Home / Opinions / The status of TVET in Bhutan 

The status of TVET in Bhutan 

At long last, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) eventually caught the attention of the highest legislative body. The formation of a TVET committee at the apex level is most welcome news and long overdue. If vocational education is to be promoted as a mainstream choice, political will is imperative. Our society does not recognize the value of TVET and yet clamor for economic development.

A developed country like Germany upholds TVET as the forerunner in the economy and social development. They have a Vocational Training Act since the 1960s that oversees vocational education, including vocational further education and job retraining. Similarly, there are other industrially developed nations such as the UK, US, South Korea and Japan, who embraced TVET as the engine to drive the country’s economy. Strong TVET system is generally seen as the solution, not only in economic development but also to address unemployment problem in the country. Whereas, in Bhutan context, the TVET Act is surrogated by TVET policy, which remain confined within the concerned ministry unaware of its existence by the rest of the stakeholders.

While the focus on it is recent, the TVET system in Bhutan is not new. It goes back to mid 1960s when technical education was first introduced in the country. The first Plan laid out a national economic development plan, especially with the construction of roads. Consequently, the demand for trained workforce became profound by the day making the country heavily reliant on the expatriates.

Thus, the need of the hour was to establish a centre that offer vocational training in solving the much needed trained manpower in the development process. As such, under the direct command of the visionary King, the first Technical School was established at Rinchending, Phuentsholing in 1965, which was later renamed as Royal Technical Institute (RTI).

The graduates of RTI to some extent addressed the much-needed skilled manpower to assist in the initial developmental activities. In 1974, the Royal Bhutan Polytechnic, later known as Jigme Namgyal Polytechnic in the eastern region was established to offer diploma level engineering courses. Accordingly, the two institutes have purportedly produced substantial number of technical personnel in various engineering fields making considerable contributions to nation building.

However, TVET has not received due significance in the psyche of policy makers and the society. It was and is looked down even to this day by the society and parents alike, projecting a poor image towards the so called “blue collar job” and tarnishing the very essence of dignity of labour. There is negative stigma attached with TVET. People hold the view that TVET is good for students who do not qualify for admission into university and meant for lower income groups. TVET is never a second best choice. It is of course undeniably a universal phenomenon that TVET program is poorly perceived, especially so in the developing world.

But despite all odds, TVET has come a long way. During the early period of its establishment, it was with the general education system, administered by the Technical Cell, with the Department of Education, Ministry of Development. Later it was upgraded to a Division as Technical Education Division under the Ministry of Social Services. The division was created to administer and strengthen the TVET system. Numerous external technical assistance projects were incepted to assist in the institutional strengthening and capacity development. From 1974 to 1980 ILO/UNDP project; 1986 to 1990 British Council Oversea Project; 1992 to 1997 GTZ (German Technical Co-operation Project) and thereafter ADB project. However, the desire attentions from both the society and policy makers surpassed the TVET system to gradually fade in its vigor and momentum. At one point of time the Technical Education Division was almost defunct with no designated responsible officer to oversee the division. The neglected and sick TVET Division was virtually abandoned and left to the helpless lone office assistant whose task was to maintain records of correspondences in an empty large office space.

In 1987, a three-day workshop on curriculum development was organised jointly by the Technical and Vocational Education Division and UNDP/ILO short-term project after conducting Training Need Assessment (TNA) from various potential employers. The   workshop was participated by different stakeholders and players to revamp and improve the overall system by narrowing the supply-demand mismatch through course curriculum. There were few pertinent workshop resolutions taken to promote a strong and vibrant TVET system in the country. The conference was filled with excitement and high anticipation since at long last something positive may finally shape for the better. Extremely motivated, the workshop organizers invited one of the highest decision makers as the chief guest to grace the closing ceremony. However, to the disillusionment of the participants, the workshop outcomes were instantaneously null and void. Regrettably, all hope of TVET revitalization remained status quo.

The year 1991 saw yet another workshop organized jointly by the RGoB and GTZ. Some of the group presentations depicted the death and subsequent rebirth of ailing TVET with new strategies to lift its image and importance by rewarding skills development.

In 1999, the paradigm change in TVET system took shape by creating an autonomous body with National Technical Training Authority (NTTA) to administer the entire training system in the country. NTTA was mandated to oversee all forms of training program and as well as the quality of TVET. Prior to the establishment of NTTA, the line government ministries conducted training program to serve a respective requirement than a holistic national interest. As such, by establishing NTTA, all training providers came under one umbrella for easy monitoring, planning and implementation which also gave easy access to regulate all forms of in-country training program in the country.

In 2003 the TVET system received an important impetus and came under the newly formed Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. The NTTA was bifurcated into two Departments, the Department of Human Resources (DHR) now renamed as Department of Technical Education (DTE) and the Department of Occupational Standard (DOS) in addition to the Department of Labour and Department of Employment which were also bifurcations of the then National Employment Board (NEB).

The RTI in Phuentsholing has also undergone various transformations in accomplishing the objectives of producing trained human resource for the country. In 2003, the RTI was bifurcated into several vocational Institutes, spreading across the country to provide more access to TVET program for the youth and the unemployed. With the introduction of Bhutan Vocational Qualification and Accreditation (BVQA), the training curriculum has also undergone a paradigm shift from conventional mode of training to competency based training and assessment system (CBTA). Today, there are several well established public and private training institutes to provide much needed skills to drive socio-economic growth of our country.

