January 2008
CONTENTS                                                                   Pg. No.
CHAPTER I:       Bhutan's Development of Education
CHAPTER II:      Early Childhood Care and Education
CHAPTER III:     Universal Primary Education
CHAPTER IV:      Status of Primary Education
CHAPTER V:       Factors Influencing Learning Achievement in Primary
CHAPTER VI:      Secondary Education
CHAPTER VII:     School Culture: An Overlooked Dimension for Improvement
CHAPTER VIII:    Tertiary Education
CHAPTER IX:      Impact of the Education System on Human Resources
CHAPTER X:       Transforming the Education System
CHAPTER XI:      Establishing Indicators for Quality Education
CHAPTER XII:     Timeframe for Pursuing Recommendations
ANNEX 1:         Executive Order for Establishment of Education Sector
                 Review Commission
ANNEX 2:         Reflections on Education Quality in Bhutan
ANNEX 3          The Heart Essence of Education in Bhutan


ATD         Agency for Teacher Development
BCSE        Bhutan Certificate for Secondary Examination
BE          Bachelor of Engineering
BHSEC       Bhutan Higher Secondary Education Certificate
BNHRD       Bhutan National Human Resource Development Report
CBSE        Central Board of Secondary Education
DEO         District Education Officer
Dzongkhag   District
ECCD        Early Childhood Care and Development
ECCE        Early Childhood Care and Education
EFA         Education For All
EMSSD       Education Monitoring and Support Services, MoE, Bhutan
GER         Gross Enrolment Ratio
HSS         Higher Secondary School
ISCED       International Standard Classification of Education
JICA        Japan International Cooperation Agency
LSS         Lower Secondary School
MBBS        Bachelor of Medicine and Surgery
MDGs        Millennium Development Goals
MLL         Minimum Levels of Learning
MoE         Ministry of Education
MoLHR       Ministry of Labour and Human Resources
MSS         Middle Secondary School
NEA         National Examination Assessment, Bhutan
NER         Net Enrolment Ratio
NFE         Non-Formal Education
OECD        Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development
PP          Pre-primary
SMB         School Management Board
UNESCO      United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization
UNICEF      United Nations Children’s Fund
UPE         Universal Primary Education

In pursuit of a decision by the Council of Ministers, the Hon’ble Prime Minister issued an
Executive Order on 1 November 2006 establishing a 10-member Education Sector Review
Commission to examine Bhutan’s education sector. This was to serve as “a comprehensive
sector-wide reform and development measure.” At the outset, therefore, we wish to convey
our most sincere gratitude to the Council of Ministers for the confidence reposed in us to
undertake this very important review. This was the first comprehensive review of its kind,
and the task was heavy. Nevertheless, we hope that despite any shortcomings in the report,
we have not failed in setting a precedent for such timely reviews of the most important sector
in the Royal Government – education.

During our yearlong tenure, this Commission was privileged to have interactions with scores
of people, too numerous to mention by name. To all those who generously shared their views
and experiences, we extend our heartfelt thanks. We would like to express appreciation to all
students and teachers in 13 districts and more than 30.schools who participated in the survey.
We hope that our report will give voice to their honest expressions and their pleas for
intervention to optimise their teaching/learning experiences. We also would like to extend
our gratitude to the head teachers, principals and teachers, staff and District Education
Officers and Education Monitoring Officers who kindly facilitated our work and shared their
perceptions and experiences. Our own insights and understanding of the day-to-day
struggles, triumphs and hopes in the schools were sensitised by the articulation of all those
who shared the larger collective experience of Bhutanese education.

We were overwhelmed by the interest, concern and goodwill shown by numerous people for
improvement of the quality of education in the country. Gratitude is expressed to those
teachers, parents and concerned citizens, expatriates, consultants and scholars in Bhutan, as
well as those outside the country, who shared their time, experiences and expert insights.

We extend special thanks to those who went out of their way to write papers incorporated in
the Commission’s report, voluntarily or on request. Special mention must be made of Dr.
David Fulton, Assistant Director of the Office of School Character and Culture in the Denver
Public Schools in Denver, Colorado, in the United States, who came to Bhutan to assist the
Commission pro bono. He was with the Commission for an entire month and helped to
conduct and analyse the study on school culture.

Our work would have not been possible without the confidence and continuous
encouragement we received from Dasho Dr. Pema Thinley, former Secretary of Education.
We are gratified by the interest shown in our work by the present Secretary of Education,
Aum Sangay Zam. Thanks are extended to Mr. Tsewang Tandin, Director of the Department
of School Education, who eased our logistical and official procedures within the education
system. Gratitude also is due to Dasho Zangley Dukpa, former Vice Chancellor of the Royal
University of Bhutan, and Dr. Jagar Dorji, former Director of Sherubtse College, who helped
us to sharpen our focus on higher education. Mr. Rinchen Samdrup, Planning Officer in the
Ministry of Education, and Ms. Tshering Wangmo, are likewise gratefully acknowledged for
facilitating financial and budgetary matters and for organisational and secretarial support


Although we have made rapid strides in the fields of education and human resources
development, there is still a long way to go before our nation is equipped with the human
resources required to sustain the process of development. The nation’s skills base is
extremely narrow, and just over one-half of our population can be considered literate and
numerate. Although we can draw satisfaction from the rapid growth in primary and
secondary school enrolment, the high dropout and repeater rates provide genuine cause for
concern. Less then one-half of all those who enter primary school actually complete primary
education, while less than 40 percent of young people of secondary school age are actually
in secondary education, and a large number will fail to complete it.

