Essay On 100 Years Of Modern Education In Bhutan

Bare to the calves with dirty knees, uncombed hair with its colour hardly natural, dirty nose that bubbled with mucus now and then, and with decaying teeth that needed the service of a dentist, life was harsh.

The school was not a homely place either. Knees were bent to serve as desk for slates that were mostly broken. Standing was sometimes, better than sitting on the cold broken floor. Quite often, bunking a class to escape slaps for losing a chalk was neither a better option nor affordable. Memorizing without understanding was norm of the day and failing in it entailed canning on the calves. One cannot simply imagine of a better quality of education in such an unfriendly atmosphere then.

The conditions of our schools those days are still etched in our memory. Houses built of thatched bamboo with banana leaves overhead were the hostels that let no sun in and no rain out. Food called ‘bongkharang’, was hard to digest and often oily and salty. With homegrown teachers scarce, teachers from outside dominated and corporal punishments in various forms bore no hesitation. Bringing firewood for teachers was a weekly norm accentuated by fetching water. Digging their vegetable gardens was not a source of joy either.

Today, fortunate ones are those who can start their education with good chairs to sit and desk to support, less distance to walk, highly qualified teachers to teach, good books to read, fancy notes and pens to write, computers and internet to supplement teaching and learning.

What is not there now that we could not have then? Why do people not agree that schools are far better and conducive to teaching and learning today? Why then people think that quality of education has gone down amidst culmination of such facilities? From dancing to playing variety of games, from giving speeches to writing poems, from making models to inventing, from values and attitudes to skills, from drama to acting, what cannot a child do today? Is the quality of education today not good?

Quality of education has never gone down compared to the past. It has been on the improving side. The history of modern education in Bhutan says that, “it started in 1960 with only11 schools and 440 students” (Gyamtsho, 2006) and 46 years later, “in 2005 there were 14,188 students studying in 458 schools around the country managed by 4604 teachers” (Penjor, 2006). “In fact, we can boast of achieving, in mere 46 years, what some other countries have taken hundreds of years.

Those who believe and debate that quality of our education has gone down must remember that “quality is a complex phenomenon and its definition is multi-dimensional” (karma, etal, 1985, in Dorji, 2005, p. 180), and “quality is, therefore, a relative term and depends upon the situation and time in which the education system occurs” (Dorji, 2003, p.180). Given the time and situation of our country, quality of education is comparatively high in our country. Gyamtsho, (2006), also agrees that “quality of Bhutanese education is already better than most of the government schools in the neighboring countries”.

The improvement in the quality of education is seen in the number of educated people in the job market, in the increased developmental activities of our nation, better information and communication technologies, better health facilities, high participation in the democratic process, more schools and more qualified teachers and so on. All these paint a successful picture of our education system.

We could not have brought our nation to this extent of prosperity had our present education system failed. We would not have  somebody (- a product of Bhutanese education system) who studied and completed his higher secondary level in Bhutan ruling as the Fifth King of Bhutan had the quality of education been poor. Bhutanese students would not excel in their studies and bring home gold medals from outside universities if what they have learnt in Bhutan was below standard. There will not be any Bhutanese youth receiving gold medals in the international arenas such as Indra Gandhi National Open University (IGNOU), New Delhi if what teachers teach is not of a good quality.

And of late, Thailand wanted more than 400 Bhutanese teachers to teach English in its various institutes. Had it doubted the quality of education provided in Bhutan it would not have invited us. The philosophy of Gross National Happiness (GNH) has become Bhutan’s most embraced ambassador across the globe. A country with poor quality of education will not qualify to envisage such a healing superior vision for the whole world. These are some reasons to feel that quality of education in Bhutan is not deteriorating.

Somebody has written that, “Some aspects of education have declined”. He wrote: “I can feel the decline in the inability of the students to read and write in both English and Dzongkha. Writing letter, application and articles in Dzongkha on their own has virtually diminished and neither can they write in English”. The term ‘virtually’ is not ‘reality’ and does not qualify to prove his statement nor can he generalize that few students’ inability in language means decline in the quality of education in the nation. A person with a broken arm does not mean that he does not qualify to be a complete human being.

Our schools today are safe and conducive to teaching and learning with all the basic resources adequately in place. With improved health facilities, the early childhood of our children is better than of the past. Children are strong and healthy due to better feeding programmes; they can attend classes regularly and attentively. They can also play games and participate in other co-curricular activities and attain wholesome education. With the implementation of disaster management programmes schools are becoming safer. With the concept of child friendly school, children need not worry to bunk classes to escape a slap for forgetting a pencil. Gone are the days of chalk and slates.

Curriculum is another. It refers to the intended and taught and practised content in the schools. Our curriculum is gender-sensitive and include all children with diverse abilities and backgrounds, and responsive to emerging issues. Over the years, curricula in almost all the subjects have undergone gradual intensive reforms for a better cause because “it has to be a system that not only reflects Bhutanese priorities and national goals, but blends modern education thinking and traditional education thinking and traditional practices to move forward” (Editorial, Kuensel, July 15, 2006). And our teachers are passionately attached to doing it.

Today, where our education has reached is all due to our teachers. They have produced what we might call ‘the software of development’- educated human resources. In the past, teachers were the most revered figures in the society, “but it is just that in the path of progress, we forgot that value” (Kuensel, July 26, 2006) and as we forget that value we make them appear secondary and are forced to take a back seat. Teaching has become a minimalist profession now. Phuntsok (2006) says that “once teachers were proud to reveal their identity as teachers, but now it has become a humiliation. The once elevated lopen (king of knowledge) has now fallen below the radar of societal respect, says Amina Gurung. Barzun says ‘Teaching is not a lost art, but the regard for it is a lost tradition’. Now most parents, be they educated or not, discourage their children to become teachers. Such attitudes will impede the continuity of maintaining good quality of education. Yes! This area should be discussed.

