UNICEF supports the development of the distance education programme by training teachers and assisting in the development of the curriculum.
Better teaching long-distance way
New educational developments were threatening to sideline teachers who pioneered the school system in Bhutan more than two decades ago, but an innovative programme by the education department now offers a chance to rejuvenate careers and to bridge the the acute shortage of teaching staff.
The National Institute of Education (NIE) provides distance education courses to about 40 teachers, more than half of them women and many in remote parts of the country.
Aimed at improving primary teaching, the programme specifically targets those who joined the profession before 1979 and are keen to upgrade their qualifications.
"Distance learning helps boost the morale and enhance the capacity of these teachers who have been in the profession for along time," explains Tsewang Choden, a lecturer in charge of developing the NIE course. "They are very enthusiastic and take their work very seriously."
The programme aims to produce good quality study materials, limited in a country like Bhutan, especially in remote, rural schools. It also provides support through resource centres in high schools that will cater to students and teachers, including distance learners.
Like many of her colleagues, Ganga Pradhan, a distance learner, had stopped school after Class Eight and enrolled in a two-year course to become a teacher.
She has been teaching for 23 years. "I have always regretted stopping school early; so this is a chance for me to improve myself," says Ganga, who will sign up for the three-year Bachelor of Education (primary) distance education course when she completes the two-year diploma course soon.
Teachers like Ganga, with an average of more than 50 students in their classes, had learned to teach in a traditional teacher-centred system. They appreciate the new and more effective ways shown by the programme to help their students learn.
With the emphasis on improving teaching skills, the programme is seen as a valuable investment in the education system and the future of Bhutan's children.
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