Another brick in the wall?

Bhutan grapples with teacher shortages and infrastructure deficiencies

PEMA TSHOMO
Thimphu

The country’s education system faces significant challenges, with teacher shortages and inadequate infrastructure in rural schools being major concerns, according to questions raised in Parliament by representatives from two constituencies, Dhophuchen-Tading constituency, and Khamdang-Ramjar constituency in the ongoing National Assembly session.

MP Ugyen Lama from Dhophuchen-Tading highlighted how scarcity of resources hinders the learning of the students with evidence. He shared the scenario of Tashithang Middle Secondary School, a recently upgraded primary school in his district.

He further described a critical shortage of qualified science and STEM teachers, leaving students with limited educational opportunities in these crucial subjects.

“There’s a severe lack of STEM teachers, particularly science teachers,” stated the Dophuchen-Tadhing representative. “Tashithang Middle Secondary School faces a significant shortage. On top of that, there’s hardly any science equipment in the four science labs—just a single skeleton hanging on a wall.”

The lack of resources extends beyond science education. The DT representative pointed out the absence of essential amenities like a proper dining hall, a multi-purpose hall, and functional hostels. He expressed concern about the limited resources available for sports activities, with students lacking a proper football field.

“There are no proper facilities,” he emphasized. “The school lacks a dining hall, a multi-purpose hall, and even hostels. Even though it’s a middle school, there’s no proper football field to keep the students engaged. Parents are worried about providing a healthy education for their children in these circumstances.”

Meanwhile, the Khamdang-Ramjar MP, Namgay Dorji focused on a nationwide trend of volunteer teacher resignations, raising concerns about the huge impact on the education system’s quality. Citing data from the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC), the representative revealed a staggering 16 percent volunteer teacher resignation rate, with the education sector witnessing the highest number of departures.

“Teacher resignations, particularly those of volunteers, are a major concern,” stated the MP. “According to RCSC data, 16 percent of teachers have resigned. This is especially worrying because it’s been happening for the last two and a half years. In this period, 8,149 civil servants have resigned, translating to a 27 percent volunteer resignation rate. The education sector seems to be the worst affected,” he added.

The MP also emphasized that many resigning teachers have a minimum of 10–11 years of experience, placing them in the valuable mid-career category. He questioned the Ministry of Education’s plan to address this concerning trend and ensure a sufficient teaching force for the country’s youth, particularly in rural schools already struggling with limited resources.

“These are experienced teachers with 10–11 years under their belts,” he added. “Their resignations significantly impact rural schools that are already facing challenges. The Ministry of Education needs to address this issue and ensure we have enough qualified teachers to educate our youth.”

In response to these concerns, the education minister, Yeezang De Thapa, acknowledged the challenges and outlined the government’s ongoing efforts to address them.

About the teacher shortage, the education minister confirmed a nationwide shortage of science, technology, engineering, and Math (STEM) teachers, particularly in information and communications Technology (ICT), Physics, and Chemistry.

At the same time, she revealed a current shortage of 1,110 STEM teachers across the country, with Trashi Yangtse facing the most significant deficit of 479 teachers. As of June 2024, the specific shortage stands at 135 teachers, including 46 Math, 36 ICT, 22 Physics, and 29 Chemistry teachers.

“We do have a shortage of STEM teachers, especially in subjects like ICT, physics, and Chemistry,” stated the education minister. “There’s a current shortage of 1,110 STEM teachers nationwide, with Yangtse facing the most significant challenge. As of June 2024, the specific shortage is 135 teachers.”

Further, she also announced a multi-pronged approach to tackle this shortage. The government plans to deploy 18 PGDE (Post Graduate Diploma in Education) teachers from July 2024, with nine specializing in Math, one in ICT, and four each in Physics and Chemistry.

Additionally, Bhutan will recruit 100 foreign STEM teachers from India, including 18 Physics, 19 Chemistry, and 28 ICT instructors, by July. These measures are expected to bridge the gap significantly, leaving a manageable shortage of only 17 teachers by July. Yeezang De Thapa expressed confidence that graduating PGDE students in the coming year would address this remaining shortfall, eliminating the teacher shortage by the following year.

Sharing the same concern a principal in one of the schools said that the issues will be addressed soon. “It’s good to hear the government is acknowledging the problem and proposing solutions. We need to see these plans come to fruition quickly.” The principal added, “The teacher shortage is impacting our students’ education right now. Hopefully, the Minister’s proposals will translate into real improvements in our schools soon.”

