Education in Bhutan-achievements and challenges – Part 1 of 2

Achievements

It is five scores and four years since the introduction of modern education in Bhutan. The First King of Bhutan pioneered modern education besides the monastic education. Since then, the education system has undergone so many developments. The education in the country has reached this far solely due to hard work of our Monarchs. Had it not been for the hard work and wisdom of our most revered Monarchs, we won’t be enjoying free education and health.

Whenever we talk about education, we talk about education in schools. But we often forget about monastic education. Education in Bhutan includes monastic and modern education and both receive equal priority.

Schools were established at various corner of the country achieving universal enrolment in primary education. Our capability to work for the country and development brought to the current status is the result of education.  We have achieved a lot in education but we still face some perennial challenges.

I put forward my views on school education and the challenges.

Compatibility

If there is one word that describes the best education system, it is compatibility. There has to be compatibility between curriculum and mode of delivery with teacher’s skills, infrastructure, world’s market, curriculum, applicability in real field, teachers’ workload and motivation. If we achieve those compatibilities, we would find the best education system in the world.

Curriculum and  delivery

In the past, the education in Bhutan was largely Indian-borrowed and still it is largely an Indian-like system. Erstwhile, schools taught ICSE (Indian Certificate of Secondary Education) and ISC (Indian School Certificate) curriculum at higher levels starting from grade level eight to twelve. Gradually, Royal Education Council (earlier CAPSD), developed a curriculum for school education. But for grade eleven and twelve, the curriculum is still developed with assistance from the Indian authors.

Our school curriculum is so voluminous, so much so that children take less while teachers keep on feeding more and more. Foreign teachers from Canada, United Kingdom and Poland remarked that our grade nine curriculum is taught in grade eleven in their countries, especially science and mathematics. Our curriculum is beyond what a child could digest and apply in life. A child has to learn meaningfully. Meaningful learning means to be able to understand and know how to apply knowledge in life.  The class 10 or 12 graduates should be able to apply knowledge of mathematics, physics, chemistry, etc. in life.

A teacher leaves no stone unturned to complete a vast syllabus on time. Thus, large syllabus forces teaching and learning to take place in the classroom only. How will meaningful learning take place for children if that is the trend? Meaningful learning will take place only if we teach our children outside the classroom as well.

We need to use time consciously in teaching and learning. Recently, teachers were trained on transformative pedagogy. The transformative pedagogy is Western-borrowed. This would work well with a modest curriculum, unlike ours.  We end up teaching curriculum which is Indian-borrowed and apply transformative pedagogy from western countries. The vast curriculum and transformative pedagogy (as mode of delivery) is incompatible. Therefore, we need to suit teaching strategy to the curriculum and needs of the individual differences in schools.

Our curriculum is less flexible. The old curriculum survived for decades without a review until the recent new curriculum developed by Royal Education Council (REC). Some of the best education systems in the world has curriculum that is on need basis and it is flexible. They develop curriculum that suits the changing world.

Thus, the Royal Academy at Paro would be the model school in Bhutan as teachers recognize the needs of the society and design the curriculum for that particular academic year. They also keep on revising the curriculum every year. Moreover, the learning will take place practically.

Differentiated curriculum

The possibility of introduction of differentiated curriculum in the future is being discussed. This will serve the needs of different individuals but we may face challenges too.

What is differentiated curriculum? The name itself suggests that curriculum is differentiated. That means, in a same level of grade, there will be a curriculum offering basic and advanced levels. For example, considering mathematic subject in class nine, there will be basic mathematic and advanced mathematics as option to learn but choices will be left for students. This is how differentiated curriculum would look like.

The current curriculum does not offer such choices as basic and advanced. We offer the same curriculum to different individuals born with different competencies. Again, considering mathematic subject in class nine, the mathematics curriculum does not serve the needs of different individuals.

Mathematics is compulsory subject for children. The curriculum forces our children to learn despite their incompetence and lack of interest in mathematics.  So, children have to learn mathematics whether they like it or not. Will there be any advantage by teaching them forcefully looking at their incompetency and dislike to the subject?

The differentiated curriculum would solve this problem. The children would be offered choices to study advanced or basic level. The children who are incompetent in particular subject despite their hard work and teacher’s effort can opt to study the basic level and high achievers can opt to study the advanced level.  This would take care the different abilities of different individuals.

While we look for merits of differentiated curriculum, we have to understand its looming demerits too. As the name itself says, differentiated curriculum may differentiate students as competent and incompetent child. This may bring emotional breakdown to low achievers and affects their self-esteem.   Moreover, we also need to look upon the future possibility of equal opportunity.

Education and ICT

The 21st century is the digital age. Education without the knowledge of ICT is incomplete. An infusion of ICT knowledge and skills in teaching and learning is not a choice but necessity. More and more curriculum is taught without textbook in schools. For instance, history in class 11 and 12 is taught without textbook and there is a plan to do so in lower classes next year.  The subject has to be taught with the help of ICT. However, do we have enough ICT facilities to facilitate such teaching and learning? No, we do not. Schools need infrastructural development before the implementation of such curriculum. Discussion has to take place in between the Royal Education Council, government and Ministry of Education.

By Karma Rinzin

To be completed next week

The writer is a teacher

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