Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Educating for a different future

Photo of panel-members during the 2nd Education Dialogue held at DYS Auditorium Hall on 4th April 2018. Image source: Dorji Wangchuk's Facebook profile.

The quality of education is determined by the quality of school curriculum and the professional competencies of teachers who deliver it to students. Over the past couple of decades, several flaws have been found in the education system since the knowledge and skills imparted to our children throughout their academic life do not seem to help them get employment or prepare them to face the challenges of the 21st century world. Now there is a strong need to review the existing school curriculum and make it more wholistic so that our children get both soft and hard skills that can enhance their capacity to lead a more meaningful and productive life after graduation. These were some of the key highlights of the 2nd Education Dialogue organized jointly by the Ministry of Education and the Journalist Association of Bhutan on the evening of 4th April 2018.

The panel discussion on the theme “Educating for a different future” saw the deliberation on various issues affecting the education system in Bhutan today such as the issue of outdated textbooks with grammatical/factual errors, low-profile of vocational/technical education programs in schools and the lack of proper infrastructure and facilities in schools for effective teaching and learning. There has also been too much focus on academe and as a result, children appear to be more stressed out due to constant academic pressure both from parents and teachers. The Education Minister, Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk and the Director of the Royal Education Council, Kuenga Drakpa talked about various initiatives taken by the Royal Government of Bhutan to improve the quality of education in the recent years such as the annual revision of textbooks, periodic review of school curriculum, introduction of professional development programs for teachers, introduction of textbook-free history subject for class XI and the reduction of workload for teachers.

However, Michael Rutland who was also on the panel said that Bhutan’s education system as of now is designed to produce more unemployed youth. The children are simply taught how to memorize lessons from the textbooks to pass from one grade to the next with no creative thinking or analytical skills. The exams are mostly designed to test the children’s memory, not their ability to apply their knowledge or process their thoughts. When they finally graduate, they realize that they have no employability skills that could help them get a job. Michael stressed that vocational/technical education programs should be made an integral part of school curriculum till grade 10 so that students can have alternative options to decide their future if they ever fail to qualify for higher studies.

Generally speaking, the modern education system in the entire world is still struggling to get rid of the teaching methods and school curriculum that were originally designed for the industrial revolution in the 18th century. Children during those days were not expected to be creative and innovative. They were only expected to work like robots in the industries, obeying orders and following the routine work schedules without questioning the authorities. As a result, the children grew up without realizing their full potential. The education system provided no space for them to think creatively and develop analytical skills. That’s why, they only learned what their teachers prepared for them. They were always given ready-made answers. This is the main reason why even today our children still believe that cows give only milk and nothing else such as the dung and meat. Similarly, most of our teachers simply deliver what is written in the textbooks and hardly allow their students to think and explore answers from their own perspective. For instance, instead of asking students how plants prepare food, the science teacher directly explains the process of photosynthesis. This does not give opportunities for the children to think creatively.

Today, we live in a completely different world from that of the 18th century. The curriculum that was relevant 3 centuries earlier will definitely not be applicable today. The time has changed, but it seems our education system hasn’t. This seriously calls for the need to reform our education system to suit the growing needs of our present generation. But as Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk highlighted, the Ministry of Education alone cannot change the education system in the country. Every parent, every educator and every individual involved in child development should come together as a team to reform the entire education system. With so many great plans in the pipeline within the Ministry of Education to improve the quality of education, we hope that our children would one day wake up to a kind of future that adds values to their lives and recognizes their extraordinary human potential.