Non-formal education (NFE), one of the most successful programmes that Bhutan launched to provide quality literacy and numeracy education to those who did not receive or complete formal education, is experiencing a worryingly high drop-out rate today.
Going by the informal reports, the number of NFE centres in the dzongkhags is decreasing by the year and an increasing number of NFE instructors are now resigning. It would have been a heartliftingly different story had the programme successfully provided all our people in the rural areas who missed the opportunity to go to school in their time the basic literacy and numeracy skills. But then, even as we speak, Bhutan’s general literacy rate stands at just 63 percent.
Why are the NFE centres seeing increasing drop in enrolment rate is, therefore, a serious question. There could be numerous factors paying their part. What the education ministry should do is find out the causes and come up with practical and sustainable solutions as urgently as possible because NFE programme is vitally important in meeting Bhutan’s objective of lifelong learning and promoting Dzongkha, our national language.
Chief among the reasons why the number of NFE learners is decreasing countrywide could be that movement of people from rural pockets of the country to the urban centres have been steadily growing. Also, having to travel long distance to reach the centre is cumbersome for many leaners. As farmers, it is also difficult for the leaners to attend the programme.
Government has established NFE centres in remote areas so that it is easier for the leaners to attend the programme. But conditions such as requirement of at least 10 learners for an NFE centre to be up and running flies right in the face of the government’s initiative to reach out to those in the remoter parts of the country.
There is a need to carry out an earnest study urgently so that we know where the problems lie. It may be time we brought NFE centres to the towns where people migrate the most. If leaners cannot come to the programme, let us take the programme to them. Otherwise, it would be a difficult challenge for us to achieve adult literacy rate of near 100 percent by the end of this decade.