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Cracking the Code of the Education System: Striking the Gold Balance Between Quantity and Quality

โ€ฆ๐’‚๐’” ๐’†๐’™๐’‘๐’†๐’“๐’Š๐’†๐’๐’„๐’†๐’… ๐’†๐’…๐’–๐’„๐’‚๐’•๐’๐’“๐’” ๐’…๐’†๐’‘๐’‚๐’“๐’•, ๐’•๐’‰๐’† ๐’†๐’…๐’–๐’„๐’‚๐’•๐’Š๐’๐’ ๐’”๐’š๐’”๐’•๐’†๐’Ž ๐’ˆ๐’“๐’‚๐’‘๐’‘๐’๐’†๐’” ๐’˜๐’Š๐’•๐’‰ ๐’Ž๐’‚๐’Š๐’๐’•๐’‚๐’Š๐’๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’”๐’•๐’‚๐’๐’…๐’‚๐’“๐’…๐’” ๐’‚๐’Ž๐’Š๐’…๐’”๐’• ๐’ˆ๐’“๐’๐’˜๐’Š๐’๐’ˆ ๐’๐’†๐’†๐’…๐’”

Krishna Kumar Sanyasi

The resignation of experienced educators seeking greener pastures abroad has left a void in schools and universities, casting a shadow over the quality of education in the country and also highlighting the shortage of teachers in schools and universities. On average, 3.8% of teachers left the education system from public schools in 2023, totaling 371 teachers. A steady rise in teacher resignations was witnessed in 2019; however, the resignation rate dropped in 2020. The teacher attrition rate again rose to 478 in 2022 and dropped to 371 in 2023.

The reasons for leaving the system include voluntary resignation, superannuation, and contract expiration, among others.

Last month, the ministry unveiled new vacancies for regular contract teachers, complementing the current recruitment drive for National Contract Teachers (NCT). Notably, the recruitment process for NCTs has been revamped through decentralization, granting dzongkhags the power to fast-track the hiring process. This shift in authority enables dzongkhags to independently recruit NCTs, customizing the process to meet the distinctive staffing requirements of each school. Such a move not only promotes a more flexible and efficient approach but also aids in tackling the prevalent teacher shortage.

As of December 2023, a total of 1521 contract teachers are actively contributing to the educational landscape of the country. The recently issued deployment plan for contract teacher recruitment by the ministry announces approximately 600 vacancies for contract teachers.

However, a closer look reveals a disquieting truth: a significant number of these recruits lack the essential experience and training required to excel in the noble profession of teaching. The heart of the matter lies in the qualifications of these budding educators. With backgrounds in fields such as tourism, hospitality, and fashion design, many of them may find themselves ill-equipped to navigate the complexities of the classroom. The art of teaching is not merely about imparting knowledge but also about understanding the nuances of child psychology, adapting teaching methods to suit individual learning styles, and fostering a love for learning in young minds.

The pivotal question that looms large in the minds of all stakeholders is this: are we sacrificing quality at the altar of expediency? Enlisting graduates with no prior teaching experience or pedagogical training raises concerns about the efficacy of the education system. Can a teacher with a degree in hotel management or fashion design truly inspire and educate the next generation of Bhutanese youth?

The unforeseen changes flooded in over the past five years, leaving trained teachers, nurses, and graduates who passed the PE (Preliminary Examination) and RCSC (Royal Civil Service Commission) exams struggling to secure employment. This deluge of challenges uprooted faith, fairness, and livelihood opportunities. Sweeps, whether they were layoffs, economic shifts, or other disruptions, compounded the situation. The resulting exodus occurred out of fear and a desperate search for viable livelihoods.

The country’s education sector grapples with a significant challenge: a high turnover rate among teachers, driven by a combination of inadequate support from the administration and the burden of meeting unrealistic expectations. Many educators feel overworked and undervalued, prompting them to seek better opportunities abroad. However, addressing the root causes of teacher turnover is imperative. By providing comprehensive support, including financial assistance, professional development opportunities, and improved working conditions, the government can foster a more sustainable and successful education system.

The account of a teacher who chose to resign after 19 years of service sheds light on the challenges within the educational system. Speaking anonymously, he expressed his decision to leave, citing a growing dissatisfaction with the demands placed upon teachers. He remarked, “Slowly, all the teachers will resign because the system is flawed. We’re expected to fulfill various roles beyond teaching. Sometimes, I’m a dance coordinator; other times, a study supervisor or a monitor for socially useful productive work (SUPW). I’m stretched thin, yet our efforts often go unrecognized. We’re evaluated solely on student performance, overlooking our primary role as educators.”

Highlighting the excessive workload and lack of acknowledgment for teachers’ efforts, he emphasized the disparity between local educational policies and international standards. The burden placed on teachers is not only substantial but also overwhelming. Prioritizing the well-being of educators, providing them with adequate resources and support, and fostering a conducive learning environment are essential steps. Such measures not only enhance the quality of education but also contribute to the holistic development and success of the education system as a whole.

