Educating Citizens of the Future
By transforming children and young people into life-long learners
“…The future is neither unseen nor unknown. It is what we make of it. What work we do with our two hands today will shape the future of our nation. Our children’s tomorrow has to be created by us today.”
His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck November, 2008
Children and youth of Bhutan must not only be protected from future shocks but be empowered to take the country into a new era of development. This was the advice of His Majesty The King Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck as Bhutan celebrated National Day on 17 December 2020.
As part of a revolutionary re-imagining of its future following the COVID-19 pandemic, Bhutan’s priority is focused on nurturing children and youth for the 21st century. The pandemic was a time for reflection. Bhutan emerges from the crisis with an education policy geared to take the country into a new era, characterized by innovative thinking and modern technology.
Having only emerged from centuries of self-imposed isolation as recently as the 1960s, Bhutan’s development drive has achieved significant success. By 2020, infant mortality was reduced to 22 per 1000 live births. Immunization coverage for children under one-year-old was over 95 per cent, while 100 per cent of school age children were attending school. Bhutan achieved the United Nations Millennium Development Goals ahead of other developing nations and is making good progress towards its Sustainable Developmental Goal targets.
In 2020, the government adopted a holistic childcare package covering the “1000 Golden Days” from pregnancy to the age of two, designed to promote the physical, emotional, social and cognitive development of every new-born child.
Early Child Care and Development (ECCD) was launched in all 20 districts for children aged 0 to 3 years. Today, teachers and parents observe that children who attend the 495 or so ECCD centres around the country are more confident and perform better in school.
In recent years, traditional family and community structures have come under strain amid urbanisation and other societal pressures. In response, the regulatory environment and institutions have been revised so that children are protected by law and cared for by society.
While the social system in Bhutan receives a substantive portion of the national budget, His Majesty and the Royal Family take a special interest in children and youth. Besides constructing a special hospital for women and children in Thimphu, Her Majesty The Queen's office runs Selwa, an organisation that has supported numerous disabled youth. His Majesty has initiated special projects to support the education of children with special needs.
Amid the increasing pace of change, Bhutan’s strategy is to shift the education system from a conventional “teaching” approach to a “learning” process. This will involve re-orienting school structures, and re-thinking the curriculum and examination structures. A trial of the new system, initiated by His Majesty, is being introduced in schools around the country.
Both the academic and vocational streams have an uncompromising stress on quality. The re-vamped school curriculum is defined by a strong emphasis on science, technology, engineering and maths (STEM), with the best-performing students being sent to top universities on scholarship. Vocational education aims to instil values and skills that are attuned to the needs of society. Both streams emphasise technology.
Citizens of the future need to acquire 21st-century competencies. For that, children must develop the critical and creative thinking skills that will transform them into life-long learners. Bhutan’s new education system aims to create a resilient society with citizens who have learnt to learn.
Dasho Kinley Dorji is the Editor of the Druk Journal and the former Information and Communications Secretary.
The article was contributed to mark UNICEF's 75th anniversary by the Regional Office for South Asia, Nepal.