The 18th annual National Education Conference (NEC) endorsed some strategies to promote the Dzongkha, in schools of which the strategy to make Dzongkha a compulsory pass subject has generated much attention.
The NEC decided that Dzongkha will be a main subject in that students have to pass the subject to get to the next grade. So as of now students need to score at least 35 of out 100 to pass the subject. There is an additional proposal is to make 40, the pass marks for Dzongkha.
This strategy has created a wave of concern among both students and parents as a fair number of students consider themselves to be weak in written Dzongkha. Now with such a strategy they feel their very promotions are at stake.
Tashi Dorji, a student of Chukha Higher Secondary School, said he finds Dzongkha the toughest subject and he does not know how we will do this year.
Another student, Kinley Wangmo, said that shortage of teachers and lack of material is the reason behind her poor performance in Dzongkha rather than any pass or fail marks.
Karma Wangmo, a 10th grade student of Dagana Higher Secondary School, said, it is true that students take Dzongkha for granted as it is a single subject. “But what concerns me is that it’s far more difficult to learn Dzongkha than English,” she said.
Tandin Wangmo of 11th grade in Drugyel Higher Secondary School said that if reinstating Dzongkha as a main subject means verifying grammar and spelling strictly most students won’t be able to get through. “It’s nearly impossible to get all the grammar and spelling right even in one paragraph unlike English,” she said.
Tandin Wangmo’s mother, Karma Wangmo, who works with Bhutan Power Corporation said, “Since English is measured as a parameter to qualify for the job and interviews, we are not sure what real advantages Dzongkha can avail in the current English friendly job market.”
A recent high school graduate Jigme Tenzin said, “I feel Dzongkha is a very vast subject to learn if we really delve into it. I feel there is no need to learn more than what is being taught since it’s not really required once we leave the school.”
“Being a new endorsement for the promotion of Dzongkha these strategies will be a working programme, not something that will happen overnight but this is the direction we are clear that we should take,” Education minister , Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuck said.
The other three strategies of promoting Dzongkha are that in lower classes, from PP to III, the subject will be taught by a trained language teacher to ensure development of strong foundations at an early age. Lower classes thus must have dedicated language teachers.
Another strategy is to ensure adequate Dzongkha teachers in every school, which is not the case today, so that the subject receives due attention.
The final strategy is to enhance Dzongkha Teaching Learning Material (TLM) so that it engages students and gets them interested in learning the subject. Dzongkha teachers will receive continuous training in the latest teaching practices.
Kinzang, one of the school principals at the conference said it would be difficult to deploy adequate Dzongkha teachers. “It is a good initiative to make Dzongkha a main subject but if the pass mark is set at 40 percent then I think that it should be applied for all the subjects,” he said.
A study commissioned by the BCSEA in 2015 on Grade X student’s performance in BCSE Dzongkha Result against their Actual Competencies found that reading skills is better than writing skills. Boys outperformed girls in both reading and writing in BCSE 2014 and 2015 and girls outperformed boys in reading and writing in NEA 2015 and BCSE 2013.
The study also found that students lack interest in Dzongkha because of the subject difficulty and limited scope for employment. On the other hand teachers were constrained by large number of students in the class, time constraint, school activities and additional responsibilities.
Arjun Kumar Gurung, Assessment and Monitoring Division, BCSEA, said that it has been recommended that teaching of writing and reading skills in schools should be enhanced so that students attain proficiency levels. “We also have recommended that an oral test in language should be initiated to assess various aspects of reading competency and to help students develop positive attitude and interest towards Dzongkha,” he said.
They also recommended reducing class size and work load of teachers and that specialized subject teachers need to be considered from the early grades.
REC curriculum specialist Wangchuk Rabten said that Dzongkha was always a main subject but consideration of passing to next level, even if the students don’t obtain the adequate marks, may be attributed to the waning importance in learning Dzongkha.
“Learning Dzongkha is not easy considering that most of the subjects in schools are taught in English and people taking much interest communicating in English in most social and official gatherings and even in schools,” he said.
He said that the number of people speaking in Dzongkha has increased substantially, especially in remote parts of the country, where previously spoke their native language due to increasing numbers of educated people and popularity of media. “However, It’s very rare to see people speaking Dzongkha in its purest form and even the graduates can hardly read and write Dzongkha without abundant mistakes,” he said. “It’s important that Dzongkha be reinstated as a main subject since it’s an official language and can make it easier for people at all levels to understand what we actually want to convey,” he said, adding that the most important forums, which people really need to understand like National Assembly and National Council, are delivered in Dzongkha. Most people are fluent in speaking than in writing Dzongkha, he said.
Considering the ratio of the taught subject between Dzongkha and English and English related subjects, 90 percent of the school days are devoted in learning English and English related subjects.
“The expedition of learning Dzongkha becomes far less significant than the compulsion to pass in it,” said Tashi Wangdi, principal of Gesarling Central School.
“When medium of instruction is dominated by English we can’t expect the standard of Dzongkha to be that of English,” he said. “Now that the subject is made mandatory to pass, students will put extra effort to learn Dzongkha which is good in terms of representing our culture and identity as a small nation.”
Tashi Wangdi said Dzongkha is not able to attract interest mainly due to lack of demand in the job market which focuses on fluency in English and also that libraries racks are filled with English medium books.
However, whatever the arguments on the issue only the coming year’s academic results and the number of students making it or not to the next class will give a true picture of the impact of this initiative by the ministry.