In August 2016, the Ministry of Education proposed the first Premier School in Bhutan. Like central schools, the premier school would receive increased funding to bring about premier quality of education, primarily in science subjects. This proposal was endorsed at the National Education Conference in January 2017, aiming at fostering a platform for students to explore individual talents in a wide range.
It is said that the concept and idea of the Premier School was borrowed from Japan’s Super Science School model. It is the model developed to enhance science education at the higher secondary level, and therefore, it is called Super Science High School (SSH).
SSH is the programme introduced in 2002. While its ultimate goal was to promote the development of future global leaders in science, technology and innovation (STI), its immediate objective is to work on research and development for better science education.
The SSH designation is not permanent. The designated period was three years for one school, and it was soon extended to five years. Once the period expires, the school is not an SSH anymore.
SSHs should work on R&D for better science curriculum, through which they work on human resources development in STI, introducing the state-of-the-art technological knowledge to the education at the senior high school level, which is equivalent to Class 10 to 12 in Bhutan.
The SSH aims at introducing Advanced Placement (AP) to Japan. AP is a program in North America which offers college-level curricula and examinations to high school students. If some students are identified as a human resource who has potential to stand out as a talent in STI, they should not be confined to the national course guideline or disturbed by the university entrance exams. Instead, they should keep learning advanced science and technology.
Once designated, SSHs are supposed to develop special science curriculum beyond the national education guidelines, and work on R&D of a methodology to collaborate with various external actors and a teaching methodology to enhance students’ capacity for logical and creative thinking.
There was no pre-set curriculum provided by the government. Curriculum development was highly decentralised and each SSH could set its curriculum at its own discretion. This also means that the science teachers at SSHs must bear an extremely heavy responsibility to customise their science program, although they never had the past experience in working this way.
Therefore, this required whole-of-the-school efforts. Other teachers backed up the science teachers. Principals took a leadership in redistributing the responsibilities in school administration and encouraging science teachers to stay engaged in the new program delivery. In most cases they were also engaged directly in the program implementation and coordination with the external actors.
Universities and research institutes also supported school teachers in developing a methodology to enhance students’ exposure to the advanced science and technology. They were also instrumental in enhancing education delivery itself. They received study tours from the SSHs, and demonstrated the experiments and research programs they had been working on. They also visited the SSHs as special lecturer or facilitator in the lab experiments.
Miraikan, National Museum of Emerging Science and Innovation in Tokyo, also helped SSHs to map the places of interest and get in touch with institutes and companies. Founded in July 2001, Miraikan is a center for facilitating science communication to promote awareness; fostering personnel as science communicator; and creating connection among science stakeholders.
With regards to the dissemination, SSHs introduced exchange programs with other SSHs, and with other schools in their neighborhood. This gave them a good chance to review and improve their own program. Prefectural Boards of Education also facilitated such programs.
If Bhutan introduces a similar program, there are a few issues to consider. We must note that the institutional arrangement of the SSH program makes sense in the Japan-specific context, and the simple copy of the good practice may not ensure the success of the new policy in Bhutan.
First, the good practices proven to be effective in the R&D activities at the SSHs should be scaled up by involving non-SSHs, junior high and elementary schools in the same constituency. It’s not the program to select and develop super elite schools or elite students in science.
Second, because of the temporary nature of the program with a fixed term, once their super science curriculum is developed and made sustainable, the SSHs may shift to other programs that address the interest and aspiration of the other students. It doesn’t aim at the permanent institutional arrangements that create schools specialising in specific subjects.
Third, the R&D activities at SSHs require strong commitments from the teachers involved, and may cause them extra workload. What matters is the teachers’ readiness and capacity to design new science curriculum and extra-curricular activities.
Fourth, the program is backed by the heavy accumulation of universities, research institutes, and other schools that the SSHs were able to collaborate with. This geographical concentration is available in such a highly populated country as Japan. But we are not sure if such intellectual resources are available in the same constituency for the premier schools in Bhutan.
Fifth, the SSH has also been supported by thoughtful academia, who dedicatedly collaborated with school teachers and managed the classroom delivery and science experiments by themselves. They should also speak in a language easy enough for students to understand. If Bhutan introduces a similar program, we should take a close look at the practices being made at colleges and research institutes which could be a supporter to the premier schools.
The most important lesson from Japan’s experience in SSH is that we should take a whole-of-the-community approach for each target school. It also requires the whole-of-the-government approach for the effective program implementation, coordinating with the central stakeholders in the tertiary education and TVET.
The 12th Five Year Plan Guideline emphasises coordination, consolidation and collaboration, as overarching principle. Once it is implemented in the most effective manner, the Premier School program will be a strong case of the Triple C exercise.
Chief Representative, JICA Bhutan Office