When the sherig sector reformed

Yearender/Education: From the closure of the Education city project just as the Horse trotted in to the controversies on the leaked English II paper until the Sheep started bleating, the Sherig sector saw some of its highest highs and lowest lows in the year that passed by.

Loaded with the highest share of the budget, the 100-year old sector galloped into a frenzy to reform the education sector. The school-feeding program received attention, 19 schools were granted autonomy and 24 schools were chosen to become central schools. It picked pace and began a nationwide consultation with some 20,000 people to draft an education blue print began.

To ensure that all children in schools were fed nutritious meals, the government decided to shoulder the cost of transporting boarding schools’ rations. Food Corporation of Bhutan started procuring nine non-perishable food items.

By the time the blueprint was launched, the centralised procurement had already come under flak. A review found the quality of food had not improved and that food wastage was high. Schools still reported nutrition deficiency among students and all of them across the country were provided vitamin B1 supplements—-.

Perhaps it came a bit late but the long over due Teacher Human Resource policy was released. The policy, which was expected to attract and retain the best in teaching, to make teaching profession a career of choice, and to enhance the moral of teachers came in just as the sector was seeing its teachers leave in droves. Although teacher shortage still plagued the sector, the year saw its first batch of BEd graduates going unemployed. While one teacher was leaving the profession almost everyday, one student a month committed suicide.

The blueprint identified initiatives that would be rolled out in the next 10 years, to improve student learning outcomes and overall development. Improving competencies of teachers, school leadership and teachers’ language proficiency in both English and Dzongkha were among the consultation’s main findings.

While the impacts of these policies are not seen yet, the year saw apprehensions being raised when the government’s efforts to centralise schools were (mis) understood as a move to close extended classrooms.

Parents in Bumthang and members of the opposition grunted on the rational of this policy but the government stood firm. The central schools, to be piloted in 24 schools, were to address the issue of informal boarding. Period.

However, for want of one student, nine students of a remote village in Mongar had no school to go to when the academic session began a few days ago. And just as the central schools started operating, providing everything the students needed for free, the private schools started charging higher fees.

But more than anything, the year of the horse would be remembered for the 11 students who committed suicide and the leak of English II question paper for class XII board examination. Instead of finding and holding those accountable for the leak, the council declares the results and concludes the leak to be “largely a rumour.”

Talks of a visually impaired “official” sharing the extra question paper to a girl student in Paro may have also just been a rumour. Amid this web of rumours, a fact arose  – that the examination council doesn’t have the might and strength of a horse, to handle such cases. Or is this again another rumour?

While the difficulty in understanding English II language may be another rumour on why the paper was leaked, the blueprint had highlighted the need to improve the teachers’ and students’ language proficiency in both English and Dzongkha.

The reading year was expected to hone these skills but even before the pages were turned, Bhutanese had started learning Chokye from a Japanese; the Prime Minister had picked up Hindi and children had started conversing in Hindi taking after cartoon programs.

UNESCO’s special rapporteur on the right to education, Kishore Singh also highlighted this concern to be addressed seriously and quickly in his report after his visit to the country in June 2014. “I was concerned to receive reports during my visit that some students were unable to write well in Dzongkha, and that other languages were not even offered as second language courses in any curriculum,” he observed. “In some cases, particularly with grade 10 school leavers, students were reportedly not fully proficient in either national language.”

But while the horse may have raced against time in putting in place various policies to start the journey of reform, the sheep year should still be a year of hope for the sherig sector because in the words of the Prime Minister, “That’s how serious we are about our children.”

But, how the teachers and students would convey their hardik danyabad for the reforms is yet to be seen.

By Sonam Pelden

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