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Society’s needs versus pledges

The government’s decision to remove the cut off point, while allaying the concerns of anxious students and parents has been received fairly well.

While populist, the move is seen as progressive and in keeping with change. The government is vehement that investing in education and children is not a waste of resources. We agree.

Our problem is more with how and where we are investing in and not so much about whom. So when such decisions are made, in haste, it raises more questions than answers. Concerns on the issue of cost, sustainability and even its constitutionality deserve answers. The government cannot argue the questioning as opposing its decision and refuse to provide details on how and where the money for this investment is coming from. It has the constitutional mandate to ensure that the servicing of public debt will not place an undue burden on the future generations.

The Opposition’s concerns are as valid but it cannot get away by saying that the change may have breached the Constitution. Its statements should be backed with strong justifications. Ambling in between shows confusion, not experience or expertise.

But then the government has also changed the policy, historic, as it likes to call now, without conducting any research on the implications its decision would have on the society. Decisions, no matter how good the intent, must be made on the needs of the society, not pledges. Elected governments may be held accountable by their promises but governance is more than promises.

The policy change has come at a time when the country is grappling with unemployed graduates. How then would raising the academic qualification to class XII address the needs of the society? How relevant is their academic qualification to Bhutan, which is today overwhelmed by qualified unskilled graduates and facing an acute shortage of basic skills such as plumbers and electricians?

The government says it is investing in human power. We ask how is it empowering them? Bhutan needs people with skills, not unskilled youth with certificates of attaining a raised academic qualification benchmark. The education conference’s decision to establish a premier school for Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) responds well to addressing the society’s needs.

Vocational education, which has received substantial budget in the 12th Plan, has finally received the attention it deserves. But with the labour ministry’s creditability sorely shaken in implementing even one employment programme, the task of revamping vocational education may prove challenging for the ministry.

The government must immediately assess the skills needed in the country and look into providing higher incentives to these professions. And instead of blaming each other, it is time the education and the labour ministries start working together.

We have lost much time and resources in citing the rhetoric of mismatch of skills and jobs. We have not done enough to take remedial measures and respond to market’s demands. What we are seeing today is a consequence of our failure to appreciate the skills of manual work and dignify these professions with higher incentives.

What this calls for is a change in the society‘s attitude towards basic skills.

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