Sunday, September 2, 2012

Brief History of Education in Bhutan

Modern education in Bhutan started very late. Before its inception, monastic education was the only form of education in Bhutan. Although informal religious discourses were held since Buddhism started in Bhutan, formal monastic education started only in 1622 with the establishment of the formal monk body at Chari in Thimphu. Young monks came to learn from their masters. They learnt religious scripts memorizing verse after verse. Understanding the verses wasn’t a priority until they attained higher levels. The main aim of religious education was for the spiritual development of a person (Dorji, 2005).

In 1907, monarchical system of governance started. Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck became the first hereditary king. He opened the first school in Ha1 in 1914. Subjects like Hindi, English, Arithmetic and Dzongha2 were taught. This marked the beginning of Modern education in Bhutan. It differed considerably from the monastic education because it ‘gave more importance to the development of skills and knowledge, which they believed would produce citizens like doctors engineers, administrators which would be useful for the development of the country’. Some of these pioneer students of the school were selected and sent to schools in Kalimpong and Darjeeling in the neighboring country in India on government scholarships for higher studies.

Since then the number of modern schools increased year after year and by the early 1960s Bhutan had established 59 schools in different places across the country of which 29 were private schools and 30 government schools. Soon all the private schools were converted to government schools to have a uniform system of education. However the curriculum, instructional materials and most of the teachers were imported from India. This led to the adoption of Hindi, the national language of India, as one of the the medium of instruction. Dzongkha was the only subject taught in Bhutan’s national language.

Meanwhile, the country had begun to plan its developmental activities for five years and the first five year development plan (1961-1966) had already been launched. The successive five year plans brought tremendous progress in education and by 1988 the number of schools increased form meager 59 in 1961 to 193 in 1989. At the same time the enrollment rate increased from 400 students in early 60s to 70,415 in 1989. With the increasing number of schools, the department of education was established at the capital, Thimphu to monitor the schools spread across different regions of the country.

In 1962, the government took a landmark decision to adopt western style education and adopt English as the medium of instruction in all schools. According to Dorji (2005) ‘English became the medium of instruction in our country, not because it was convenient language but because it was already the lingua franca of the world. It has also been noted that this was perhaps necessary to maintain links with other countries and for the socio-economic and educational need’. Therefore with the advent of western education Hindi lost its rein from Bhutanese educational system. Since then English was used as the medium of instruction to teach all subjects except for Dzongkha. A new education system was burgeoning. However, due to lack of expertise, resources, textbooks, and teaching materials during those days, it started importing practically everything from outside, especially from the British system prevailing in the North Bengal region of India.

In 1976, the department of education drafted the country’s first education policy and it was also the country’s first curriculum policy. It promised to make the curriculum that is closely linked with the country’s culture and tradition. In 1984 the paper was redrafted and given more emphasis on the need to make the school curriculum more relevant to the needs of the learner, society and the country at large following which a new unit called Curriculum and Textbook Division (CTDD) was established in the headquarters in 1986 to look after curriculum matters. The CTDD launched ‘New Approach to Primary Education’ (NAPE) seeking a major curriculum review for primary schools (PP to VI). Later the CTDD was renamed as Curriculum and Professional Support Division (CAPSD) (Bhutanese education system, module handout, SCE). Since then the CAPSD played very active roles in localizing the curriculum. In 2000 the curriculum of classes VII and VIII was also localized. It aimed to ‘create a truly Bhutanese science for our students’ (Introduction, to class VII science). By 2005 the CAPSD also completed the localization of the curriculum for classes IX to XII.

December, 2009 saw yet another landmark change in the system, the infusion of GNH values and principles in schools. A new project called ‘Educating for GNH’ was launched. The following is its vision and mission statement:

The Principle and values of Gross National Happiness will be deeply embedded in the consciousness of Bhutanese youth and citizens. They will see clearly the interconnected nature of reality and understand the full benefits and costs of their actions. They will not be trapped by the lure of materialism and will care deeply for others and for the natural world’
(Educating for DNH workshop, 2009). 

To this end all school have started giving special attention to inculcate ‘principles and values including critical and creative thinking, ecology literacy, practice of the country’s profound ancient wisdom and culture, contemplative learning, a holistic understanding of the world, genuine care for nature and others to deal effectively with the modern world, preparation for right livelihood and informed civic engagement’ (Education for GNH workshop, 2009)


Dorji, J. (2005). Quality of education.Thimphu:KMT publisher.


IWW Sandeep said...

In 1907, monarchical system of governance started. Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck became the first hereditary king. He opened the first school in Ha1 in 1914. Subjects like Hindi, English, Arithmetic and Dzongha2 were taught. This marked the beginning of Modern education in Bhutan.
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Ngeedrup Dorjee said...

It is really nice la and i have one doubt la sir, do you know when did the education system of our country started including and teaching IT subject la...

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