Lyonpo says other moves to improve quality of education are targeted professional training for teachers, curriculum reform, better infrastructure, BPST, ICT, STEM school and more
While the 2019 Pay revision has made teachers the highest paid civil servants overnight, there are also higher expectations from both teachers and the education sector as a whole.
This is in the backdrop of worries about the quality of education, best reflected in the 2019 PISA-D test report that showed that while Bhutanese students had a wide breath of knowledge in math, science and reading, they lacked depth and the ability to transfer and apply this knowledge which is increasingly crucial for a changing world economy.
There are also complaints of employers in Bhutan on the high prevalence of ‘unemployable graduates’, some of whom even lack basic skills -like writing a decent application letter.
The Education Minister, Lyonpo Jai Bir Rai said that during the pay revision cabinet meetings every ministry felt it was important for their sector and so every minister came with demands for allowances for engineers, forest officials and others.
There were competing demands for pay and allowances from the Ministry of Agriculture and Forests looking at food self-sufficiency and nature, from Labour Ministry looking at unemployment, from MoWHS looking at road engineers, from MoEA looking at hydro and others.
The minister said that the reason the Prime Minister and cabinet members ended up supporting the highest hikes for the education sector, despite limited resources and competing demands, was because the hike in the education sector was always looked at as an investment for the future and never an expense.
It was seen as a means to narrow the gap in the longer run as there was growing inequity within education too. He said this is why it received around 52 percent of the pay hike amount.
He said that the pay hike is an important part of an investment in the human resources of the country to prepare the students for the economy of tomorrow.
The minister said that a core policy for the Education Ministry is His Majesty The King’s words of students needing to be nationally rooted and globally competent.
The minister said that for students to be nationally rooted, values like love for the country and being Bhutanese are important, while for being globally competent knowledge and skills come into play.
The minister said that currently Bhutan’s education system is unable to produce students who can work in international companies like Google, Amazon, Dell, Ali Baba and that must be the goal.
Lyonpo said that salary hike also has an important morale raising factor as it was noticed that while teachers are enthusiastic early on in their career they lose their morale over time, especially as they see their fellow civil servants getting better perks and doing much better.
He said that without such a hike, the education sector will continue to get those who see it as a last option.
He said that the investment in the teacher will indirectly benefit everyone -as they teach students
He said it is the first time since Lyonpo Sangay Ngedup that the ministry is seeing such a high level of morale.
The minister said that with such investment, the focus will be on quality teachers and there will now be a paradigm shift.
Lyonpo said that the pay hike is not the only component of quality education and there will be other important interventions.
The ministry will be investing in heaters for highland schools and Air Conditioners for schools in the south, with the aim being to have a comfortable temperature in all classrooms.
Additional investment will be done in the highlands given the tough living conditions there.
Stressing on ICT, the minister said that for schools to be ready for the 21st century it will be important to also have 21st century facilities. He said that there will be more ICT used in teaching and there are steps being taken towards that.
The minister said that the most focus will be given in the most formative phase of students which is at the primary school level.
He said the education and health ministry will work together whereby children are tracked from 0 to 3 years of age, 3 to 6 years of age for ECCDS and from there in the education system from PP to class six and then from seven to 12.
He said that the students’ preparation has to start young to prepare children for the 21st century.
A major infrastructure being planned by the education ministry is a Nu 1 bn STEM school for gifted students in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics.
The minister said that this would be his next big pitch to the cabinet and it would probably come as part of the education flagship program. Currently the ministry is already conducting research on this.
The minister said the STEM school will be from class 7 to 12 with around 500 students and it will prepare them to go to MIT, Harvard, Oxford and other top international institutions and from there take up the jobs of tomorrow in top international companies.
The minister said this is where being globally competent comes into play.
A major project in the 12th plan is to ensure that by the end of it around 80 percent of the teachers are residing within the campus with modern amenities and quarters. The minister said that the currently reality is that some teachers are even staying in huts in the Dzongkhags.
He said the private sector can take up the responsibility to house the rest 20 percent.
The minister said that the ministry would look at the feasibility of having specialized high schools that deal exclusively in certain subjects like science, commerce and arts. He said this would enable the construction of better and bigger labs and other facilities and would lead to the pooling of specialized teachers with even research being possible.
Professional Development of Teachers
A major area for the MoE is the training of teachers to equip them for a variety of roles from dealing with the doing away of exams, class wise, from PP to class six from 2020 onwards to competency based teaching at higher levels to equip students with real world skills to dealing with new curriculums.
The Education Minister said that around Nu 200 to 300 mn was spent on professional development of teachers in the 11th plan but he is not very sure about its impact.
The minister in a candid admission said that PD courses in the past were treated mainly as an opportunity to earn some extra money and it was also used a motivational reward for teachers doing well.
He said that training probably took a secondary approach.
The minister while working in the private sector as a consultant said he himself conducted teacher trainings and he could see these issues as well as teachers not being focused.
Lyonpo said that now, after the hike, the main aim of PD should 100 percent training only and there will be impact assessment studies to find out what teachers have picked up.
He said that a needs analysis is being done to see what kinds of trainings are needed and also to find out the degree of gap in the primary school or form class 7 to 12.
The minister said that the 12th plan has between Nu 800 to Nu 900 mn for PD of teachers and this training will be important to train teachers to be able to equip students for 21st century jobs.
The minister said that teachers will be evaluated for the Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers (BPST) in part based on what they pick up from these PD trainings and how they apply it.
Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers
The BPST allowances of 10 percent for proficient teacher, 15 percent for accomplished teachers and 20 percent for distinguished teacher in addition to the professional allowances will be an important tool and incentive to motivate teachers and also hold them accountable.
