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Education in Bhutan
Nestled underneath the economic powerhouse of China, the Himalayan nation of Bhutan boasts a diverse population that works across the agricultural, industrial and service industries. The service industries command 22 percent of the labor force. Because of this multifaceted workforce, Bhutan’s unemployment rate mulled around 3.2 percent in both 2016 and 2017, while approximately one-eighth of the population lives below the global poverty line. Despite these impressive numbers, education in Bhutan is the one arena where the country suffers. The predominant issue is whether the nation can provide an adequate, consistent education.

The creation of school systems, both public and private, has a tremendous effect on poverty reduction. According to the Global Partnership for Education, approximately 420 million people would be out of poverty if sufficient secondary education were available to them.

Governmental Infrastructure and Plans

That said, the Bhutanese government has made substantial progress in increasing access to and improving education in Bhutan. Education starts with teachers and professors, and over the past year, Bhutan has seen a 4 percent drop in the number of teachers. In an effort to combat this stark drop and in an attempt to decrease unemployment among the young adult population, Prime Minister Lotay Tshering and his government decided to double the salaries of teachers who remain in the profession for 10 or more years, thus making teaching the highest-paid civil service profession in Bhutan. In addition to this pay-raise, Prime Minister Tshering stated that his government hopes to provide career advancement for teachers, which would, in turn, lead to vast educational improvements.

The increased salary occurs at the midway point of the country’s 10-year educational reform, which aims to improve quality of and access to education in Bhutan. The Bhutan Educational Blueprint is comprised of eight different shifts, all with this central goal in mind. A few of the core tenants of these shifts (and the blueprint in total) include:

  • Improving overall access to education in Bhutan (including secondary and tertiary education)
  • Establishing a more modern, well-rounded curriculum
  • Elevating student performance to international standards
  • Making teaching a more desirable vocation
  • Maintaining the standards of high-performing schools and teachers once met

The Implementation of the Plans

Furthermore, the Bhutan government plans to dole these eight shifts out slowly over the course of three distinct waves, lasting years. The first wave, which ended in 2017, focused primarily on laying the groundwork and preparing the nation for extensive educational overhauls. The second wave, which will end in 2020, is concerned with building upon what Bhutan has established – improving access to tertiary education, rolling out new curricula and implementing new educational pathways. The third and final wave will turn to fortifying the newly established systems, guaranteeing quality education in Bhutan.

Combining this educational blueprint with increased teacher salaries is an incredible first step in improving education in Bhutan. Furthermore, these raises should help guarantee an all-important component of education: trained professionals prepared to teach the next generation of professionals, innovators and leaders in order to hopefully reduce poverty and unemployment rates even further.

– Colin Petersdorf
Photo: Flickr

PA Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bhutan
Bhutan is only slightly larger than the state of Maryland, but the predominantly Buddhist nation holds a powerful place both in history and the future. For centuries, the Kingdom of Bhutan remained independent and resisted colonization. Though the country joined the United Nations in 1971 and began facilitating foreign tourism in 1974, Bhutan’s government has remained committed to its legacy of autonomy. In 2008, the country gained fame with its enactment of Gross National Happiness (GNH), a philosophy and an index which monitors collective well-being. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Bhutan show how quickly the country has developed since the first road was paved in 1961, opening the way to modernization.