                                                                              Bhutan 2020
                                             A Vision for Peace, Prosperity and Happiness

Since the release of the Bhutan 2020 vision document in 1999, considerable progress has
been made in expanding schooling and tertiary education in the country. The number of
schools, educational institutes and centres reached 1,666 by 2007, with a student population
of 189,259 (excluding Bhutanese students outside the country). Nevertheless, this
Commission has anticipated that, as in many developing counties, issues of efficiency,
quality and learner achievement will grow – but with the right kinds of inputs, these issues
can be resolved within the system we already have.

There was, however, no way the Commission could have fathomed the depth and complexity
of challenges emanating from the current status of education and human resources:

   1. Bhutan is a young country, with 59 percent of its population younger than 25; 42
      percent below 15; and 30 percent younger than 10. Given such demographic
      characteristics, youth unemployment, already estimated at 3 percent in 2005, seems
      inevitable. Paradoxically, however, there exists a shortage of skilled manpower in
      every sector of the economy. As such, youth unemployment – often a result of poor
      schooling – is a matter of the highest concern. For every 100 PP children only around
      85 continue to lower secondary level (Classes VII and VIII), and an even smaller
      number studies further. Discontinuation of education leads to an accumulation of job
      seekers at the bottom of the education pyramid, as well as the immediate fallout of
      low skills levels among the working youth population. Reversing that skills deficit
      requires nothing less than reinventing the system.

   2. Bhutan also is on the cusp of joining the World Trade Organization, and in the new
      dynamics of globalisation, a national workforce will need strong skills in
      mathematics, science and technology, and literacy. Moreover, this is not just for top
      professionals and managers: Such needs will extend through the length and breadth of
      the workforce. By 2010, even India will require additional skilled manpower
      amounting to 8,50,000. Even more surprisingly, by 2020 the shortage of skilled

3. professionals is expected to reach 40 million in developed countries. 1 Thus, the
         inescapable conclusion is that the quality of education of a work force will matter
         even more than the quantity. Indeed, a study undertaken in the United State shows
         that a difference of one standard deviation in mathematic and science scores is related
         to a 1 percent difference in annual per-capita GDP growth. It is, therefore, alarming
         that Bhutan has neither a large enough workforce nor one that is well-endowed
         educationally or with regard to skills. If the current educational trends continue, by
         the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan in 2013, 51 percent of Bhutan’s labour force, at
         best, will have acquired primary education.

           Given the above circumstances, what is the way forward? To begin with, we must get
           it right from the start, taking an important initiative toward qualitative and systemic
           improvements in education. To put it simply, we must pursue “Education Without
           Compromise.” This represents a call for:

               1. Urgently transforming the education system to achieve radical improvements
                  in educational outputs of Bhutanese students. Such goal-setting draws its
                  aspiration from His Majesty the King’s address to the graduates of 2007: “It is
                  no longer enough to say, ‘I am the best in Bhutan, ” His Majesty declared. “I
                  expect you to be the best wherever you go in this world.” Moreover, this goal
                  forces the necessary thinking about how to achieve quantum improvements in
                  students’ academic achievements. But urgency is imperative; urgency is about

               2. Integrating the linkages among early childhood care and education, primary,
                  secondary and non-formal education. While much can be done within each of
                  these components, a great deal more can be accomplished through an across-
                  the-board integration of efforts. In the process, this will build a sound
                  foundation for improving the quality of tertiary education.

    1 & 2 Educate the Masses, Times of India, October 9, 2007


If present trends continue, at the end of the Tenth Five Year Plan (2013) the level of
education of 51 percent of the nation’s workforce will be at or below Class VI – even as the
economy further integrates into the globalised world. This is, however, a world in which a
very high level of preparation in reading, writing, mathematics, science and literature will be
indispensable for most members of the workforce. Thus, every working person in future
generations will have to be much more productive than this generation, and children more
productive than their parents. The challenge is not just about reversing trends in the
education system: To quote His Majesty the King, we will “have to build a strong education
system.” After extensively reviewing the education system, this Commission hopes that
“Education Without Compromise” can help to create such a system that will educate
Bhutanese students to world-class levels.

Overall, Bhutan has made great strides in education since its initiation in the country some
four decades ago. At the same time, many issues remain to be addressed. We found, for
example, that only 215 Bhutanese children are benefiting from the crucial intervention of
Early Childhood Care and Education, even though high-quality ECCE is one of the best
investments a nation can make in its young people. No national policy currently exists in the
country on ECCE. The concept of pre-primary, or “PP,” in the country contrasts with
international standards by tending strongly toward formal school experience – it is actually
part of primary education – rather than developing school readiness.

Significant efforts will be needed to achieve University Primary Education by 2015; this will
mean, at a minimum, enrolling all children of the officially prescribed age (6 years) in the
2009 school year. But this will not be easy, for numerous reasons: About 16,500 children of
primary school age remain out of school, with primary dropout and repetition rates
encompassing more than 10 percent of students. All this adds to illiteracy and indicates a
high level of children who are not mastering the curriculum. Alarmingly, mean test scores in
literacy and numeracy are very low, and the “learning rate” is so slow that an extra year in
each grade is required to reach the average competency for that grade. Urban students’ better
performance in all areas means that the system must be made more effective in reducing
inequalities of educational opportunity.

Turning to secondary education (lower, middle and higher secondary as a whole), the
situation is similar but challenges are even more pronounced. Barely 85 out of every 100
students enrolled in primary education progress to lower and middle secondary school – and
of the latter, only a smaller number proceeds to higher secondary. Gender differences begin
to show up, and average Class X test scores in English and maths are startlingly low. Only
around 35 percent of Class XII students score high enough to be selected for admission to
tertiary institutes – yet the cut off point is usually even lower than 60 percent, itself
considered the bare minimum for satisfactory performance. At all levels, learning occurs
within what this Commission found to be a “culture of passivity”. We strongly urge shifting
from a culture of fear to a culture of engagement in classrooms; creating a culture of reading
in schools; and strengthening both teacher in-service training and access to best practices.

