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Enrollment in the Arts Stream declines and Arts high school graduates face an uncertain future

The number of students opting for the Arts Stream has decreased in Bhutan. Many of the students are concerned about the declining number of scholarships given to the Arts Stream.

The Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC)  recently announced 103 ex-country scholarship opportunities for the academic year 2024 – 2025. Of 103 slots, only 3 or 4 slots were given to the Arts students.

School Students share views

With the declining number of scholarships, the students are worried and shared their diverse opinions.

Basker Bhujel, a 12th grade Arts student at Yangchenphug Higher Secondary School said, “We, the Arts students, are losing hope to get into colleges, and have a fear of being jobless in the future. Now, I see it as something that could harm my future.”

He said there are not as many chances for scholarships or future jobs for Arts students as there are for other subject streams.

Similarly, a recent Desi Higher Secondary School Arts graduate, Norbu Lhamo, who is the 6th national topper, said, “There is an evident discrimination for students who have opted for Arts without including Mathematics or Economics in their curriculum. Not all students have the same abilities, so it’s unfair to expect everyone to excel in the Science Stream.”

She emphasized on the need for a fair balance across the streams, and highlighted that to mitigate worries about unemployment, the government should give the priority to student preference, as not everyone as the aptitude for science subjects. 

A 12th grade science student from the The Royal Academy, Phuntsho Wangmo, said “As a Science student, I believe that Arts students deserve their fair share of opportunities, just like we do in the Sciences. Science cannot legitimately be deemed superior to the Arts.”

She highlights the possible effects of a decline in Arts education on communities, expressing real concern, and said, “The loss of diversity in education and thinking processes will greatly diminish the holistic education we aim for.”

Phuntsho raises concerns about the effects of fewer students choosing to major in Economics, and emphasized on the need to protect cultural variety, in the face of social pressure, to choose particular careers.

A 12th grade Arts graduate of The Royal Academy, Kinley Wangdi, said, “Arts students deserve more opportunities, as their years of education would be in vain without them.”

Kinley emphasized on the value of the Arts, and claims that the Arts offer insights into society and people. If the trend continues, he sees a desperate future for students studying the Arts, and calls for a balanced respect for the Sciences and the Arts. The Arts are vital to a full education and should not be neglected for fear of losing important views on human experience and history, he added.

Likewise,  Yeshi Phuntsho, a 12th grade Arts graduate of Mongar Higher Secondary School argues, “If our country is going to purely prioritize the Sciences and neglect the Arts, it might risk losing the holistic development approach that a balanced education provides to the children of Bhutan.”

He said there needs to be a healthy balance between the Arts and the Sciences, as Arts is important to promote creativity, emotional expression, and cultural preservation.

Furthermore, many students voiced that if there are not many options given by the government to the Arts students then why bother giving them the Arts education in the name of inclusivity, just for them to make Art students’ life difficult later, given the bleak future prospects. 

Concerned about the decreasing number of students enrolled in the Arts Stream, the Principal of Desi High School, Tashi Wangchuk, said he is worried about the limited scholarship slots for the Arts students and Arts-related professions.

He said there is relevance in all streams of Science, Arts, and Commerce. To foster a variety of skills, Tashi Wangchuk promotes equal recognition for all three streams.

Those who see the value in the Arts Stream highlight the fact that the core domains of Arts, such as History and Geography, stand as the main subjects that uphold the country’s independence in the cultural aspect, as it serves as the guardian of Bhutan’s rich cultural legacy and unique heritage.

Arts students worry about college options and careers ahead

Ever since Sherubtse College removed seven Bachelor in Arts courses, the students in Bhutan are facing crisis in pursuing their undergraduate degree, especially the students without Maths and Economics background, who have no direction with regard to their career option.

The students who have the money are applying to overseas colleges, but it has become an unsolvable issue for the students with weak financial background. It is like the universe has put a stop to their dreams.

A recent Arts graduate said that she has had to face the stereotypical challenges regarding her choice of academic focus. She was often scorned, reminding her of the lack of scopes for Arts students, which robbed off of her inner peace. She had to keep worrying about her future career prospects, and felt insecure in her academic performance. She added that she remained hopeful and resilient so as to prove her worth.

One of the students, Tshering, pointed out his view that Arts and Humanities courses are an essential part of well-rounded education. 

“Discontinuing these courses has not only affected me personally, but also conveys a clear message that equality doesn’t exist in an academic community,” said Tshering. 

Furthermore, he said that the government could have researched about the opinions of the students and acted accordingly. He suggested that the government should have made changes in the preliminary stage of education, itself, if they were going to bring changes in the turning point of their lives.

The RUB’s announcement about the undergraduate programs for the academic year 2024 took the students with Arts background by surprise. The only scope for them seemed to be B.Ed programs. Additionally, Sherubtse College has introduced three new Bachelor’s degree courses namely, Economics and Political Science, Digital Communications and Project Management, and Data Science and Data Analytics. However, the requirements for applying in these courses demand students to have Mathematics and Economics background. 

It is the Media students with neither Maths nor Economics background going through a critically harsh decision-making stage. Dema, an Arts student with Media background, stated that upon exploring the alternative higher education options within Bhutan, she came across very little possibilities for students like her. The sudden change in higher education system has added a level of uncertainty and caused students to reconsider their academic path.

For most of the Arts students, Sherubtse College had been their dream college, with lots of scopes for Arts students, but now they are seen to be reshaping their own destinies. While some students are open to adapt to new conditions, some are making plans to study abroad where they will be accepted to present their worth and build promising careers.

Whereas, the students with poor financial background opened up that the abrupt change introduced to them felt like a dream, and have no future plan to study abroad too. They are holding on to the hope of being selected for RGOB scholarships within RUB. 

The students pointed their views that Bhutan will slowly lose its ‘humanity’ if the country doesn’t support students in studying Arts and Humanities. 

Passang said, “Arts and Humanities will be dinosaurs on earth.”

Furthermore, the students expressed their concerns on the job market. They said that new change in RUB might exude raise in unemployment rate in Bhutan.

When asked about their suggestions to tackle the rising issue, one student said that maybe they would feel hopeful if the RUB provided more number of slots in B.Ed courses, considering the number of high school graduates.

The other student suggested that things would be better for them if the RUB re-opened the courses where they would be able to pursue their dreams.

 Furthermore, an Arts student recommended that they would not feel low and insecure if the government provided them the international scholarships, or the interest-free loan for pursuing their higher studies abroad.

Additionally, one student said that just like RUB compressing the courses for providing advanced career paths, it should also expand the programs to equip the philosophy of Gross National Happiness where not even the Arts students feel left out.

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