Monday, 18 August 2008

Bhutan : Booked for decline in education

16 August, 2008 - There’s more to the decline in the nation’s educational standards than just a deficiency of teachers.

According to a 2007 study by the education sector review commission, the poor quality and dearth of textbooks are also culprits.

The study found that only 66 percent of students had textbooks for all subjects, while 34 percent did not have textbooks for some.

About 22 percent of those without books could neither share nor borrow books from their friends.

For instance, in Gomtu middle secondary school in Samtse dzongkhag, about 50 percent of the Class VI students did not have science textbooks this year, said the vice principal, Pema Wangchuk.

“Since it’s a day scholar school, it’s inconvenient for students to share textbooks, especially if they live far from each other,” said Pema Wangchuk.

A member of the study group, Dasho Meghraj Gurung, said the situation was worse in rural areas. “It’s obvious that schools without textbooks or learning material will not be able to engage students in effective learning.”

Education officials attribute the short supply of textbooks to the change in curriculum and some revision for which material was not printed on time. They said that the shortage was also the result of bureaucracy.

Schools first send the textbook requisition to the dzogkhag education officers, who scrutinise the list then send it to the regional store. The requisition next goes to the education ministry and finally to the ministry’s central store in Phuentsholing for printing or purchasing.

The joint director of the curriculum and professional support division, Wangchuk Rabten, said that the submitted order list was not always accurate. “Rural schools have different issues because sometimes the books supplied are left at the road head to be picked up by an official from the school. But it has been reported several times that the books remain at the road head for weeks.”

The education ministry spends about Nu 50 million a year on printing and purchasing school textbooks.

The chief procurement officer in Phuentsholing, Minjur Dorji, said that the education ministry spent nearly Nu 101 million in 2007 for books, especially for the new curriculum. Another Nu 34 million was spent on stationery and sports equipment, he said.

But there are hundreds of students in the country who do not have textbooks. With about four months left for the academic year to end, twelve-year-old Tandin Passang of Babesa school in Thimphu does not yet have a science textbook.

Tandin Passang said that neither can he study at home nor do his homework. “I come early to school or go to my friend’s house when I need to refer to the science book,” said the class 4 student.

The study revealed that the quality of books was also a problem.

The review commission found the condition of many books to be in a very poor state, not only because of wear and tear but also for poor production quality, using sub-standard paper.

The study also pointed out that the pictures and illustrations in the text books were indistinct and masses of fused colours.

The education officials said they had no idea where the textbooks were being printed but that it was being given to Bhutanese publishing houses that bid the lowest.

A manager in one of the local publishing houses said that the officials did not check the capacity of the local printers. “After quoting low price, they outsourced the work to cheap publishing houses in India.”

By Phuntsho Choden

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