The quality of Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) and its impact on the socio-economic development of the country has lately been a subject of discussion in various forums. There has been an increased concern, primarily because the TVET system is believed to be failing. It is felt that there are lesser jobs for TVET graduates, that less focus is given to TVET, only students who do not qualify for higher secondary schools are sent to TVET institutes, and that the quality of TVET graduates are poor. Most people in Bhutan perceive TVET institutes as training venues where only financially and socially disadvantaged people send their children to study, so much so that people have started referring to TVET institutions as poor man’s college.
Brief history of TVET in Bhutan
As per UNESCO and the International Labor Organization, TVET refers to “aspects of the educational process involving, in addition to general education, the study of technologies and related sciences, and the acquisition of practical skills, attitudes, understanding and knowledge relating to occupants in various sectors of economic and social life”.
TVET refers to all forms of learning relevant to the world of work. Learning includes knowledge, skills and mindsets that are valuable for the learners as well as the job-market. The learning may take place in various contexts, including educational institutions and work places. TVET is intended to empower learners with practical skills and knowledge to enhance the employability prospects of these learners. TVET programmes offered in the country should largely focus on the development trend of the country.
The first technical institute in the country, Don Bosco Technical School was established at Rinchending (Kharbandi) in Phuentsholing under Chukha Dzongkhag on 1st May 1965, which was later renamed as Kharbandi Technical School and finally as the Royal Technical Institute. An additional milestone in the area of technical education was achieved with the establishment of another institute, Royal Bhutan Polytechnic in Dewathang, Samdrup Jongkhar in 1972 and the institute formally started offering certificate and diploma programmes from 1974. Today this institute is known as Jigme Namgyel Engineering College.
The erstwhile Royal Technical Institute got dispersed into several Vocational Training Institutes (VTI) and are now located in various parts of the country offering TVET courses in various disciplines.
Current issues and possible solutions
Most of the graduates of the erstwhile Royal Technical Institute Kharbandi are still serving in various parts of the country in different capacities, including as successful entrepreneurs. The quality of these graduates is never discussed in a manner that is being discussed for the recent TVET graduates. The difference between the TVET graduates of yesteryears and now is perhaps the change and implementation strategy of the new curriculum including duration of the courses, quality of instructors, facilities and growth in the number of technical and engineering graduates in the country.
In general, the TVET institution and graduates are perceived in a more negative manner worldwide, and Bhutan is not an exception. The size of the country, the number of industries/relevant stakeholders in the country can both be an advantage and disadvantage for the TVET sector.
As there are fewer number of industries in the country, this would enable us to work towards specializing TVET courses to fit with the market demand. As perceived, the construction industry at the moment dominates all others when it comes to TVET relatedness. However, this should not mislead us into believing that we cannot train and export our TVET graduates to third countries to meet the skills-gap in those countries.
My own assessment of the current issue in the TVET sector is that we have been entrapped into this vicious cycle of Poor Product (quality of TVET graduates) versus Poor Demand as depicted in the figure(above).
While demand from the stakeholders would largely depend on the overall economic development scenario of the country, it may be worthwhile to look into possible reasons for the poor quality of TVET graduates. The following could contribute towards poor quality of TVET graduates:
• Poor quality of students
• Poor quality of Instructors
• Poorly developed curriculum
• Inadequate facilities
• Poor demand in the job market
The Special Committee for TVET of the National Council has made the following conclusions for obstruction in the development of the TVET sector:
• Lack of TVET policy stewardship,
• Inadequate attention on developing professional TVET services,
• Partial implementation of Bhutan Vocational Qualifications Framework (BVQF),
• Weak TVET – industry linkages, and
• Lack of adequate financial and human resources.
The Special Committee also highlighted that the youths in general do not prefer employment in the TVET sector and lack self-confidence. It is mentioned that the TVET graduates are demotivated as they face difficulty in upgrading their qualification and career progression.
Issues ranging from the quality of the training to the general awareness of TVET in the country are being discussed, however, discussion alone will not provide solutions. Discussions, first of all will have to be carried out by major key-players and those who are well acquainted with the TVET system. Discussions without an in-depth knowledge of TVET would not lead to long term meaningful solutions. One of the major issues is that TVET institutions in Bhutan are perceived as ‘poor man’s college’, which is utterly baseless.
TVET courses are skill-intensive and therefore, hands-on training is a must, but how about the quality of instructors? In an educational set-up, the quality of students depend on the quality of teachers (instructors). Therefore, utmost care must be taken in recruiting the ‘right’ individuals as ‘Instructors’ and the credibility of the institution from where they obtained their formal qualification is also an important factor. In addition, TVET Instructors must be provided with formal training and specialization in their field of expertise after they are recruited in the TVET institutes. Instructors with industrial experiences would be an enormous advantage for the TVET institutes. One area of focus could be the linkage between TVET institutes and the industries. It will be very helpful if professionals from the field could be assigned to teach a course or two in the TVET institutes and if TVET instructors could be attached with industries as interns for certain duration.
It would also encourage and motivate students enrolled in TVET institutes if they are given access to higher level studies based on certain institute-framed criteria and this would in turn facilitate career progression as well.
TVET issue is complex and multi-dimensional and therefore it requires appropriate solution(s). We cannot afford to be complacent and look for single dimension solution to solve multi-dimensional problem. All key players; the government, the TVET institutes and the industry must come together to revamp the quality of TVET in Bhutan. TVET is seen as less scholarly and more manual intensive work, but the truth is that the quality of TVET determines the overall quality of engineering and technological standard of a nation.
Andu Dukpa, PhD
Dewathang, Samdrup Jongkhar
The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views nor represent the official policy or position of any organization.