In tertiary education, we found that Sherubtse College, the pinnacle of learning in the
country, appears at risk of sliding into becoming a mediocre institution. In general, students

do not seem fully engaged in learning, working only hard enough to score the 40 percent
needed to pass. Accountability is weak for lecturers and students alike. Many buildings and
classrooms are in disrepair, and faculty trust and professional morale are both low. Quality
assurance of tertiary education as a whole is constrained by the fact that tertiary institutions’
missions are not well-aligned with long-term human resource development needs of the
country, including that of the private sector, and that institutions suffer an acute shortage of
qualified teaching staff, with no agreed performance indicators. Expansion of the pilot
Continuing Education Programme is an urgent priority; high costs in so doing may be offset
by “piggybacking” on educational and training services for adults in India.

The overwhelming conclusion from these analyses is that radical improvement is
indispensable to achieve a quantum improvement in educational outputs and strengthen
competitiveness of Bhutan’s economy in the globalised world. Bearing this in mind, this
Commission has proposed seven strategies aimed at building a sound framework to educate
Bhutanese to world-class levels. Intended to stimulate debate on the quality of education in
the country, these recommendations have been drawn from reports and best practices of
nations around the world with the best education systems. The seven strategies are:

Strategy 1:

Adopt international benchmarks for educating Bhutanese students and establish
achievement levels against those standards.

Adopting International Standards

This would involve:

   •   Setting the standards of the board examinations, namely, BCSC for Class X and
       BHSEC for Class XII at the expectations incorporated in the examinations
       administered by the best-performing nations in the world such as Singapore and
   •   Overhauling the school curriculum including the current system of accessing
       students’ achievements to best fit the expectations mentioned above.

Establishing students’ achievement levels

In primary education, the above would involve drawing from the concept incorporated in the
Minimum Levels of Learning model of India. In secondary education, a new BCSE
examination for Class X would be established at international standards, with students able to
take the test repeatedly. Results of the BCSE would lead to two “streaming” programmes to
be created at higher secondary level, an Upper Secondary Academic Programme, providing
demanding college preparation courses, and a Technical Preparation Programme, allowing
students to sample a range of technical and occupational programmes. This would provide an
opportunity for less capable students to develop at their own pace. A new BHSEC for Class
XII at international expectations also would be established in order to qualify for enrolment
in tertiary education.

Strategy 2:

Improve teachers’ quality by transforming their compensation system and
restructuring teacher recruitment and education.

Teachers’ salaries would be performance-based, as measured against students’ test
achievements; this would mean moving away from compensation based on years of service.
Teachers also could be tested every five years, with those who fail at risk of losing their jobs.
Extra compensation would be provided for senior and experienced teachers willing to be
posted in remote areas or in schools where there are recruiting problems, as well as for those
willing to teach in subject areas with shortages, such as mathematics and science. Creation of
an autonomous Agency for Teacher Development (ATD), vested with a mission to recruit
and retain the best and brightest as teachers, would allow teachers to be de-linked from the
civil service. Offering salaries at levels comparable to better-paid professionals in the
country, the ATD could recruit candidates from the Government, army, or good teachers who
had gone on to other careers. It would reinstate the practice of recruiting expatriate teachers
as “permanent employees,” rather than on short-term contracts. Lastly, the ATD could write
performance contracts with the two Colleges of Education for training of teacher trainees,
and could cancel these contracts if trainees do not meet performance criteria.

Strategy 3:

Provide high-quality, universal Early Childhood Education.

Urgent policy and operational decisions should be taken to develop a national policy on Early
Childhood Care and Education, including adopting an ECCE curriculum possibly based on
the Singapore model. De-linking pre-primary (PP) from primary education would keep all
young children aged 3 to 6 years out of the formal education sphere; participation of 3- and
4-year-olds in pre-primary education could be voluntary, but should be mandatory for 5- and
6-year-olds in order to enroll in Class I. Ideally, the most vulnerable and disadvantaged
children would be covered by the entire four-year programme. Criteria for ECCE staff should
be established, and community-based programmes may be considered. Coverage and quality
of Non-Formal Education (NFE) should be increased, targeted at the poorest young mothers,
in recognition of the fact that educated mothers serve as a “multiplier” for children’s

Strategy 4:

Achieve Universal Primary Education.

Efforts toward achieving UPE can be targeted toward out-of-school children, by coming up
with a programme specifically designed to attract and retain these children in school; creation
of a comprehensive database for analysing dropout, retention, survival and completion rates
and producing “school report cards;” and to benefit the poorest families, elimination of the
requirements of school uniforms and payment of fees in all primary schools, ensuring free
access to textbooks and school stationery, and covering every primary school under the
School Feeding Programme. Improved “learning gains” could be made by reactivating the
National Students’ Service (NSS) to run remedial education programmes in primary schools

for children who are lagging in their studies. Volunteers in the reactivated NSS would be
chosen from top recent college graduates (based on criteria such as their academic
performance and aptitudes toward voluntary services) and would be paid generous

allowances; following completion of two years of service, they would be given preferred
recruitment in the civil service and/or awarded a fellowship for higher studies abroad.

Strategy 5:

Create high-performance schools based on the best systems of governance, finance,
organisation and management.

