Curricula of the country’s education system need a major overhaul if findings of the recently released Bhutan PISA-D national report are any to go by.

The report calls for strengthening and enhancing competency based activities and assessment in curriculum and recommends teacher-training colleges to incorporate competency-based teaching and learning modules in pre-service training programme.

Schools, Royal Education Council (REC) and Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA) should prioritise on the depth instead of the breadth of learning to avoid superficial learning and incomplete understanding of core concept.



Major findings indicate that students performed slightly well in reading and scientific literacy compared to mathematical literacy. It found that poor reading literacy affected students’ performance in science and mathematics because they are unable to understand the language.

Educationists say that students were found read the content without understanding the meaning of the text. One of the main reasons for this was the poor reading habit among students.

According to the report, girls outdid boys in reading literacy while boys performed better than girls in mathematical literacy. Both boys and girls performed almost at par in scientific literacy.

Subject coordinator for IT with BCSEA, Karma Jigme Lepcha said that although students performed at par with the top eight PISA-D countries, they performed significantly below OECD average and among the best education systems in Asia.

In reading literacy, Bhutan scored 45.34 percent, after top performing PISA-D countries like Ecuador (52.66%) and Paraguay (47.03%). In the mathematical and scientific literacy, Bhutan was second with 38.84 percent and 45.10 percent after Ecuador.

“However, unlike other PISA-D countries, the sample for Bhutan was not designed to provide representative results for the country,” he said. “But it does provide a reliable assessment of the strengths and weaknesses among students in Bhutan in the three domains tested.”

The sample of schools was selected by the OECD based on a complete list of schools with eligible students in the country submitted by national authorities. School administrators in the selected schools submitted the lists of students.

Karma Jigme Lepcha said the findings have implications on the students’ performance in the three domains.

In the reading literacy, the report among others, recommends that schools to institute reading culture, parents should motivate children at home by reading books, discussing political and, social issues to improve their critical thinking.

In mathematical literacy, he said, it recommends mathematics teachers to use diverse teaching strategies; focus on student-centered teaching than teacher-centered teaching, expose students to a wide range of problems and contexts apart from teaching fundamental elements of the mathematics curriculum.

In the scientific literacy, it was recommended science teachers to emphasise more on deep conceptual and epistemic knowledge of science curricula, make teaching more effective by having a mix of inquiry-based and teacher-directed instructions and ensure adequate laboratory materials with well-structured laboratory. Schools should, and offer science competitions, clubs and other extracurricular activities to provide hands-on activities.

Education ministry’s director general Karma Tshering said that the objective of PISA-D is to set a benchmark of the knowledge, skills, and competencies of students in Bhutan and provide evidence for educational reforms. He said the Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-2024 also recommends participation in an international assessment.

“Bhutan encountered several challenges due to late registration for PISA-D,” he said. “Bhutan could not administer the field trail test, which other PISA-D countries administered in 2016.”

However, he said that Bhutan was able to successfully complete the project on time and fulfilled the objective in finding out its education standard in comparison to the other PISA-D countries.

Bhutan, he said, participated in PISA-D to gain experience to help prepare for participation in the PISA 2021 cycle, as this would make policy makers understand the performance of students.

“However, we would not be able to participate in the PISA 2021 because of budget constraints and would aim to participate in the 2024,” he said. “PISA result would be an evidence for policy makers to improve the education system in Bhutan.”

The report also recommended schools to emphasise on teacher appraisal mechanism on improving teachers’ instructional and classroom management practices while calling on parents and teachers to break the gender stereotypes about science, mathematics and reading related activities.

Director of OECD, Andreas Schleicier said that although students did well in subject matters, they faced difficulties when asked to extrapolate.

“PISA is not a ranking but a platform for an education system to learn from,” he said. “The world no longer rewards us just for what we know. It only rewards us for what we can do with what we know.”

What is PISA-D? 

Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) developed by Organisation for Economic Corporation and Development assess 15-year olds’ proficiency in reading, mathematics and science. It measures students’ skills in applying what they have learned in school to real life situations.

PISA-D is built on the PISA Assessment Framework with additional features that are specifically targeted to reflect the situation of 15-year-olds in middle- and low-income countries.

PISA-D is a two-hour test that students complete with pencil and paper. The test includes a combination of questions from literacy, mathematics and science.

In Bhutan, the test was held between November 1 and 15, 2017 where 2,457 students aged 15 years in grades VII and above took the test. Students were randomly selected from 53 schools across the country.

These tests were not directly linked to Bhutan’s school curricula.

Yangchen C Rinzin