The minister said that with the various incentives for teachers and given their responsibilities he wants an even higher level of moral and professional accountability.
The minister said that the BPST evaluation for teachers will be different from the Individual Work Plan (IWP) of the RCSC which is more to do with their civil service role.
He said BPST would be there for their professional standards and it would be very transparent, simple and would not depend on ‘chamachagiri’ of the bosses.
Lyonpo said that ordinary a teacher should be able to come under a proficient teacher category of 10 percent allowance, but if he or she is not proficient then there is something wrong and it would be looked at.
He said a teacher would be given enough chance but if the teacher is not able to be proficient and is failing on various fronts then the question would arise if that teacher should really be in the profession.
The minister said that the first four years of a teacher entering the profession would be used to assess where he or she falls.
He said a good thing about the BPST system is that it would take away the earlier ‘kidu system’ where faltering teachers could approach a DEO or more senior officials for better grading using the human factor.
Lyonpo, however, said that a proper change management would take place where teachers would get awareness, there would be advocacy and then only it would be brought in.
The BPST is supposed to be rolled out from early 2020 onwards.
One major area of reform is updating Bhutan’s school curriculum to bring it up to date with changing times and economic opportunities.
The Education Minister is the Chairman of the curriculum board and he said a major initiative will be the rolling out of the differentiated curriculum designed by the Royal Education Council (REC) for class 9 and 10 students.
It will allow students to focus more on subjects of interest to them and those that they plan to specialize in.
The REC is also working on thinning out of irrelevant content from textbooks to lighten unnecessary load for students. Work on this has been going on since 2016.
Lyonpo said this would all continue. He said that TVET or vocation education as a fourth stream has to be put on hold for as it might duplicate what the Labour Ministry is doing and so instead there would be an option TVET subject whose marks would be valid in the TVET institutes.
However, one area of major curriculum reform is from PP to class 6 from 2020 onwards when exams are done away. This would mean brining in place a continuous formative learning curriculum that would replace the summative or old exam system along with new teaching techniques.
The minister said it would happen only year wise and be quite expensive as everything from the mood of the student to how he or she is doing and why, followed up by intervention measures has to be done.
Then the same class teachers goes up the classes with the primary students.
Lyonpo said from class 7 to 12 the focus has to then be on competency based curriculum that would focus more on application, analysis, creativity and other skills that just rote learning.
The REC Director Kinga Dakpa said that curriculum is just one aspect and what is also important is training teachers to be able to teach the new curriculum for which he said it is important to cover all of them through trainers.
Ownership and leadership
The Education minister said that a reality is that youths are increasingly engaged in drugs, gang fights and some even engage in crimes like theft.
He said here an important and intangible area to tackle negative youth issues is the teaching staff from the principal to support staff taking ownership and leadership of what is happening around them.
He said one positive way of ownership is teachers monitoring the progress of individual students and then passing on that information to the next class teacher so that both weak, average and bright students are known along with the problems they may be having. He said teachers can even monitor good students for the STEM school.
He said taking on leadership would also mean that teachers avoiding misunderstanding among themselves or not pulling down someone taking initiatives. Lyonpo said that there are some cases of principals and vice principals not getting along or other issues and this should be avoided.
He said that apart from teaching staff even parents should take ownership and support the teachers and one way of doing that is by not fighting with teachers when their children are scolded or disciplined.
Saturday off, Pass marks at 35, Class 10 cut-off, PISA-D and coping outside
The education minister was also asked about the feedback on the Saturday being given as a holiday.
Lyonpo said that he visited around 40 schools in Thimphu and Samtse including in remote areas, and everywhere he found that the schools had adapted well. He said a major school in fact told him that due to adjusted teaching hours they are saving 4 hours a week which is 16-20 hours a month.
Lyonpo said that different schools have different programs and the hostel students are not left idle.
The minister said that it gives enough rest and preparative time to both students and teachers and so they are fresh by Monday in class.
There is some concern if 35 is too low a pass marks and if it can affect the quality of education. The minister said that boards in India are even lowering their pass percentage further. He said a practical difficulty is that if the pass percentage is made higher than given the enrollment for all there could be large numbers of failures and they would end up blocking seats.
He agreed that while 35 is enough to pass it is academically not good enough at the higher levels to get a good college.
In terms of the class 10-cutt off issue the minister said that around 80 percent of the students are doing fine and he is only worried about the remaining 20 percent and if they would affect the others. Lyonpo said that even if the children get educated till class 12 they would be better equipped to do certain things and even qualify for certain jobs. This, he said, would reduce inequity.
On the PISA-D 2019 scores the minister said that there is a big gap and so there needs to be more competency based curriculum and teachers that focus on the practical skills and application.
There have been concerns from past experiences that Bhutanese students are not able to cope outside in good colleges or where the education standard is higher.
Lyonpo admitted that it is a fact that students are not able to cope due to a different education system outside. He said in Bhutan the focus is more on memorizing but outside it is about research, application and analysis which are competency based skills. He said that Bhutan’s education system must develop the same competency based skills in students to be able to cope outside.
Brand Bhutan Education and inclusiveness
Lyonpo said that one of the main aims would be to develop a ‘Brand Bhutan Education’ tag which would mean high quality education and this apart from benefitting Bhutanese students ,could also become a new sector of the economy.
Lyonpo said that around four to five million people in the Darjeeling hills survive just on tourism and education.
He said Bhutan cannot just rely on hydropower and so this Brand Bhutan in education can promote Bhutan as a good destination for quality education and a way to get into international institutes.
Lyonpo said that the educations sector must also be inclusive and this is why all the hikes and allowances are also applicable to the special ability schools.
He said that he truly appreciates the role played by the teachers and staff of schools that deal with differently abled children.