We should not discuss the quality of education alone, but also discuss the conditions of our teachers because, as are the teachers, so will be the quality of education. Quality of education does not lie only in the glory of buildings, but also in the glory of our teachers. It is just time that we pick up our respect for teachers and offer them back their due former glory. On their part, they are doing their best.

Sometimes, we feel tempted to compare our education system with that of already developed countries. It may not be good to do so. We cannot be equal to well established missionary schools nearby, nor with ‘education tigers’ like Finland, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand and many more whose education system dates back to as early as 15th century or even before. This much our people should understand. We should not lose our self-esteem and make our own education system take a back seat by our own people.

Looking back at the education road that we have traveled thus far, we have not made mistakes. We have traveled each step with increased level of improvement. Bhutan must deliberately slow down the speed of education because education in other countries has rather empowered people to invent technologies that can destroy the earth within seconds just by pressing a button wherein Bhutan’s education system, deeply rooted in Buddhism has helped shape hearts that can save the world. In that case, Bhutan’s quality of education has been the best indeed!

Almost, everything that a school needs to impart good quality education is in place. Therefore, the outcry that the quality of education has declined is simply not true. Let us ask ourselves. “Is there anything wrong in the present system? If so, Where?


Contributed by Dungsampa Sonam Wangdi, Dy. Chief DEO, Panbang




May 2nd 2012 saw the launch of the Sherig Century Celebration-100 years of Educating the Nation. The day is very significant in the history of the country for this is the birth anniversary of the third Druk Gyalpo His Majesty King Jigme Dorji Wangchuck who is popularly known as the Father of Modern Education in Bhutan. There is no better way to pay our tribute to a great King whose visionary leadership is reflected in today’s Bhutan, whose passions and legacies are carried forward by His Majesty the Fourth King Jigme Singye Wangchuck and His Majesty the Fifth King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck. Leaders who firmly and truly believed and believe that the future of the nation lies in the hands of our youth and it’s the education system that nurtures the youth of today. Thus, it is only appropriate for the Nation to pay tribute to the leaders of the past and present for reforming and transforming the education system in Bhutan.

The day also marks the National Teachers Day bringing in joy and life to the teachers of Bhutan. It is therefore, only right to pay our tribute to our teachers of the past and present who have put their heart and soul in the education of the nation. This is a great day to celebrate our teachers. We must take opportunity to create that moment of celebration to help build the positive energy in the country. Our teachers are always at the receiving end, overooking their selfless services to the children of Bhutan. We forget that great teachers build nations and that they shape the next generations of decision makers in the country. This is the day for us to reflect and begin to think more meaningfully on the role of our teachers in the nation building.

Talk of reflection and it takes me three decades back when I was a student in class two at the then Changangkha Primary School. Honestly speaking I don’t remember her name nor do I remember any details of her except that she was an Indian lady teacher who was very caring and kind to the children. Those days having just come from the village and getting to play swing and drive in huge toy car in her lawn was a blessing to us. The incident has been etched in my memory ever since. She has taught and left one of the most important values of a human kind in me. She may or may not be there to read this article of mine but nevertheless, I would like the winds to carry out my infinite gratitude to her and to all the teachers who have been a part and parcel of my life and made a difference in my life.

This is also a day for every one of us to reflect and move on from here. I remember His Majesty the Fifth King’s address during the 3rd convocation of the Royal University of Bhutan at Paro College of Education on 17th February 2009 when His Majesty mentioned that “I am a firm believer that if there is one word that will stand out above all other words when we describe our country’s amazing journey of modernization over the last few decades-it is Education. Our institutions, our leaders of today-all of us, including me- are the proud products of the Bhutanese Education system.”

Yes, all of us, our civil servants, our business organizations, our civil societies, our private organizations, our media organizations, every individual, the kind of life styles that we lead, the kind of march that our country has made over the times- all these are propelled by our education system. It’s a wonderful opportunity to look back at our education system. Education has been a faithful companion of our country’s development. We need to appreciate the contribution our education has made in the march of our country’s journeys.

Sherig century celebration is not just for a day and the launch was just one planned programme amongst many that are in the pipeline. It is a yearlong celebration. In fact we should be celebrating every day, every hour and every minute the contributions made by our leaders and educators of the past and present. Sherig Century Celebration should not be just confined to the Ministry of Education. It should transcend beyond the Ministry of education.  All of us should rejoice in the 100 years of educating the nation. It is an opportunity for every individual to reflect over 100 years of education in Bhutan and how it has evolved over time. It is time for us to honour our educators, time for all of us to stop for a moment and appreciate the valuable contributions that the leaders, educators and teachers have made in transforming the nation.

As far as the Ministry of Education is concerned Sherig Century Celebration is spread across the country. Celebration is planned at the National Level, Dzongkhag level, and at the school level. Publication paying tribute to the teachers and general public to share their reflections and some wonderful experiences with the teachers will be published during the year and released during the culmination of the Sherig Century Celebration. As per the record, the present Ugyen Dorji Higher Secondary School is the first school that came into existence in 1913. As such, the Sherig Century Celebration will culminate at Haa, Ugyen Dorji Higher Secondary School marking the 100 years of educational journey of Ugyen Doji HSS.  As a member secretary of the Sherig Century Task Force, it is my humble hope that the nation will join the Ministry of Education in celebrating the Nation.



The writer is an officer in the Private School Division under the Ministry of Education .

EducationmodernizationNational Teachers DaySherigTeachers2012-05-23

The Bhutanese

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