Radically changing the reality of school bureaucracies can help to create high-performance
schools in Bhutan. Drawing from global best practices, it will be important for the Ministry
of Education (MoE) to provide leadership and support toward this end, through establishing
school accountability without micromanaging. This can be achieved by empowering schools
administratively and financially, as well as strengthening high-quality technical assistance
from MoE. Relevant officials, including Dzongkhag Education Officers, would be given the
mission to create a positive climate of respect and trust between schools and education
headquarters, communicating clear goals and expectations and functioning as service
organisations that see schools and students as “clients.” Involvement of parents and
communities in school performance should be strengthened, in part focusing School
Management Boards on policy rather than operational issues.

Strategy 6:

Support students who need it most.

Following a detailed screening assessment, a school intervention process could be developed
that helps students to stay on track and at grade level. This could include tutoring, “double
scheduling” in target areas, and other initiatives. Provisions could be created for access to
after-school extended day programming as well as mentors, along with health and social
services at or near schools to increase the chances of students being healthy and ready to
learn. In some cases, establishment of residential schools may be necessary to best support
these students.

Strategy 7:

Ensure quality assurance of higher education.

This can be achieved through integration of the primary, secondary and higher education
systems in the country into a seamless whole, linking academic, professional and vocational
programmes and making the education system globally responsive. Alignment of the system
to long-term human resources and development perspectives, making graduates “fit for
market,” will be critical. Clear guidelines and relationships should be established between
MoE and the Royal University of Bhutan, or other appropriate bodies, with regard to
regulation and coordination of higher education. Guidelines also are required on membership
for tertiary education institutions in the Royal University of Bhutan, including future private

higher education facilities. To ensure “the right education at the right time,” MoE, the Royal
University of Bhutan and other tertiary education institutions should maintain strategic
alliances with other human resources development partners such as the Ministry of Labour
and Human Resources, the Royal Civil Service Commission and private sector bodies.
Cooperation and collaboration with other quality assurance systems must be encouraged.

CHAPTER I: Bhutan’s Development of Education

Education has been the central player in the transformation of Bhutan from a traditional
society to a dynamic, confident participant in regional and global affairs.

The provision and promotion of free education has been part of the success story of Bhutan’s
effort to make education accessible to all its citizens. The primary enrolment rate stands at
about 83 percent. With the establishment of the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), the
educational destiny of the country is taking a further new turn.

The main goals of Bhutan’s education sector have been to:

   •   Provide basic cost-effective and sustainable education to all Bhutanese, equipping
       citizens with basic literacy skills and functional knowledge and values within the
       Bhutanese cultural context
   •   Provide general secondary education on a selective basis, helping to build the
       necessary human capacity for further specialised education and training in science,
       technology, business and education, among others
   •   Provide higher education in selected fields, preparing key people to deliver and
       continuously upgrade services and industries in the country, as well as to enable
       Bhutan to engage in the continuous search for knowledge
   •   Establish an enabling environment imparting wholesome education to children and
   •   Provide opportunities, especially for those who have missed out on formal education,
       to attain basic and functional literacy through non-formal and adult literacy
   •   Promote a system of continuous and lifelong learning

At the heart of the Bhutanese education system is the desire to integrate the best in our
cherished cultural and national values with the best in modern knowledge and technological
developments from abroad, harnessing them to serve the best interests of the country.

Bhutan’s current formal education structure consists of seven years of primary schooling
(Classes Pre-Primary to VI), along with six years of secondary education, comprising two
years of lower secondary (Classes VII-VIII), two years of middle secondary (Classes IX-X),
and two years of higher secondary (Classes XI-XII). This is followed by three years of
undergraduate programmes in the country’s tertiary institutes, with smaller numbers of
students going abroad for professional and postgraduate studies. The recent establishment of
the Royal University of Bhutan is expected to cater to Bhutan’s higher education needs and

Enrolment Patterns and Changes in Basic Education

In the early 1950s, modern education was a totally new concept, far different from the
traditional monastic education system, where education and religious studies were seen as
synonymous. In the beginning, schools were few and far between, making it necessary for
the Royal Government to send many students to boarding schools in India. Most parents

were particularly hesitant to send their daughters away to school; over the years, such
hesitancy has diminished, however. Thus, female enrolment is today nearly at par with male
enrolment, at least at the primary level.

Until the 1970s, Class VI represented the basic education level. As the country advanced, the
requirements changed; by 1996, basic education had been raised to Class VIII. In 1999 this
level was further raised to Class X, meaning that all Bhutanese can receive free education
until that level with Royal Government support. Further education is highly selective and

Non-Formal and Continuing Education Programmes

In spite of strong progress in education since planned development began in the country
barely four decades ago, many people in remote corners of our country have missed the
opportunity of attending school. The Ministry of Education has therefore established a
vigorous programme of Non-Formal and Continuing Education to provide basic education
opportunities to disadvantaged sections of the population.

Today there exist about 400 non-formal education (NFE) centres, spread across all 20
dzongkhags and covering some 18,000 adult women and men – about 70 percent of the adult
illiterate population. What is especially encouraging is that the percentage of women in NFE
programmes is more than twice that of men.

Traditional Values and IT

Bhutan’s identity is imbued with a value system anchored in the spiritual legacy of the
country. What the Education Department recognises as “wholesome education” is a goal of
cultivating the personal, academic, intellectual, psychological, emotional, spiritual, social and
occupational dimensions of all Bhutanese children so that they grow up well-balanced,
properly integrated and sensitive human beings. In all, the expectation is that children will
grow up to be an asset to themselves as well as to society at large.

The country also has come a long way in ensuring a national teaching force. Today there are
more than 6,000 educators, a dramatic change from the early 1960s, when there were barely
40. Bhutan now has a commendable teacher-student ratio of 1:32.

