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New English curriculum
With the standard of English perceived to be generally poor in the schools a new English curriculum will be introduced in Classes IX and XI from February, 2006, academic year to improve the reading and writing skills of Bhutanese students.
The essence of the change is that students will be taught to develop skills in reading and writing, listening and speaking, grammar and language.

In the past experts say that it was mainly listening, which means that only the teacher spoke, and other skills were neglected.

"They end up memorising what is in the book and interpreting it in the same way as the teacher," said one teacher. "Developing the skills would enable students to read and understand and interpret it on their own."

The new curriculum will specify the number of periods for each skill and will require students to fulfill specific objectives set in the curriculum framework. "The curriculum framework will explain how students should read and write and what kind of understanding they should reach at the end of each level," said the education secretary, Dr. Pema Thinley.

To know the level of development of their skills, students will be tested on parallel learning materials and not on materials present in the syllabus.

A guidebook for teachers has been developed to outline the way teachers should work and the syllabus will use only "relevant materials", explained Lhundup Drukpa, project officer of Strengthening Support to Education in Bhutan (SSEB), as a good balance between non-fiction and fiction, and classical and contemporary literature.

Literature written by Bhutanese writers, in English, are included in the syllabus for different classes along with selected work by writers from other countries. The aim is to expose youth to "Bhutanese literature and thinking".

The new curriculum will be introduced in other classes over the next few years, education officials said.

Education officials said they believed that the development of "tools subjects" - English, Mathematics and Dzongkha - would lead to the overall improvement of the quality of education.

They said that English would be the most effective one because it was the medium in which most of the subjects were taught.

"The general notion is that competency level of people in English is not high and it should be improved," said Dr. Pema Thinley.

"Graduates from both high schools and colleges are not able to communicate in this language, cannot keep the minutes of meetings properly, and cannot do their reports."

English teachers said that they did not know whether the problem was in the teaching-learning process at the primary level but they agreed that the standard of reading and writing was low.

The education secretary said that it was the same with Mathematics and Dzongkha for which a new curricula was also being developed.

Officials said that the improvement in quality would not happen overnight but would take time.

Meanwhile about 75 middle and higher secondary English teachers are attending an orientation workshop in Thimphu to be introduced to the new curriculum.

The new curriculum was jointly developed by relevant officials from the Bhutan Board of Education, Education Monitoring Support Service Division, Education Media Service, Canadian Cooperation Office, CASPD, SSEB and teachers and lecturers from schools and Sherubtse College including two professors from the University of New Brunswick, Canada.

According to officials, experts studied the cause of falling standards in the country and identified that language skills, lack of child-centered and child friendly teaching-learning process and materials, and low professional knowledge of teachers were some of the most urgent problems that had to be addressed.

The new term will apply to all schools in the country with an exception of those in the high altitude areas. For schools in Laya, Lingshi, and Lunana, school starts in April and will continue until mid-November. Schools in Merak and Sakten will begin by middle of March and close in mid-November.

Contributed by Kinley Wangmo, KUENSEL, Bhutan's national newspaper, 2005

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