KP Sharma

The government’s decision to recruit expatriate teachers from neighbouring countries to address the shortage of STEM teachers in the country has once again sparked both hope and criticism among Bhutanese teachers.

The expatriate teachers will be recruited on contract for a two-year period to improve STEM education and enhance academic performance of students in STEM subjects.

A primary concern raised by teachers is the inadequacy of school infrastructure and resources to support the expatriate teachers in delivering effective education.

Despite claims by the ministry about well-established science and IT laboratories, several schools, particularly in remote areas, face significant shortages.

“We have computers in the lab that are outdated with low storage and capacity,” said a teacher in Samtse, highlighting challenges in technology access.

A teacher in Zhemgang highlighted the hindrance posed by poor internet connectivity in delivering modern lessons.

Amidst these challenges, skepticism arises regarding the effectiveness of hiring expatriate teachers and their impact on Bhutan’s STEM education system.

While acknowledging the expertise of these teachers, they question whether their input can yield substantial improvements without addressing the existing infrastructure challenges.

Education minister, Yeezang De Thapa, acknowledged these concerns during one of the Meet-the-Press sessions and admitted that despite efforts to equip schools with IT resources, many still lack necessary facilities, especially in remote regions. 

Assuring immediate measures, she said a substantial budget was allocated in the 13th Plan to enhance ICT infrastructure and procure additional computers for the schools.

In response to these challenges, teachers suggest conducting a systematic assessment of expatriate teachers’ contributions to evaluate their impact effectively.

A principal in a Dagana stressed the importance of such evaluations for the future planning for the ministry.

Some teachers recommend improved support for national STEM teachers, stating that with enhanced facilities and infrastructure, Bhutanese teachers possess the capability to deliver STEM subjects effectively.

Teachers also suggested a different deployment system for expatriate teachers, unlike the current one, to make their services more beneficial and impactful to the Bhutanese education system.

“When deployed individually, expatriate teachers have minimal influence; group deployment could drive significant curriculum changes,” suggested a teacher in Thimphu, underlining the need for collaborative teaching approaches.

An official from the education ministry said that expatriate teachers were being hired on a contractual basis for flexibility in assessment and deployment, especially concerning remuneration and selection.

According to the official, expatriate teachers will receive competitive salaries equivalent to P3 level teachers. The funding will be split equally between the Bhutanese and Indian governments, with each covering 50 percent of the costs.

He defended criticisms regarding potential demotivation among domestic teachers caused by pay disparities and argued that offering higher salaries is crucial to attract highly qualified professionals.

The current salary structure for P3 level teachers ranges from Nu 47,500 to Nu 61,715 and these teachers are expected to receive additional contract allowances based on the terms of their recruitment.

This, however, contrasts sharply with the previous government’s approach that paid Nu 140,000 per expatriate teacher, much higher than the current rates.

Bhutanese teachers argue that while hiring expatriate teachers offers a promising solution to the country’s STEM teacher shortage, addressing infrastructural barriers is crucial to ensuring their effective contribution to the education system.