In recent years, Bhutan has particularly recognised the importance of integrating the tools of
Information Technology into the education system; the intent is to bring the knowledge and
information available around the world into our classrooms. In an age of “information
explosion,” and as Bhutan becomes an increasingly knowledge-based society; the benefits
made available through modern technology hardly need emphasising.

Looking Ahead

Education will continue receiving a high priority in the development policy of the Royal
Government as it pursues the goals of improving citizens’ quality of life as well as enhancing
the human resources to meet the country’s needs. More specifically, the thrust of the
education sector will be in:

       •    Expansion of basic education to cover the entire population
       •    Improvement of the quality and relevance of education to address the holistic
            development of the child, including innate abilities, social cohesion, national
            imperatives and the world of work, encompassing agriculture and other vocations
       •    Development of a highly motivated and competent teaching cadre that supports a
            holistic approach to education and learning
       •    Utilisation of educational innovations and new technologies to increase access to
            education and improve its quality
       •    Development of private schools to allow for greater choice in curricula and
            teaching-learning approaches, as well as lessen to the resource burden on the Royal
            Government and allow it to focus on improving Government schools, among others

As Bhutan looks increasingly beyond its national boundaries for access to global knowledge
and skills, education will continue providing it with the leverage to propel itself forward.

The Advent of the University

The country’s desire for a place in the intellectual arena came to fulfilment on 2 June 2003,
when the Royal University of Bhutan was established, coinciding with the celebration of the
29th anniversary of the coronation of His Majesty Druk Gyalpo Jigme Singye Wangchuck,
the fourth hereditary Monarch of Bhutan.

Comprising existing colleges and institutes that are expected to grow into centres of
excellence, the university will include major functions of knowledge development, personnel
development and provision of services, among others. More specifically, it will:

   •       Institute programmes of studies and granting of degrees, including postgraduate and
   •       Create qualified human resources to serve the professional sector of the fast-
           expanding economy
   •       Monitor course quality and teaching effectiveness in member institutions
   •       Establish criteria for and accredit member institutions
   •       Coordinate exchange and sharing of resources among member institutions
   •       Oversee development and delivery of relevant curricula
   •       Guide the direction, dimension and quality of higher education in the country

It is hoped that the Royal University of Bhutan will embody the true tradition of higher

Concerns and Challenges

The Royal Government has not only is deeply committed to providing free basic education to
all Bhutanese children, but it also has signed the international Convention on the Rights of
the Child and the Education for All document. Likewise, it has created a wide network of
schools and non-formal education centres across the country. Enrolment has grown so
rapidly, however, that has become difficult to cope with the demand – and quality is often at
stake. Concern has been expressed at all levels of society over a perceived decline in
standards of education, with student performance particularly worrisome in mathematics,
languages and the sciences.

In addition, it is widely believed that the quality of teachers leaves much to be desired; that
leadership needs to be more inspiring; that curriculum should maintain a desirable level of
integrity; that values need to be practised rather than talked about; and a host of other issues
that affect education.

Especially in a country like Bhutan, with a small population, every citizen needs to be
properly educated. Research and development are crucial to the education process. To this
end, the newly instituted, independent Royal Education Council is expected to render counsel
and support to the Ministry of Education.

Education Sector Review Commission

In view of the system-wide concerns over education quality, the Royal Government of
Bhutan decided to institute a 10-member National Education Sector Review Commission to
examine the state of education and recommend actions to address the problem. The
Executive Order issued by the Honourable Prime Minister on 1 November 2006 requires the
Commission to conduct a comprehensive study of the system as per the Terms of Reference
and submit the report to the Government within one year.

Overall, the state of the nation’s education system is as revealing as it is worrying. However,
since education is founded on the principles of hope and achievement, there exists legitimate
reason to be confident that with the correct measures in place, the system can be as robust
and efficient as we all wish it to be.

CHAPTER II: Early Childhood Care and Education

Why Does ECCE Matter?

In the international context, the first goal of the Education For All Dakar Framework for
Action 2000 calls for “expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and
education, especially for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children.” Moreover,
UNICEF has declared that the international community should award far greater recognition
to the role of ECCE in a broader global anti-poverty strategy, stating: “Reaching the
Millennium Development Goals and reducing poverty depends on efforts to support young
children’s rights to health, education, protection and equality. Holistic ECCE can make a
major difference in reducing poverty and hunger (MDG1) and child mortality (MDG4), and
can help combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases (MDG6)” (UNICEF, 2003).

In addition, extensive global research has concluded:

   •   Early intervention is crucial: it is far more challenging and costly to compensate for
       educational and social disadvantages among older children and adults than to provide
       preventative measures and support in early childhood (UNESCO)

   •   Children from the poorest backgrounds benefit most from ECCE provision in term of
       care, education and health

   •   Developing ECCE programmes while improving the functioning of primary schools
       is likely to result in more timely entry into the school system and less grade
       repetition, thus allowing additional enrolment

   •   High-quality early childhood education is one of the best investments a nation can
       make in its young people

It should come as no surprise, then, that OECD countries provide children with access to at
least two years of free ECCE before they begin primary school.

