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Some believe that mandatory textbooks and manuals remove professional pride of the teachers (file photo)
Some believe that mandatory textbooks and manuals remove professional pride of the teachers (file photo)

In favour of curriculum autonomy for Bhutanese schools

Almost all of the challenges that we are facing today in our society have their roots in the way we are schooling our children. How are we getting it all wrong? 

We still subscribe to the notion of ‘one size fits all’ when we know very well that it is not the right way. This has resulted in limited or no choice at all for students and parents, thereby churning out the same kind of graduates we often complain about. Moreover, teachers’ professional pride is exterminated even before they can walk into their classrooms. It is high time we replaced centralised curriculum by giving schools the autonomy over their own curriculum.

Dictating what should be taught in the schools with centralised curriculum only propagates the herd mentality. Its very limitation—not being able to cater to the ever-expanding needs of students, parents and society—results in the production of mediocre citizens. Every child’s needs are different owing to his or her different backgrounds, interests, abilities, etc. Even if we succeed in understanding some essential common needs, we will never be able to generalise the various individual needs that are much greater in number than the common needs. It is a moral crime to think that the curriculum that has been designed by a few people can be useful to hundreds and thousands of children growing up in a different time with innumerable needs. 

We need to understand that what is best for the students of Thimphu cannot be appropriate for the students of Laya and Lingzhi, and vice-versa. When we know that it takes a village to raise a child, how can we expect one curriculum to cater to the needs of all the children in Bhutan? It is, therefore, in the best interest of the children and the future of this country that we stopped dictating what schools should teach. Objectives and expected outcomes alone would enable the schools to do so much more and adequately cater to the needs of the students. 

Curriculum experts at REC could, in this sense, direct their resources toward researching and building frameworks and resources instead of writing textbooks and teacher manuals.

If the schools are provided with the autonomy to determine the materials, activities and programmes in line with the national vision (accounting for structural, locational and faculty strengths etc.), parents and children could have greater choice over the kind of school education that they desire. Today, no matter which school one chooses to go to, the experience is basically the same. In fact, this is one reason why we are now losing our students to schools outside of Bhutan from as early as grade 5. If schools chose to specialise in the various aspects according to their strengths, Bhutan could have an exciting variety of quality schools, which would prevent our students from looking outside of the country. This would not only provide the required academic opportunities, but much more. 

However, besides public schools, the Ministry of Education does not even allow the private schools to operate the way they and the parents want. When what is being offered free in the public schools has to be replicated by the private schools, what real choice are we offering the nation? This is the reason why we have so many graduates with the same deficiencies. It is not the fault of the graduates, but the fault of the system. The system has not provided the choice of schools according to their needs.

More than anything, the centralised curriculum is also adversely affecting teacher efficacy across the nation. When teachers are told what to teach and how to teach it, they feel very limited, which is the primary deterrent for teachers to give their best. A teacher would do an excellent job if he or she were simply provided with the broad framework and the freedom to achieve it. Mandatory textbooks and manuals do one thing and one thing alone—remove the professional pride of the teachers. 

It is time the government stopped spending unnecessary amount of money on textbooks every year, not to mention that these textbooks are often outdated even before they get to the schools. For instance, we still follow a prescribed curriculum for subjects such as ICT when everything to do with IT is advancing in minutes and seconds. 

We are even told what essays, stories and poems are to be taught. This must stop if we are to encourage creativity. I strongly feel that removing this requirement could empower teachers to find and create high-quality and more relevant materials. 

Furthermore, empowering teacher engagement in such creative and critical thinking, decision-making and problem solving in order to deliver the daily lessons could spontaneously transmit life skills education to the students. 

We tell our students how important it is to secure their future, but we are robbing them of that very future by dictating what and how the teachers must instruct them. The best way forward is to release the schools and teachers from centralised curriculum and give them more freedom to decide what to teach and how to teach. 

This, I believe, will result in stronger schools, happier teachers, and superior students.  

Tenzin Dorji

Vice Principal

ELC High School

Thimphu

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