Digital Education in Bhutan brings more inequalities

In the wake of the global pandemic, the education system in Bhutan has undergone a significant transformation, shifting from the traditional face-to-face teaching to digital education.

While this transition has provided opportunities for some students, it has also widened the existing inequalities, as digital education requires laptops, smart phones and data which is beyond the reach of the poor.

A recent study conducted in Bhutan titled “Research on Online Learning Amid Covid-19 Pandemic: Perspectives of Bhutanese Students” sheds light on the challenges associated with online teaching and learning. The study identifies several common problems faced by students in Bhutan during online learning.

The issue of affordability has come to the forefront, as the cost of gadgets and internet access with data cost can create a digital divide among students.

Expensive internet charges pose a significant hurdle for many families, particularly in remote areas where access to affordable and reliable internet is limited.

Additionally, inconsistent power supply in these remote places further compounds the difficulties faced by students. Moreover, the lack of parental support has been a prominent issue, as some parents may not be familiar with the digital learning process or have the means to assist their children effectively.

One of the students from Pelkhil School in Thimphu expressed his view on digital transformation in education, stating, “The availability of online resources and YouTube tutorials has truly transformed the way we learn. Concepts in practical subjects are now taught with more clarity through engaging videos, making learning more enjoyable and effective. The constraint comes with the expense of data charges as a burden to the parents.”

Amongst this concern, questions arise regarding the potential for class divisions to emerge within Bhutan’s education system. The affordability and quality of education are called into question, as students from higher-class backgrounds equipped with the best gadgets and fast Wi-Fi at home enjoy a distinct advantage over the less privileged students.

Bhutan Education Blueprint has also brought attention to the conflicts arising from the introduction of digital learning among pre-primary students, with parents expressing dissatisfaction with the new methodology, particularly for primary students.

One of the parents of a Pre-Primary student from Kuenselphodrang school in Thimphu said “We, as parents, are now responsible for teaching them at home and submitting their homework in a video to the teachers via Telegram. The expensive internet charges further accelerate the challenges, especially when trying to make ends meet with a decent source of income.”

“We have witnessed some significant positive aspects with the transformation of our education system from face-to-face to digital learning during these challenging times,” stated a teacher from a Desi High school in Thimphu. “One of the major advantages is the enhanced access to a wide range of educational resources, which allows us to diversify our teaching methods and engage children effectively through various digital tools and platforms. It has truly revolutionized the learning experience. However, we must acknowledge the constraints that come with this transition. The creation of a digital division within our schools is essential to support the implementation of digital learning. Additionally, the lack of personal interaction between students and teachers is a drawback that we must address. Furthermore, we cannot overlook the financial burden placed upon parents in ensuring access to digital devices and internet connectivity for their children’s education.”

The Ministry of Education and Skills Development has highlighted the far-reaching effects of the shift in the education digital transformation on the lives of parents, teachers, and students.

These challenges pose significant hurdles to achieving equal opportunities in education. The ministry aims to address these concerns and implement measures to ensure a balanced and inclusive digital learning environment for all stakeholders involved.

To address these issues, the ministry has introduced the Digital Learning Materials (DLMs) to support the National School Curriculum (NSC) and serve as guides for teachers to create interactive and engaging lessons. While these materials aim to enhance the learning experience, but they do not fully address the underlying disparities in access and resources.

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