Defining ECCE

According to UNESCO, ECCE refers to a wide range of programmes “all aimed at physical,
cognitive and social development of children before they enter primary school –
theoretically, from birth to about age 7 or 8.” Such programmes, it adds, “contribute to good
child development outcomes that set the foundation for lifelong learning and help in the
monitoring of health and nutrition status during this critical period of development.” (EFA
Global Monitoring Report 2007)

Broadly, ECCE programme can be grouped as follows:

a) Home Care programmes cater to children up to age 2 years. The term “care” in this
context encompasses “attention to health, hygiene and nutrition within a nurturing and safe
environment that supports children’s cognitive and socio-emotional well being.” (UNESCO)

Such care can be best given in a familiar and natural environment – the home. However,
changes in family structure and increased employment of women have led to the
establishment of day care facilities (crèches) for infants and toddlers.

b) Early Childhood Education programmes cater to children aged 3 to 6 years. In addition
to providing “care,” such programmes include organised learning or early childhood
education. It should be noted, however, “education” in the early childhood years is much
broader than schooling, capturing learning through early stimulation, guidance and a range of
developmental activities and opportunities. In practice, care and education cannot be
separated, and good-quality provision for young children necessarily addresses both
dimensions. (UNESCO).

The International Standard Classification of Education (ISCED) defines pre-primary
education under ECCE as ISCED Level 0, compromising programmes that offer structured,
purposeful learning activities in a centre (as oppose to the home) to children aged at least 3
years. (UNESCO, 1977) Such programmes are normally held to include organised,
experience-based learning activities. In particular, they encourage school readiness through:

       •   Physical well-being and motor development
       •   Social and emotional development
       •   Approaches to learning
       •   Language development
       •   Cognition and general knowledge

The Current Situation in Bhutan

No national policy currently exists in Bhutan on ECCE (also known as Early Childhood Care
and Development, or ECCD). Pending formulation of this policy, “the Government has
allowed some private-sector initiatives through the establishment of nursery schools in the
larger urban centres. These schools require the payment of fees and, consequently, are
attended mostly by the children of more well-to-do parents” (Education Sector Strategy,

The above is reflected in the current status of ECCD (also known as ECCE, or Early
Childhood Care and Education) in the country:

   •   Six daycare centres, mostly in Thimphu, Punakha, Paro and Phuentsholing, are
       providing 2 to 3 years of preschool education for about 200 3- to 5-year-olds.
       Clearly, the needs of only a very small proportion of young children are being met
       this way.

   • Several issues also exist concerning the daycare programmes, including staff training;
       state of the centres’ physical environment, including availability of appropriate play
       and educational equipment; and clarity of curriculum goals. It also appears that all six
       centres are struggling for financial sustainability.

‘Pre-Primary’: A Distinctive Approach

At the same time, in Bhutan the General Education Curriculum includes one year of pre-
primary (PP) as well as Classes I to VI. Notwithstanding the designation PP, “pre-primary”
in the country is “very much formal schooling,” in contrast to international expectations, it
has been found. 2 The Review of Primary Education (Department of
Education/UNICEF/SDC) commented that in most PP classes:

          The aim of the teachers seems to be to get [the children] onto the readers, formal
          arithmetic and book work as quickly as possible, so that they will be ready for Class
          I. The Pre-Primary grade does not function as preschool (as intended) but seems to
          be already Class I, so that the primary education in Bhutan in fact lasts for seven

As such, “PP experiences” are formal school experiences because of the widely held notion
that it should prepare children for Class I.


      1. Little planning has been done for preschool education and care of Bhutanese children,
         as shown by the low numbers involved nationwide. This is particularly unfortunate,
         given that children from households with no literate parents are in greatest need of
         preschool education.

      2. Conceptually, a distinction needs to be made between the ISCED Level 0 concept of
         “pre-primary education” and the much-misunderstood Bhutanese concept of “PP.” In
         practice, the latter is intended to prepare children for Class I, whereas broadly, pre-
         primary education under ECCE is intended primarily to promote children’s holistic

    Mark Bray, UNESCO consultant, The Costs and Finance of Primary Schools in Bhutan.

CHAPTER III: Universal Primary Education
The goals and processes for achieving Bhutan’s aspirations in the education sector are
defined in the “Education Sector Strategy: Realising the Vision 2020” (see Box 1). This
strategy forms the basics for achieving Universal Primary Education (UPE) by 2015 under
the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs), and for achieving the fundamental goal of
equity under the Dakar Declaration (see Box 2).

Box 1: Education Sector Strategy: Realising the Vision 2020, Bhutan

The Education Sector Strategy articulates how Bhutan will achieve its long-term vision in the
education sector as part of wider national development principles that address the country’s unique
needs and priorities for attaining Gross National Happiness. The Vision 2020 document provides the
following milestones for the sector:

Universal Primary Enrolment (UPE)                                                -     2007
Full enrolment of junior high school (Class VIII)                                -     2007
Full enrolment of high school (Class X)                                          -     2012
Full adaptation of secondary school curricula to the Bhutanese context           -     2007
Student competencies equivalent to average level by international standards      -     2010
Student competencies equivalent to excellence level by international standards   -     2020
International standards                                                          -     2020
Introduction of an operational distance education programme                      -     2007
Full adult literacy                                                              -     2012

Source: Ministry of Education, 2003

UPE means “that all children of primary-school participate in the school system and
complete primary school” (EFA Global Monitoring Report 2007). So that all Bhutanese
children are becoming “primary graduates” by 2015, this requires: (a) beginning pre-primary
(PP) enrolment of all children for the academic session 2009 at the officially prescribed age,
i.e., 6 years; and (b) the acquisition of these children of basic skills – reading, writing and
numeracy – and their progression from PP to Class VI within a national time frame of 7
years. This further implies that the school system will have the capacity to accommodate
entire cohorts of children, as well as to provide a quality education. In other words, for UPE
quantitative and qualitative objectives are inseparable.

Achieving Gender Parity

Gender disparity in primary school enrolment is characteristic of many countries with low
overall enrolment. Thus, with its Gender Parity Index of 83.9 percent for boys and 83.5
percent for girls (2007), Bhutan’s progress in achieving gender parity in primary education is
commendable, reflecting little if any discrimination against girls’ enrolment in school. This is
an important factor in achieving UPE; the latter by definition calls for gender parity. At the
secondary, there is a decline in girls’ participation, however.