According to a teacher from Punakha, who recently resigned after nearly eight years of teaching, sheds light on the demanding nature of the profession and the overwhelming responsibilities often placed on educators’ shoulders. He expressed, “Ideally, teachers’ roles should be simple: to teach and guide students.” However, he emphasized that reality diverges significantly from this idealistic notion. The teacher highlighted a pervasive issue where educators are unfairly held responsible for student disciplinary infractions, including instances of violence or substance abuse. Instead of receiving the requisite support and guidance to navigate these complex challenges, teachers find themselves unjustly blamed.

According to a teacher from Sarpang, he said, โ€œI feel there are limited opportunities for growth and advancement in these careers. Furthermore, because of the shortage of teachers, we are facing challenges such as large class sizes, limited resources, and a heavy workload.โ€

To tackle the significant shortage of teachers, the Ministry has initiated a strategy of hiring contract teachers. As of December 2023, there were a total of 1521 contract teachers actively engaged in bolstering the educational sector of the country. These contract teachers play a crucial role in alleviating the shortage of educators by supplementing the teaching workforce and offering essential support to various educational initiatives in Bhutan.

According to the Ministry of Education and Skill Development, the recruitment process for contract teachers is guided by the subject requirements identified during the Teacher Requirement Exercise. If challenges arise in securing teachers from the regular/trained B.Ed/PGDE pool, the Ministry may opt to consider general graduates with specific subject backgrounds to ensure that subject needs are met.

To address the shortage of qualified professionals with B. Ed. or PGDE qualifications, the Ministry explores the option of recruiting contract teachers who meet the necessary criteria.

Professionally trained teachers undergo rigorous preparation through either a four-year undergraduate program or a one-year professional development program at accredited teacher training institutes. These programs are meticulously crafted to provide comprehensive training, equipping teachers with the essential skills and knowledge required for teaching roles in schools. Focusing on specific subject backgrounds, these teachers are well-prepared to navigate classroom challenges effectively. Through a blend of hands-on experience and theoretical instruction, they develop a profound understanding of educational principles and best practices, enabling them to deliver high-quality instruction tailored to their students’ needs.

On the other hand, the contract teachers, while meeting specific requirements for their positions, may not have undergone the same level of extensive formal training.

In a recent development sparking discussions on educators’ professionalism, a student from Samtse has shared a troubling experience regarding incorrect teaching practices. The student, whose identity remains confidential, revealed that a teacher at their school had provided mathematically inaccurate information during a lesson. This misinformation caused confusion and made it challenging for students to solve problems independently at home. Only after the intervention of a family member, the student’s sister, was the error identified. When confronted, the teacher acknowledged the mistake and apologized for the inaccurate instruction. This incident has raised concerns about teachers’ accountability and competence within the education system.

The student’s bravery in speaking out against the error emphasizes the importance of maintaining standards of accuracy and professionalism in educational settings. It underlines that educators play a crucial role in shaping students’ knowledge and skills and must adhere to the highest standards of integrity in their teaching practices.
The Ministry is actively considering measures to enhance the capabilities of contract teachers. One such initiative involves the development of a mixed-mode program, which includes a training period spanning three to six months at two designated training institutes. Additionally, professional development programs are being conducted at the Dzongkhag and school levels. These efforts aim to provide contract teachers with opportunities to improve their teaching skills and qualifications, ultimately benefiting both students and schools.

Over the last six years, the number of expatriate teachers has been decreasing, while the number of national teachers has been increasing but slightly decreased by a few hundreds last year. As of 2023, the total number of expatriate teachers in both public and private schools stands at 77, and the number of Bhutanese teachers stands at 10,081.
Student-Teacher Ratio. The Student-Teacher Ratio (STR) measures the number of students per teacher. This indicator is often used as a proxy indicator for measuring quality of education, due to the difficulty in constructing direct instruments to measure quality of education. In this context, the lower STR indicates higher the availability of teacher services to the students and vice versa.

The average STR for public schools is 15 students per teacher while the STR for private schools is 13 students per teacher. The STR for private primary schools is 11 students per teacher as compared to 15 students per teacher in public primary schools. In public schools, the Higher Secondary Schools, Lower Secondary Schools, and Middle Secondary Schools have the highest STR (16), and Special Institutes have the lowest STR (4). In private schools, the Higher Secondary Schools and Middle Secondary School have the highest STR (13), and Lower Secondary has the lowest STR (10).

In addition to the student-teacher ratio, another indicator that measures the quality of education is the number of students in each class. This assumes that every section in a school is a different class. The average class size in Bhutan remains unchanged at 15 in 2023, which is the same as 2022. In contrast to last yearโ€™s findings, the Primary schools now have smaller class sizes as compared to other school levels (excluding ECR and SI). The average by single class where Grade PP has the smallest average class size at 16, and Grade IV, VII, and VIII have the largest average class sizes at 19 students per class. Despite the average class size, some classes still have very large class sizes depending on the schools and location.

The education landscape in Bhutan stands at a critical juncture, grappling with the repercussions of a severe shortage of qualified teachers. While the government’s efforts to address the dearth through recruitment drives and initiatives like hiring contract teachers appear promising on the surface, concerns linger about the quality of education being compromised in the process. The stories of overburdened and underappreciated educators shed light on the challenges they face, underscoring the urgent need for systemic reforms and greater support for teachers. As Bhutan navigates these turbulent waters, prioritizing the well-being and professional development of its educators will be crucial in safeguarding the future of its education system and nurturing the next generation of learners.

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