It’s a shame that the education ministry’s most successful programme, the non-formal education, is in dire need of attention.
Giving an opportunity for those, who missed out formal education, the programme came as a boon for the ones who could not read and write. Its popularity was evident from the numbers that enrolled. Since it started in 1992, about 160,000 have benefited, which UNESCO recognised with the Confucius prize for literacy.
The second chance to basic education would never make a learner ready for the job market. It was not the intention either. The programme was designed to provide functional and skilled-based literacy training to those who missed formal schooling.
If a learner could read the label on the bottle of oil they bought, read an advertisement in the local newspaper, or the signboard of an office, it was already a success. The programme has become more relevant in the new democratic system. A voter, who could read the pamphlet of a political party, or fill up a postal voter form correctly, will be more independent in making his or her choice, than one relying on an acquaintance or a relative.
There are many success stories of the programme changing lives of people, especially in rural Bhutan. While some have passed the Election Commission of Bhutan’s literacy test to participate in local government elections, mothers studying with their kindergarten children are a common story.
This is one programme thousands of unfortunate people will thank the government for. The programme shouldn’t be discontinued at any cost. If it needs attention, the government must prioritise it. The most common reason for the huge rate of dropouts is the distance. After a tiring day out in the field, a mother would hesitate to walk two kilometres to an NFE centre. If it is closer, she will attend.
We can safely assume that NFE centres can be built at a fairly cheaper cost. Perhaps, the budget of a Toyota Prado could take more centres closer to aspiring earners and pay the instructors. Not all investments have immediate returns. The NFE programme is one such.
A common feedback from learners is that English is not taught, or taught at the later stages of the programme. If there is going to be a review, the content should be first to come under the scanner. If learners are more interested in English, why not? After all, even after years of emphasis on Dzongkha, most correspondence is still in English. So is it with labels and expiry dates on food products, and short messages on the mobile phone.
There are many, who want to join the formal education system after attending NFE. It may be too late, but it would only be fair to give them a second chance. It will be sad to see such a helpful programme come to an end, if one day we decide that they should be closed because of high dropout rates.