In less than 25 years since we started non-formal education, a vast number of our people who were left behind in their days benefited immensely. According to a record, some 170,000 people have been numbered as the beneficiaries of the system. This is no small number considering the total population of the country. It helped take the country’s literacy rate from 45 to 63 percent. In other words, non-formal education contributed in reducing illiteracy rate in the country by almost 70 percent.
But now we are facing a new challenge. While gross primary enrolment has hit 100 percent according to government reports, non-formal education instructors are resigning in huge numbers every year. At the same time, we have significant number of population who cannot read and write. How do we bridge this gap?
Time has come for non-formal education in the country to be a separate and vibrant entity that provides quality education. Time has come for it to shape its own standards with changing demands of time. That’s probably where we are lacking. Non-formal education instructors have said that they feel discouraged by lack of separate and dedicated space for teachers and learners. We cannot treat non-formal education as a small extension of the education system.
Giving it a face and soul of their own will yield great dividends for the nation in the long run. For example, a citizen’s future could be made bright by parents who can guide their child’s education.
The international conference that ended in Thimphu recently felt the need to link non-formal education with community learning centres. But what are our community learning centres really? We have not been able to make our community learning centres real learning centres with aims to make our people test and improve their skills so that they become self-employed and ultimately self-sufficient.
Linking non-formal education with community learning centres is a good idea. But we must first make our community learning centres into places that are open to citizens equipped with Internet access, 3D printers, laser cutters and other tools to enables local entrepreneurs to make prototypes before entering into mass production. It is a laboratory, a mini factory where anyone can walk in with designs of their own to create their products. This is an idea borrowed from FabLab. Now that Fablab is coming to Bhutan, linking non-formal education has a great future.
What we must remember is that our non-formal instructors should not be made to feel discouraged. We must look into their salary structures, allowances, training and exposure. All these happening, we might even be able to address the rising youth unemployment that we are currently facing.
These, among others, are our education challenges.