Box 2: The Dakar Framework for Action and Millennium Development Goals

Education For All Dakar Goals

1. Expanding and improving comprehensive early childhood care and education, especially
for the most vulnerable and disadvantaged children

2. Ensuring that by 2015 all children, particularly belonging to ethnic minorities, have access
to complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality

3. Ensuring that the learning needs of all young people and adults are met through equitable
access to appropriate learning and life skills programmes

4. Achieving a 50 percent improvement in levels of adult literacy by 2015, especially for
women, and equitable access to basic and continuing education for all adults

5. Eliminating gender disparities in primary and secondary education by 2005 and achieving
gender equality in education by 2015, with a focus on ensuring girls’ full and equal access to
(and achievement in) basic education of good quality

6. Improving all aspects of the quality of education and ensuring excellence of all so that
recognised and measurable learning outcomes are achieved by all, especially in literacy,
numeracy and essential life skills

Millennium Development Goals

Goal 2. Achieve universal primary education

Target 3: Ensure that by 2015 children everywhere, boys and girls alike, will be able to
complete a full course of primary schooling

Goal 3. Promote gender equality and empower women

Target 4: Eliminate gender disparity in primary and secondary education, preferably by 2005,
and at all levels of education no later than 2015

Source: UNESCO

Bhutan’s Status on Enrolment

Enrolment is the measurable indicator of progress toward UPE. In 2006-2007, the Gross
Enrolment Ratio (GER) and Net Enrolment Ratio (NER) in primary education were 105
percent and 83 percent respectively. What does this imply?

•   A total of 105 percent GER is not necessarily a sign of progress toward UPE,
       although it indicates that the school system has the quantitative capacity to enroll all

   children at the official age; some schools are resorting to a “shift system” to
   accommodate the increased numbers. Even so, in many Bhutanese schools – particularly
   in rural areas – it appears that strong moves will be necessary for UPE to be achieved: 65
   percent of enrolment is concentrated in urban and semi-urban areas, which comprise only
   35 percent of schools.

   •   Meanwhile, an NER at or near 100 percent implies UPE; thus, an NER of 83 percent
       may give an impression that the country is on track toward this goal. However, a
       progression from 83 percent to 100 percent is not straightforward, since the last 15 to
       20 percent of school-age cohorts usually include the hardest-to-reach children.
       Moreover, their background characteristics are such that they require specifically
       prepared polices and programmes to attract and retain them in school. Ironically,
       Bhutan’s relatively high and stable NER since 2001-2002 is actually a sign of how
       difficult it is proving to enrol this category of children. In other words, even in purely
       quantitative terms, achieving UPE requires “out-of-the-box” initiatives.

Out-of-School Children

The enrolment figure for 2007 shows that 16.3 percent, or 16,500, primary-age children (6-
12 years) are out of formal schooling. (Some of these children could be studying in monistic
institutes or in school abroad. Some of them may join the formal schooling after the officially
prescribed age) As noted above, the background characteristics and needs of these children
are different:

   •   Even when primary education is “free,” according to a UNICEF survey, families have
       to bear costs over a six-month period of Nu.1,729 per pupil for uniforms, school food,
       fees and other contributions. These expenses can and do act as a major deterrent for
       poor households in enrolling or retaining children in primary education.

   •   Similarly, “economic compulsion” was found by the report Toward a Pro-Poor
       Development Strategy for Bhutan 2005 as a key reason why “Bhutan is still some way
       behind the goal of universal primary education.” This report added: “… persistent
       poverty of the household, rather than access to schooling facilities, now remains the
       major stumbling block toward achieving the goal of universal primary education.”

   •   Lastly, UPE’s central concern is equity in learning outcomes, access and retentions –
       but it is not enough to simply bring education services closer to the doorstep of the
       hardest-to-reach. Instead, it requires initiating targeted polices and programmes that
       can rescue families, many of them rural, who are caught in an intergenerational
       poverty trap. “Children born in poor families cannot always avail of the educational
       opportunities open to them,” researchers found. “And lack of education condemns
       them to a life of poverty for themselves and their own children in future.”(Toward a
       Pro-Poor Development Strategy for Bhutan 2005)

CHAPTER IV: Status of Primary Education
Bhutan’s status and quality of primary education have been assessed through the key
determinants of retention, grade repetition and learners’ academic achievements.


Based on data for the last six years (2001-2002 through 2006-2007), the following
characterises the situation regarding primary school dropouts:

       •       On average, the primary school dropout rate (during the six year period) was 2.87
               percent per grade annually. As many as 3,621 children did not complete five years of
               schooling. This adds to the illiterate population of the country, given that the Royal
               Government has declared that “five years of education is required to ensure literacy
               and numeracy. Children leaving earlier are still illiterate.” 3

       •       More than 2,240 children drop out (during the six year period) after reaching the last
               primary grade, and cohort completion rates are lower than survival rates. Thus, the
               number of years of schooling is a practically useful but conceptually dubious proxy
               for the processes that take place there and the outcomes that result. Consequently, the
               latter provides a better way of judging the condition of primary education.

       •       Returns may be insignificant for children who drop out after, for example, a couple
               of unsuccessful years of school attendance, compared with those that a complete
               primary education would bring. Reducing drop out rates is, therefore, crucial.

