired knowledge and skills to survive and prosper as individuals and as members of our national community.
In achieving such a vision, it is not enough to merely transform our education system and impart twenty-first century competencies. We must simultaneously endeavour to create relevant jobs and economic opportunities. Otherwise, we risk reproducing in future the very scenario of today, where our education system has resulted in thousands of unemployed youth. Without the concomitant creation of a knowledge based economy, our hard work and effort will prove futile and frustrate expectations and optimism. Therefore, it is imperative that our children not only acquire a world-class education but also thereafter find gainful employment, that provide meaning and satisfaction and meet their aspirations for better livelihoods.
In order to initiate a transformative reconceptualisation of our education system, I hereby grant this Kasho on the auspicious occasion of the 113th National Day in Punakha Dzong on 17th December 2020, corresponding to the Third Day of the Eleventh Month of the Male Iron Rat Year, in exercise of the powers bestowed upon me by the Constitution. It expresses my deepest conviction about the irreplaceable role of education in the process of nation-building. I trust that a time-bound Council for Education Reform will prepare a visionary and workable roadmap for the twenty-first century to support the Royal Government of Bhutan in this august endeavour.
The Druk Gyalpo