Parliamentarians advocate for stronger sports programs and education reform during question hour

PEMA TSHOMO

Thimphu

In a lively question-hour session held on June 28, 2024, members of the National Council (NC) engaged Education Minister Yezang Dee Thapa (MoESD) in a productive exchange centered on bolstering school sports programs and advancing education reform initiatives. The session provided a platform for NC members to voice their concerns and seek clarifications on the government’s plans for these crucial sectors that shape the future of our youth.

NC member Birendra Chimoria from Dagana initiated the discussion on sports development by expressing his deep concern about the diminishing emphasis on Health and Physical Education (HPE) programs within the schools. “We’ve witnessed a worrying trend of declining sports culture in our schools,” remarked Birendra Chimoria.

“There’s a clear lack of support for sports and HPE programs, and this coincides with a troubling rise in youth crime and health issues like pre-diabetes and obesity among students. Limited access to proper sports facilities and qualified instructors is a contributing factor to this situation, and we need to take action to reverse this course,” he added.

In response to Birendra Chimoria’s concerns, the education minister highlighted the government’s commitment to addressing the budgetary constraints that have hampered school sports programs in the past. “The MoESD recognizes the importance of physical activity and a strong sports culture in our schools,” asserted Minister Yezang Dee Thapa.

“Under the 13th Five-Year Plan (FYP), we have significantly increased the budget allocated to sports in schools. A total of Nu 3.625 billion, has been earmarked for this purpose, representing 10.87 percent of the education sector’s budget. This is a substantial investment that will allow us to make significant improvements” she added.

The education minister also elaborated on how the increased budgetary allocation would be utilized. “We plan to strategically distribute these funds to ensure maximum impact,” explained Minister Yezang Dee Thapa. “Nu 1.997 million will be dedicated to upgrading sports infrastructure and equipment in our higher secondary schools. Primary schools will also benefit from this initiative, with Nu1 million allocated for their specific needs.”

“Furthermore, Nu 410 million will be invested in bolstering scouting activities, which play a vital role in youth development,” she added.

The minister also addressed the crucial role of qualified instructors. “We understand the importance of having well-trained school sports instructors (SSIs) and HPE teachers in our schools,” the minister continued. “To address the current shortage, we’re establishing a dedicated sports school and enhancing training programs for SSIs. We’re also increasing the intake of SSI trainees at Paro College of Education (PCE). This multi-pronged approach will ensure that our schools have the qualified personnel they need to deliver effective sports and physical education programs.”

NC Tshering Wangchen from Mongar shifted the focus of the discussion to student safety during regional and national sporting competitions. “While I commend the organization of these competitions, which provide valuable opportunities for students to showcase their talents, I have concerns regarding potential safety hazards,” expressed Tshering Wangchen.

“There seems to be a lack of proper infrastructure and medical support at some competition venues. Additionally, with the competitions often held during the rainy season, students are exposed to the risk of injuries and illnesses. We must prioritize student well-being and ensure these competitions are conducted in a safe and healthy environment.”

Minister Yezang Dee Thapa acknowledged the validity of NC member Tshering Wangchen’s concerns. “We recognize that there’s room for improvement in terms of safety measures and infrastructure at competition venues,” the minister conceded.

“However, it’s important to remember that these competitions are part of a larger vision. Our goal is to cultivate a lifelong love of sports and physical activity in our students. By participating in these competitions, they gain valuable experience in teamwork, sportsmanship, and perseverance. These are qualities that will benefit them throughout their lives.”

NC from Tsirang, Nima Wangdi, and Sonam Tobgyel of Trashigang inquired about the status of the time-bound Education Reform Council mandated by His Majesty The King.

“We understand the critical role that education reform will play in shaping the future of our nation’s youth,” remarked Nima Wangdi. “We were hoping to receive an update on the establishment of the time-bound Education Reform Council mandated by His Majesty The King. This council has the potential to be a driving force for positive change in our education system.”

Minister Yezang Dee Thapa explained the current status of the Education Reform Council. “While a steering committee was previously established under the MoESD to oversee education reforms, it has recently been dissolved,” explained the minister.

She said, “We recognize the need for a more comprehensive and inclusive approach to reform. We plan to establish a new time-bound Education Reform Council through a consultative process that will involve a wider range of stakeholders.”

“This council will benefit from the expertise of representatives from the education sector, the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), the government, and other relevant institutions. This collaborative approach will ensure that the council’s recommendations are well-rounded and effective,” she added.

While a Samtse NC member, Tashi Dendup highlighted the importance of collaboration between the MoESD and the Royal Academy in driving educational improvements, “We believe that strong collaboration between the MoESD and the Royal Academy is essential for achieving our education reform goals,” stated Tashi Dendup. “We will appreciate an update on any ongoing initiatives in this area.”

The education minister responded by outlining the existing collaborative efforts between the MoESD and the Royal Academy.

“The MoESD and the Royal Academy have been working together productively since 2021 on several key initiatives,” explained the minister. “One major focus has been the successful implementation of the Bhutan Baccalaureate program in 23 schools across the country. This program is designed to provide students with a more holistic and challenging learning experience.”

She said, “Additionally, we’re collaborating on improving teacher assessment systems to ensure “that our educators are equipped with the skills and knowledge they need to deliver high-quality instruction.”

The Minister further elaborated, “The 13th FYP goes beyond just sports and curriculum revision. We’re committed to fostering a holistic approach to education reform.”

She also highlighted, “This includes prioritizing initiatives such as promoting school autonomy, providing leadership training for school administrators, integrating information technology into the curriculum, and ensuring strong support systems for special needs education. By addressing these diverse areas, we aim to create a truly inclusive and effective education system that empowers all Bhutanese students to reach their full potential.”

The question-hour session served as a valuable platform for dialogue between the country’s lawmakers and the education minister. The NC members’ questions highlighted a range of concerns and priorities, underscoring the importance of a multifaceted approach to education reform.

Education minister responses outlined the government’s commitment to significant budgetary investments in school sports programs, the establishment of a new Education Reform Council with broader stakeholder representation, and ongoing collaboration with the Royal Academy and other key partners.

As Bhutan strives to equip its young people with the knowledge, skills, and values they need to thrive in the 21st century, continued dialogue and collaboration between policymakers, educators, and the public will be paramount.

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