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Alternative education gives adults a second chance to learn

© UNICEF Bhutan/2005
Nim Dolma spins yak wool by day; at night she goes to school.

SAKTEN, Bhutan, 7 February 2005 - Eighteen-year-old Nim Dolma dropped out of school when she was in the fourth grade because her parents could no longer afford to educate her. But thanks to the Non-Formal Education Programme, established by the government of Bhutan in 1992 with the support of UNICEF, Nim has a second chance at an education. 

Nim’s parents are nomads who have spent their lives herding cattle, yaks and sheep in Bhutan’s eastern mountains.  Sakten, the village where they live, is a two-day walk from the nearest road.  Despite its remote location, this community of 300 households has a primary school, a health facility, a police office, and an administrative office – all of which function without electricity. 

Nim is one of six children. She and her younger sister, a first-grade student at the Sakten Primary School, are the only ones living with their parents. As the oldest daughter still at home, she is responsible for the household chores.

“I get up before 7 a.m. to collect bamboo and firewood to cook,” Nim says. “After that I do a bit of gardening, make skeins of wool, and weave clothes and blankets. When I have free time I go to my friend’s place to chat, spin wool and read together.”

Every evening after a hard day’s work, Nim walks 30 minutes to her Non-Formal Education (NFE) classes. NFE is an alternative education system that enables adults to develop reading, writing and computing skills. Classes are held in the evenings so that students who must work during the day can attend school at night. 

Amid the pitch darkness of night, light from a solar lantern gleams through a classroom window at the Sakten Primary School, where the NFE sessions are held. A pile of shoes is clustered in front of the classroom door. Inside, a group of adults follows the lesson with enthusiasm.

Non-Formal Education expands to 169 centres across Bhutan

“After learning how to read and write, I’d like to read the Kuensel [the national newspaper] and other Dzongkha language supplementary books, and some day become a Chimmi [village representative for the National Assembly],” says a female student.

“We can help our younger children in class one and two with their readings in Dzongkha,” another student, the wife of a shopkeeper, says. “In NFE, we learn the importance of hygiene, like washing hands before a meal, eating nutritious food, keeping the house clean, and how to clothe our children.” 

NFE began with only six centres. Today, the programme has expanded to 169 centres across the country. The core curriculum at NFE includes lessons on health and nutrition, hygiene, antenatal care, immunization, and the importance of education. Seventy per cent of participants are women.

There is still much to be done to advance education in Bhutan. Only 58 per cent of boys and 47 per cent of girls are enrolled in primary school. The mountainous terrain impedes enrolment by making access to schools difficult. But with the help of NFE, families in remote areas are able to send their sons and daughters, like Nim Dolma, back to school.



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