Grade Repetition

Grade repetition appears a hallmark of the primary education system, in spite of a non-
detention directive by the Ministry of Education and anecdotal evidence suggesting overly
lenient awarding of marks under the Continuous Assessment system. This is mirrored in the
repetition status for 2001-2002 through 2006-2007:

           •    The repetition rate, on average, stood at 8.5 percent per grade annually, indicating
                the proportion of children who are not mastering the curriculum. A high level of
                grade repetition is a sign of a dysfunctional school system, exacerbating the dropout
                and resulting in overcrowded schools.

           •    In primary education, Grade IV has had the highest repetition rate every year since
                2001-2002. As will be discussed below, this could be due to a low level of overall
                “learning gain.”

           •    Surprisingly, even in PP the repetition rate is 10.3 percent per year, in large part
                because many young children are being enrolled in PP before they are age 6. This
                results in a highly “uneven” age group of PP pupils. It also represents a further

    MoE, General Statistics 2007. All data in this chapter are from MoE General Statistics 2006 and 2007.

signal that ECCE for children younger than 6 has not been given the attention it merits.

     •   The rate of grade repetition is one indicator for measuring the efficiency of the
         education system, given that repetition is equivalent to an additional year of
         participation per child. Accordingly, where grade repetition is high some
         improvements in quality may be largely self-financing, simply by reducing the
         average time completers spend in school.

Academic Achievement

A major objective of all educational systems is learners’ cognitive development, and the
degree to which a system actually achieves this is one indicator of quality. An important
measure of the latter is represented by test scores, which helps to assess learners’

Bearing this in mind, the following summarises the findings of (a) the 2003 National
Education Assessment (NEA) in the core subjects of English (literacy) and numeracy for
Class VI, and (b) a 2007 World Bank education quality survey of primary schools in Bhutan
(Classes II and IV):

A. NEA Findings:

1. The mean test scores were 23.08 out of 50 in numeracy and 26 out of 50 in literacy.

2. Boys outperformed girls in numeracy (see below). In addition, those who liked
   mathematics tended to do well in the subject.

         Gender            Numeracy Mean
                           (total 50)
         Male                     23.54
         Female                   22.51

3. The performance of students on a geometry sub-test appeared very poor: 38 percent of
students got 0 out of 9 marks and another 40 percent got only 1 mark out of 9.

4. Similarly, the performance of students on an algebra sub-test also appeared very poor: 31
percent of students got 0 out of 5 marks and about 36 percent got only 1 mark out of 5.

5. Girls outperformed boys in literacy

         Gender            Literacy Mean (total 50)
         Male                          25.81
         Female                        26.44

6. English teachers needed more help in teaching grammar.

7. Both English and mathematics teachers relied heavily on textbooks as a teaching resource.

8. Teachers in general have relatively little in-service education to update their own skills and
refresh and enhance professional knowledge.

9. Urban students outperformed semi-urban, rural and remote students in all cases.

10. The shorter the distance a pupil travelled every day to school, the better the performance.

11. Very little professional support appeared to be provided to schools from the dzongkhags.

12. Major constraints to teachers’ professional duties included too many school activities,
class size and lack of resources.

B. Findings of World Bank’s Bhutan Learning Quality Survey (the Learning Quality

1. Except for Dzongkha, community schools record the lowest scores in English and

2. The overall rate of learning is low.

       •   Average learning ability in Class IV is higher than expected learning competency
           in Class II by only half a standard deviation.

       • Alarmingly, this implies that at the current rate of learning, it will take the average
           student in Class II another year to reach the average competency for that grade.

C. Outcomes of the Findings:

   •   NEA findings show that achievement levels of learners in core subjects, particularly
       mathematics, at the end of primary education are disappointingly low (see Boxes 3
       and 4). Such learning levels clearly indicate the poor quality of teaching/learning in

   •   Given current dropout rates from primary school, NEA tests show that even
       academically better-off children are performing poorly, particularly in mathematics.

   •   Alarmingly, the overall “learning gain” is slow: one additional year per grade is
       required to reach the average competency for that grade. This implies that children
       are not mastering the curriculum within the prescribed time, resulting in high primary
       school grade repetition. Achievement levels tend to decline as children move along
       from PP to Class IV. Apparently, this decline is worst in Class IV, which consistently
       had the highest overall primary education repetition rate for 2001/2002-2006/2007, at
       11.8 percent. Even among those children who get through Class IV, a significant
       number either repeat or drop out in Class V and /or Class VI. It can be surmised that a
       high proportion of children are completing the primary cycle without acquiring basic
       skills in reading, writing and numeracy.

•   Most children substandard mastery in core subjects indicates a major gap in levels of
    understanding. If children do not acquire competencies at primary level, particularly

•   in English and maths, they will encounter serious learning challenges later. This also
    is demonstrated by results that Class VII had one of the highest secondary education
    repetition rates (10.9 percent) and dropout rates (7.15 percent) in the six-year period

•   NEA, designed to evaluate the strengths and weaknesses of the education system as a
    whole, uses assessments that are curriculum-based and subject-oriented, generally
    covering Dzongkha, English and numeracy. So far, the assessment does not cover
    other aspects of learning, such as creativity and critical thinking (as assessed under
    some international testing systems). It is equally important, however, to incorporate
    an assessment of creativity and critical thinking in order to have a complete view of

•   Especially worryingly, because urban students performed best in all cases under the
    NEA, this means that the education system has not been effective in contributing to
    greater equity in educational opportunities. Yet “educational attainment is one, if not
    the major, determinant of life chances and the opportunity to escape poverty.” (World
    Bank 2005 and National Human Development Report, UNDP 2005).


1. Urgent and significant efforts need to be made to achieve UPE by 2015

2. Learners’ achievement in Bhutan is very low, and the most important challenge for
   primary education is to improve educational outcomes of children

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