During the last half century, Bhutan has made immense strides in educating its population, especially as a skilled and educated workforce, the key resource to a vibrant and competitive economy.
As stated on the ‘Factsheet on Education for the Future,’ although there is a growing demand for skilled or specialized labour requirement, however, a great disparity exists between what the education system produces, and what is currently in demand.
Of Bhutan’s total workforce, 18% have no formal education, 22% have completed primary, 40% secondary, 15% have completed university, but only 5% have completed vocational or technical training of any kind.
The government is also looking to develop Bhutan as a regional and international destination for education, particularly aimed towards the Indian market. There is also a potential for Bhutan host environmental and ecological and Buddhist learning study centers.
During a panel discussion on education held at the Better Business Submit on March 27, the Vice Chancellor of Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), Pema Thinley, said education can be a big industry in Bhutan. He said Bhutan has introduced GNH education in schools and in the university. He said such human and GNH values taught in the schools can attract foreign students.
“Education is still a big opportunity, but I don’t think any recognized institutions will come by themselves before you put few million dollars on the table, but I believe that Bhutan has to offer a little extra, in addition to whatever degree offered by the university,” he said.
An official from labour ministry said there is a low perception on vocational education. Youth do not want to enroll in vocational institutes, as do their parents who think their children must hold government posts that are secure and well paid.
“If we want to support economic growth, I think we need more number of vocational trained graduates of course we need from tertiary education system but more number of vocational graduates are required,” the official said.
A representative from Athang, Karma Dhendup said even employers face challenges when recruiting employees that are fresh out of schools and colleges and without much skill.
He said the education system must equip students with the right skills to enhance their scope and ability to find jobs.
According to UNESCO, the literacy rate stood at 63% in 2012: 72% for male and 55% for females. While this is lower than the world average, Bhutan is in-line with other SAARC member nations.
However, the big problem facing the education sector in Bhutan is the disparity between the curriculum, and the skills and knowledge that are actually in demand.
‘Factsheet on Education for the Future’ states there is a need for more specialized skills demanded by the changing job market. Although there is a high demand for labour in the construction and other industries, the upcoming jobseekers do not have the right skills or the inclination towards such skilled jobs.
As a result, Bhutan has to import much of its labour in the most skilled and highly specialized job areas. In 2010, it was estimated that as much as one-fifth of Bhutan’s total employment was held by foreign workers. According to MOLHR, there were nearly 55,000 foreign workers with work permits in 2012, and another 20,000 day labourers employed in Bhutan’s border towns in the south. This combined figure of 75,000 foreign workers causing an estimated outflow of Nu 7bn or 115mn USD per year.
“Factsheet on Education for the Future’ also states the fact that there are many foreign workers in Bhutan illustrates that there are jobs available. And yet, unemployment sits at 3.1%, with 5.8% in urban areas and 2.1 % in rural. Eighty percent of the unemployed are youth (between the age of 15 and 25), which is high even given that 56% of Bhutan’s entire population is below the age of 25. The problem of unemployment in Bhutan is not a question of job availability, but rather on of whether the current education system can adequately supply the skills and specialization needed for a modern and competitive economy, stated the Factsheet.
Most of the education systems in Bhutan are publicly funded. In the 2012-13 academic years, the education sector in Bhutan consumed a budget of Nu.6, 800Mn, nearly 6% of the GDP. While this is high compared to India (3.2%), Bangladesh (2.2%), Nepal (4.7%), and the world average (4.9%), it does reflect Bhutan’s lack of scale and challenges of topography, stated the Factsheet.
The table shows the annual cost per student enrolled by level. While vocational training appears much more expensive than all other forms of education, it must be noted that the duration of the training is normally far less than other forms of education, while the employability of the trainees can be much higher than classroom education. Therefore, when evaluating the cost benefit of vocational training, it is important to incorporate the employability of graduates.