Top 10 Facts About Living Conditions in Bhutan

  1. Poverty rates are dropping every year. In 2007, 23 percent of the population lived in poverty. In just five years, the number fell by half, and as of 2017, only 8.2 percent of the population lived below the national poverty line. Extreme poverty is nearly nonexistent, affecting less than 2 percent of the population. Despite these achievements, there is a disparity between rural and urban areas. Rural areas have a poverty rate of 11 percent while fewer than 1 percent of urban dwellers live in poverty.
  2. Bhutan’s economy is consistently growing. While agriculture is the main livelihood for 54 percent of Bhutanese people, the economy is also based on forestry, tourism and the sale of hydroelectric power (mostly to India). The GDP has skyrocketed from $0.14 billion in 1980 to $2.51 billion in 2017, and the economy’s average growth between 2006 and 2015 was 7.5 percent.
  3. Unemployment hits youth the hardest. Though the country’s unemployment rate is only 2.1 percent, 13.2 percent of youth (15 to 24 years old) are unemployed. Bhutan’s growing economy is largely driven by the hydropower sector, but the industry does not guarantee enough jobs for the growing population. Institutions like the World Bank recommend that Bhutan invest more in the private sector in order to diversify the economy and combat youth unemployment.
  4. Access to clean water is becoming a basic right. Over 98 percent of the population has access to improved drinking water, a huge success when compared to past decades. Improved water sources, however, do not always equate to safe drinking water. The Royal Center for Disease Control tested more than 5,000 water samples and found that only 44.3 percent were safe to drink. Still, the government remains committed to improving water quality for its citizens, and in 2016, developed the Bhutan Drinking Water Quality Standard.
  5. Public healthcare is free. Healthcare is a basic human right in Bhutan. Life expectancy is now 70 years old, a stark difference compared to the 1960s when life expectancy was 37 years old and only two hospitals existed in the country. Bhutan now has 28 hospitals, 156 basic health clinics and 654 outreach clinics. Nine out of 10 women have their children in hospitals or healthcare facilities, and the child survival rate is 93 percent.
  6. Seventy-six percent of the population is happy. According to the Bhutan Living Standards Report of 2017, more than 40 percent of the population is moderately or very happy. Every five years, 8,000 households are randomly selected to take a 3-hour-long happiness survey, with questions ranging from health, education, psychological well being, community vitality, etc. Participants are compensated for a day’s worth of work, likely increasing happiness.
  7. Education rates are low but rising. Bhutan has developed dramatically in the last decades, and education rates are reflecting this change. As of 2017, 95 percent of the population had completed primary school and 70 percent completed secondary school. Progress was slower because education is not compulsory, but primary and secondary education rates have drastically increased. In 1988, only 25 percent of the population had completed primary school, and still less (5 percent) got a secondary school education.
  8. Bhutan is committed to conservation and sustainability. Bhutan is the only carbon negative country in the world. Its constitution mandates that 60 percent of its land remains forested, an area that absorbs more carbon than the country produces. However, modern times have brought new struggles in regards to conservation. As the economy and population grow, more strain is put on the environment. WWF Bhutan Country Representative Dechen Dorji explains that “We need to balance the need for economic development – like hydropower and tourism – with the need to protect natural resources.”
  9. There are no McDonald’s in Bhutan. Though it sounds funny, this fact is symbolic of Bhutan’s commitment to protecting its cultural heritage and way of life. Bhutan understands that foreign influence is inevitable, but the country seeks to strike a balance between modernization, foreign investment and tradition. Consequently, Bhutan follows a “high value, low impact” tourism policy, which requires tourists to spend between $200 and $250 each day. This controls the influx of tourists and guarantees investment in the country.
  10. Bhutan is the 27th least-corrupt country in the world. According to the Transparency International Corruption Perception Index, out of 168 countries, Bhutan is one of the least corrupt. Bribes are almost nonexistent in the court system, and only 1 percent of companies feel that the courts inhibit business. Furthermore, as citizens of one of the youngest democracies in the world, Bhutanese people are guaranteed freedom of speech and of the press, which allows government corruption to be critiqued and exposed by the media.

Sustainable development and investment in health, education and happiness have set Bhutan up for a bright future. These top 10 facts about living conditions in Bhutan demonstrate the country’s commitment to growth and collective well-being. There is still room for improvement, and by partnering with institutions like the World Bank and allying with local nonprofits like the Bhutan Youth Development Fund, Bhutan is addressing its development goals on all fronts.

– Kate McIntosh
Photo: Flickr

Education in BhutanThe encouraging transition towards gender equality within education in Bhutan has participated in the drastic decrease in their poverty rate from 23 percent in 2007 to 12 percent in 2012. An entire 11 percent has risen above the poverty line, in part because of girls’ greater access to education.

Comparing Genders

Traditionally, it was much more prevalent for Bhutanese girls to participate in domestic labor, such as babysitting and cleaning, while boys attended school. However, from 1992 to 2012 the enrollment rate has more than doubled from 50 percent to 110 percent because of the increase in female attendance. To compare data from 2012, 110 percent of males were enrolled in primary school, while 112 percent of females were enrolled. Not only has education in Bhutan bridged the gender gap, but there’s now a dominance of girls in school. It is important to acknowledge that the percentage rests over 100 percent because of a lack of children completing primary school when they are expected to, creating an overabundance of students.

The 2012 results for secondary school, in regards to gender, are similar to that of primary school, with 50 percent males and 57 percent females enrolled. In this regard, the issue no longer lies between gender differences, but rather with a lack of all children attending secondary schooling, which is defined as grades 7 to 12.

Labor

Child labor exists as one of the main deterrents to girls’ education in Bhutan. Although the country declared the legal working age as 18-years-old and provides free primary education, one out of five children are required to work to aid their families. Furthermore, 2012’s child labor rates were higher from females than for males, with 3.1 percent of girls and 2.6 percent of boys participating in any form of labor.

Perhaps the overall low enrollment for secondary school is due to the need for children to work and aid their families, paired with additional school fees and the cost of uniforms and materials. It is also not mandatory for Bhutanese children to attend schooling, allowing families to deny their children the experience if they are needed elsewhere.

UNICEF and UNGEI

A UNICEF representative spoke with a Bhutanese girl named Tsherin, who shared her dream to become a civil engineer and build homes. She tells of her excitement to get to attend school and she plans to advocate schooling to her own children someday. Tsherin has UNICEF to thank for this opportunity because of their successful efforts in closing this gendered gap.

UNICEF advocated ending the discrimination and gendered stereotypes, while also aiding those who could not afford additional school fees. They also addressed the lack of schools in rural areas, which hinders student’s access because of distance, by implementing new schools into these remote areas. Additionally, UNICEF was not alone in this fight. UNGEI (United Nations Girls’ Education Initiative) also sought the construction of new primary schools to meet the higher demand of students. But UNGEI also concerned themselves with advancing the training in which the teachers received, improving the student’s overall education.

With the help of these two organizations, education in Bhutan has undergone a tremendous feat by bridging the gendered gap and allowing all children an equal chance at becoming educated.

– Brianna White

Photo: Flickr