The five-day Sherig Conference previously known as the Dzongkhag Education Officers’ (DEO) conference that started on December 27 saw 11 resolutions endorsed.
Speaking at the press conference, education minister, Norbu Wangchuk, said that the resolutions are impactful and would have major effects on the quality of education.
He added that the year’s conference was also special in terms of women principals’ participation that aimed to encourage female leadership in schools and to lend women a voice.
Of about 512 principals in the country, 13 are women.
The conference endorsed the idea of proposing differentiated curriculum by Royal Education Council (REC). According to the education secretary, Karma Yeshey, at the moment, schools across the country follow the standard curriculum irrespective of whether students like a particular subject or not, or for instance, they are compelled to study Mathematics and Science.
Differentiated curriculum will look particularly at grade IX and X students who are not interested in taking up a particular subject.
“If a student likes Mathematics, there can be a different or advance Mathematics program to take up,” said Karma Yeshey.
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuck also said that differentiated curriculum is one initiative to respond to children with different aptitudes contrary to the traditional education system, which assumes that every child is the same. However, science, he said, is clear that every child is different, special and unique. “They have different varying learning abilities, passion in life, interest, and aptitude, so the education system must respond to these differences,” he said.
One Laptop per Teacher
Another resolution the Ministry of Education (MoE) endorsed was one laptop per teacher. Each teacher is to be provided with a laptop during the 12th Five Year Plan (FYP).
Karma Yeshey said that the need for laptops is a part of the initiative to deepen ICT usage in schools and also to enhance the quality of teaching and the learning process.
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that teachers need laptops to plan lessons, prepare teaching aids, access teaching resources from the net, accept and submit assessments, materials and prepare results. “The syllabus keeps changing, and it is difficult to print new text books whenever there is a change in the syllabus” he said. “With laptops, the teachers will be updated on the new syllabus and this will give a sense of care to a teacher.”
The Chief DEO of Thimphu, Tashi Namgyal, said providing laptops to teachers will be spread across five years. The central schools and schools that have internet connectivity might be first to get the laptops but it is yet to be confirmed.
Special Education Needs
To extend educational services for children with special education needs, the MoE during the education conference resolved to having at least one school with a special educational needs program in each Dzongkhag or Thromde by the end of 12th FYP. It means that by the end of the FYP, there will be 20 more special education needs schools in the country in addition to 15 schools that cater to special education needs program currently.
Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk said that it is a huge concern that 30% of children in Bhutan are born with some kind of disability and if there are no proper schools for these children, the risk is that they would be excluded access to education.
“We have to ensure that every child has access to education and for this, we must adapt to the special needs of a child,” he said.
He also added that every child today is much more precious than a child several years ago because of the declining birth rate. With fertility rate at 1.9% at present, a woman in her childbearing lifespan will give birth to 1.9 children, which is not even two children per couple, said Lyonpo Norbu Wangchuk.
“That puts us at the risk of our population actually declining. In this context, it is extremely important that education system ensures that every child grows up to his full potential,” he said.
Career Progression for Principal
To enhance career progression of principals, the conference recommended the ministry to take up the matter of principal’s automatic promotion to P1 based on their competency and performance with Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) for their consideration.
According to Chukha’s Chief DEO, Kinley Gyaltshen, currently when principals reach P2 level, they have to compete in open interview to get to P1 level. Some teachers are not happy about it as the P1 level is limited, said the education secretary. He said that this created snubbing affect where filling a P1 position leaves a vacancy elsewhere. “This also demoralizes other principals in the system,” said Karma Yeshey.
For the professional development of the teachers, teachers will be provided 80 hours of professional development annually in the 12th FYP. Of the 80 hours, the ministry will facilitate 40 hours and the remaining 40 hours are to be facilitated by the respective Dzongkhags and Thromdes. In view of the general need for improvement in students’ wellbeing and support, the 2018 professional development for all teachers will be on basic counseling.
The conference also resolved to provide adequate number of staff quarters to ensure that at least 80% of teachers reside within the school campus in order to provide necessary support to students and to improve the working and living conditions of the teachers.
The construction of staff quarters will be based on percentage of boarding students in the schools where the priority will be given to central schools and large boarding schools especially in rural areas.
Another resolution that the education conference endorsed is recognizing the importance of Early Childhood Education. The ministry aims to increase access to ECCD program to at least 50% of three to five year old children and aspires to establish one ECCD centre in every chiwog by 2030.
Karma Yeshey also said that the conference recommended reviving the national education assessment at three key stages (III, VI and X) periodically to gauge the learning standard of students.
The conference also decided to revise the school opening date for Classes PP to III from February 13 this year. However, there will be no change for school commencement dates for other classes and teachers.
The Sherig Conference held in Pangbang, Zhemgang saw about 130 participants, which included DEOs from all the Dzongkhags, education officers from four Thromdes, teachers and principals and officers from the ministry.
Lucky Wangmo from Thimphu