Sunday, March 25, 2012

What ails our education system?

For a developing country like Bhutan, education is important to accelerate developmental activities. While education has done much good to the country and its people over the last 100 years, quality of education has become the much debated issue for some time now.
There might be legitimate reasons for people to believe that the quality of education has declined. But the good thing is that the issue is being discussed in numerous forums small and big. There must be debates. Only then will we be able to tell whether the quality of education has really gone done or not.

But we must continually remind ourselves about the changing times and the needs of our country. The education standards and the quality that served Bhutan well in the past 50 years or so are no longer relevant today. And the quality and standards of education we have set for our schools today will not serve beyond a few years from now.

So, debates and discussions should actually be encouraged. It would be worrisome indeed if people did not talk about things that affect their lives, education above all.

And when we talk about quality of education, we cannot markdown things like curricula in schools and colleges, recruitment and deployment of teachers, teacher-student ratio, demographic change and all that. Overall, we must have efficient monitoring systems that can remind us where the changes or modifications are needed. Rigid systems often fail to function properly.

That we expect much from teachers is in fact good. Only by expecting much from the teachers can we encourage our teachers to perform better. But for that to happen, their welfare must be looked into. We can’t just blame them without having given them what they require so that they are inspired to work extra hard.  We know that satisfaction level of teachers is low, but what have we done about it? Teachers say they are paid low, but have we considered revising their salary?

Of course, for a country like Bhutan, paying handsome salary for every important profession is difficult. Our economy is small. But we could certainly do something to raise their morale. Confidence and self-respect are important things in any profession. Unhappy and demoralized professionals don’t work for better results. We could only be flogging the dead horses or else. And that could have chain reactions. In this case, it could come down to the declining quality of education. Maybe these really are the causes already. There are good reasons to believe they are, for why are so many of our teachers not happy with their job?

If we are to have a good harvest at all, we must sow good seeds. Just wishing for the quality of education to improve overnight won’t help. We must get down to the roots of the cause, identify them and do what is required of us to do to get them up and running.

Rather than trying to borrow foreign education systems, our educationists and researchers should focus on the requirements of the country. There is much to be discerned from our own education system. It is not how we teach our children in schools and colleges that should matter, but what we teach them. Values such as kindness, respect, obedience and sincerity must be of course incorporated into the curricula, but those values should not weaken the importance of other subjects.

Irrelevance, I think, is at the core of quality problem. What our children learn in schools and colleges do not seem to prepare them for jobs in the market. That’s why we have so many unemployed youths. Giving them other options will not help, because there will be dissatisfaction.

If the quality of education must improve, just revising school curricula is not the right way. Neither is bringing in foreign experts who recommend foreign ideas that do not serve our needs. Relevant curricula, highly-paid and motivated teachers, efficient monitoring systems and healthy debates may be the answers. Do we have all these?