But education minister says sustained individual initiative would be required to improve English proficiency 

Education: The education ministry will provide a five-day training for teachers across the country in an effort to improve their English skills, it was decided at the 18th National Education Conference, which ended in Phuentsholing yesterday.

The training will begin this year but only if the ministry can mobilise Nu 95.5 million, which will go into training all teachers expect those teaching Dzongkha.

This proposal comes following mounting concerns that Bhutanese teachers are not proficient enough in the English language. The teacher professional support division (TPSD) in its presentation during the conference cited a number of studies, which highlighted the need to have teachers proficient in the English language to provide a quality education.

TPSD chief programme officer Tashi Lhamo said that the national education assessment in 2013-2014 revealed that the mean mark obtained by students in English was 34.6, which is categorised as level 3.

“Mark LaPrairie’s study in 2014 explained that teachers’ low English proficiency has a negative impact on students’ English proficiency,” Tashi Lhamo said.

Even a study by the Royal Education Council (REC) found that Bhutanese students are passing the higher secondary level without the desired English language proficiency. While the general perception has been that children are performing better in English than Dzongkha, the study found otherwise. The study pointed out that children were in fact performing better in Dzongkha.

“While our children were performing at level four and five in Dzongkha, their performance in English was found at level three,” REC training developer Karma Tenzin said.

Based on the outcome of these studies, TPSD proposed to provide the teachers with professional international standards training to improve their English language proficiency.

Education minister Norbu Wangchuk said such findings are worrying. The minister pointed out that it is a concern that despite English being the medium of instruction in the schools, students are graduating without the desired proficiency in the English language.

Initially, the ministry planned to conduct tests to determine the English proficiency of teachers but the idea was dropped after objections were raised. “Teachers were concerned of students looking down on them following the results of such tests,” a participant at the conference said. The idea was revoked in the larger interest of maintaining the respect and credibility of the teachers, the official added.

The ministry then decided to opt for the training first. “But tests will be conducted most probably after the training to ascertain whether our teachers actually have the required proficiency in the English language,” Tashi Lhamo said.

However, Department of Adult and Higher Education director Kesang Deki said that even dzongkhag education officers and principals must initiate activities at their own levels to improve English proficiency among the teachers, rather than wait for professional development. “If we don’t make a constant effort at an individual level, even after professional development programmes, we will again be faced with the same problem later,” Kesang Deki said.

Kesang Deki added that while reading programmes were initiated to inculcate a reading culture among Bhutanese in general, she was surprised that many took it as a ceremonial event. “If you all could push the reading programme, it will go a long way in improving English proficiency among teachers,” Kesang Deki said.

Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk also said that if teachers are serious about improving their English, a five-day professional development programme will not be enough. “Improving their English proficiency would take rigorous self-study and hard work at an individual level following the structured training,” Lyonpo said.

Tenzin Higher Secondary School principal Chogyal Tenzin said that while professional development programmes are welcome, it will only be a short term solution. “If the intention is to get teachers with excellent proficiency in English, then the criteria for recruitment in the colleges of education must be reviewed,” he said.

Otherwise, investing in professional development programmes to improve teachers who are only fairly good in the English language can be a recurrent and costly affair, he added.

Relevant professional development training will also provided to Dzongkha teachers to improve and hone their skills in the national language.

Tempa Wangdi