THIMPHU, Bhutan– Situated in the Eastern Himalayas, Bhutan is a country squeezed in between India and China. Bhutan’s 18,147 square miles are home to a population of 741,800 people.
Of these 741,800 residents, 28 percent never make it past grade ten. The percentage is increasing every year, with girls having a lower enrollment rate than boys.
Up until 1960, Bhutanese students attended school at Buddhist monasteries. When private schools eventually opened as an alternative, only 2,500 children enrolled. Even worse was the fact that secondary education was only available in India. Some private schools even had to be shut down due to drastically low attendance.
Thankfully, things have improved since the sixties. The youth literacy rates for males and females, respectively, are 80 percent and 68 percent. Oddly, the adult literacy rate dwindles at a mere 52.8 percent. In fact, 60 percent of rural residents and 32 percent of urban residents never attended formal schooling at all.
Perhaps this is due to the aforementioned drop-out rate. Though around 90 percent of enrolled students show up for primary school, participation in secondary school drops to about 50 percent.
So where are they all going?
According to the World Food Programme, the main reasons for dropping out are the following: costs of schooling, household/economic commitments, distance from school and exam failure. Some rural families need their children to work. Those who return to education are often from the urban areas, which leaves a higher illiteracy rate in the rural areas.
The correlation between poverty and school enrollment is definitely evident, but not always so simple. For example, Zhemhang has a poverty rate of 53 percent but a net enrollment 5 percent higher than the national average. Tsirang, in contrast, has a 14 percent poverty rate and one of the lowest enrollment rates in the country at 78 percent.
A possible reason for this is that Zhemhang is the second highest recipient of WFP assistance (56 percent of the students receive meals from WFP) whereas only 18 percent of Tsirang students receive school meals from the program.
Lack of clean water also affects 40 percent of Bhutanese schools. This deficiency is the cause of poor hygiene and sanitation, which often leads to student and teacher illnesses. Additionally, time is wasted fetching water instead of learning in the classroom.
Another issue facing the country is the shortage of qualified teachers. Many educators are not adequately trained in the subjects that they teach, which in turn causes the young ones to suffer. In Bhutan, teaching is considered a “last resort,” it is assumed that those who cannot do anything else end up in a classroom. For this reason many students avoid teaching as a career, causing the education system to remain stagnant.
In order for things to keep improving in Bhutan education, several things must occur – families must put a higher importance on formal education, assistance programs must be utilized and the idea of teaching must be reformed.