The education minister further concurred with the Dophuchen-Tadhing representative’s concerns regarding the lack of proper infrastructure and equipment at Tashithang Middle Secondary School. She explained that upgrading a primary school to a middle secondary school places a significant financial burden on the Dzongkhag (district) administration. This often leads to budgetary constraints, hindering the provision of essential lab equipment and other necessities.

“Upgrading a primary school to a middle secondary school puts a strain on the Dzongkhag’s budget,” explained Yeezang De Thapa. “This often leads to a lack of funds for essential lab equipment and other necessities.”

She clarified that the Dzongkhag Education Division holds the authority and responsibility for managing school budgets and fulfilling their needs for equipment and raw materials. Moreover, she highlighted that the 2023–2024 financial statements did not allocate specific funds for Tashithang School’s upgrade.

However, the education sector has a dedicated budget for purchasing equipment, albeit facing occasional delays due to unforeseen circumstances. The minister assured that the 2024–2025 budget has earmarked funds to address these issues, ensuring that Tashithang students will receive the necessary lab equipment soon.

Regarding the lack of basic amenities like hostels and dining halls, the education minister mentioned the construction of two hostels at Tashithang School in 2019, funded by India. She added that budgetary allocations for other basic materials and sports equipment are included in the 13th Five-Year Plan (FYP).

The education minister while addressing the teacher resignation, acknowledged the concerning trend of teacher resignations and outlined various measures undertaken by the ministry to retain educators.

To solve these issues, the Ministry has successfully replaced 63 teachers who resigned from schools facing critical shortages.

The Dzongkhags with severe teacher shortages have been empowered to take independent measures to address the gaps. Further, the Ministry has increased the number of teacher trainees enrolled in PGDE and B.Ed. (Bachelor of Education) programs by 30 percent.

Moreover, the Ministry offers paid contract teacher positions to PGDE and B.Ed. trainees to bridge the gap while they complete their programs.

The education minister elaborated on several initiatives designed to improve teacher morale and encourage them to remain in the profession. In collaboration with the RCSC, the Ministry has implemented a revised Performance Evaluation System (PES) for 166 schools. These schools were previously categorized as having partially met expectations. The revised system offers a more balanced evaluation approach, considering the challenges faced by schools with limited resources and teacher shortages.

“We have implemented a revised PES for almost 166 schools that were previously struggling to meet expectations,” stated Yeezang De Thapa. “This new system considers the challenges these schools face, including limited resources and teacher shortages.”

She also shared that some schools grappling with teacher shortages are temporarily exempt from the standardized PES, acknowledging the exceptional circumstances that may hinder their performance.

Moreover, the ministry prioritizes providing teachers with opportunities for professional growth. It offers comprehensive training programs like “Gomdri Layrim” (ethics and etiquette) and “Khayrig Gongphel” (enhancing knowledge and skills). As of now, 424 teachers have availed themselves of these programs.

“However, when it comes to such programs, the ministry is exploring ways to implement Gomdri Layrim training without negatively impacting teachers’ schedules with more flexible hours,” she added.

Apart from the above beneficiaries, she said that, after recognizing the valuable role teachers play, the government has implemented salary hikes for educators compared to other sectors. She acknowledged plans to enhance teacher living quarters and create more comfortable work environments to improve overall job satisfaction.

However, the education minister conceded that the education system faces significant challenges. While the government is actively working to address teacher shortages and improve infrastructure, several hurdles remain.

She mentioned how the financial constraints pose a significant challenge. “Upgrading schools, recruiting teachers, and providing adequate resources all require significant funding. We are exploring innovative solutions to address these budgetary limitations.”

“Particularly, filling positions in remote schools is challenging due to their location and lack of amenities,” explained Yeezang De Thapa. “We are considering incentive packages and hardship allowances to attract teachers to these areas.”

Further, she added, “We understand the importance of maintaining a healthy work-life balance for our teachers. We are exploring ways to reduce workloads and create a more supportive work environment to address this concern.”

Similarly, the educationist also highlighted the critical teacher shortage and its impact on students. They argued for reduced workloads and better internet access in schools, and they suggested revising the teacher evaluation system to improve morale and retention. They are also emphasizing the need for a stable education system, free from political influence, that can develop well-rounded citizens.

Additionally, one of the teachers at a remote school shared the challenges they face due to teacher shortages. “The lack of teachers here is crippling our ability to provide a quality education,” an educationalist said. “Classes get overcrowded, and it’s difficult to give each student the attention they deserve.” The team is still looking for their imitated implementations after hearing a lot of solutions listed by the education minister.

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