Nonetheless, skilling people with appropriate skills for the right job entails adequate and pertinent training facilities so as to narrow the skill mismatch in the labour market. Paradoxically, the training tools and equipment currently used in most of the government training institutes are obsolete and not in harmony with the available technology, resulting in skill mismatch in the job market. Indeed, TVET is expensive but it must be seen as an investment so that the dividend paid will ultimately contribute to growth of the nation through skilled manpower. Unemployment of youth can be tackled through skill development by the TVET institutes but sadly the training institutes are experiencing dwindling enrollment in the training program.

This is a clear indication that TVET is still seen as a last option and the image of TVET has not improved even after more than five decades of its existence. 

At long last, Technical and Vocational Education and Training (TVET) eventually caught the attention of the highest legislative body. The formation of a TVET committee at the apex level is most welcome news and long overdue. If vocational education is to be promoted as a mainstream choice, political will is imperative. Our society does not recognize the value of TVET and yet clamor for economic development.

A developed country like Germany upholds TVET as the forerunner in the economy and social development. They have a Vocational Training Act since the 1960s that oversees vocational education, including vocational further education and job retraining. Similarly, there are other industrially developed nations such as the UK, US, South Korea and Japan, who embraced TVET as the engine to drive the country’s economy. Strong TVET system is generally seen as the solution, not only in economic development but also to address unemployment problem in the country. Whereas, in Bhutan context, the TVET Act is surrogated by TVET policy, which remain confined within the concerned ministry unaware of its existence by the rest of the stakeholders.

While the focus on it is recent, the TVET system in Bhutan is not new. It goes back to mid 1960s when technical education was first introduced in the country. The first Plan laid out a national economic development plan, especially with the construction of roads. Consequently, the demand for trained workforce became profound by the day making the country heavily reliant on the expatriates.

Thus, the need of the hour was to establish a centre that offer vocational training in solving the much needed trained manpower in the development process. As such, under the direct command of the visionary King, the first Technical School was established at Rinchending, Phuentsholing in 1965, which was later renamed as Royal Technical Institute (RTI).

The graduates of RTI to some extent addressed the much-needed skilled manpower to assist in the initial developmental activities. In 1974, the Royal Bhutan Polytechnic, later known as Jigme Namgyal Polytechnic in the eastern region was established to offer diploma level engineering courses. Accordingly, the two institutes have purportedly produced substantial number of technical personnel in various engineering fields making considerable contributions to nation building.

However, TVET has not received due significance in the psyche of policy makers and the society. It was and is looked down even to this day by the society and parents alike, projecting a poor image towards the so called “blue collar job” and tarnishing the very essence of dignity of labour. There is negative stigma attached with TVET. People hold the view that TVET is good for students who do not qualify for admission into university and meant for lower income groups. TVET is never a second best choice. It is of course undeniably a universal phenomenon that TVET program is poorly perceived, especially so in the developing world.

But despite all odds, TVET has come a long way. During the early period of its establishment, it was with the general education system, administered by the Technical Cell, with the Department of Education, Ministry of Development. Later it was upgraded to a Division as Technical Education Division under the Ministry of Social Services. The division was created to administer and strengthen the TVET system. Numerous external technical assistance projects were incepted to assist in the institutional strengthening and capacity development. From 1974 to 1980 ILO/UNDP project; 1986 to 1990 British Council Oversea Project; 1992 to 1997 GTZ (German Technical Co-operation Project) and thereafter ADB project. However, the desire attentions from both the society and policy makers surpassed the TVET system to gradually fade in its vigor and momentum. At one point of time the Technical Education Division was almost defunct with no designated responsible officer to oversee the division. The neglected and sick TVET Division was virtually abandoned and left to the helpless lone office assistant whose task was to maintain records of correspondences in an empty large office space.

In 1987, a three-day workshop on curriculum development was organised jointly by the Technical and Vocational Education Division and UNDP/ILO short-term project after conducting Training Need Assessment (TNA) from various potential employers. The   workshop was participated by different stakeholders and players to revamp and improve the overall system by narrowing the supply-demand mismatch through course curriculum. There were few pertinent workshop resolutions taken to promote a strong and vibrant TVET system in the country. The conference was filled with excitement and high anticipation since at long last something positive may finally shape for the better. Extremely motivated, the workshop organizers invited one of the highest decision makers as the chief guest to grace the closing ceremony. However, to the disillusionment of the participants, the workshop outcomes were instantaneously null and void. Regrettably, all hope of TVET revitalization remained status quo.

The year 1991 saw yet another workshop organized jointly by the RGoB and GTZ. Some of the group presentations depicted the death and subsequent rebirth of ailing TVET with new strategies to lift its image and importance by rewarding skills development.

In 1999, the paradigm change in TVET system took shape by creating an autonomous body with National Technical Training Authority (NTTA) to administer the entire training system in the country. NTTA was mandated to oversee all forms of training program and as well as the quality of TVET. Prior to the establishment of NTTA, the line government ministries conducted training program to serve a respective requirement than a holistic national interest. As such, by establishing NTTA, all training providers came under one umbrella for easy monitoring, planning and implementation which also gave easy access to regulate all forms of in-country training program in the country.

In 2003 the TVET system received an important impetus and came under the newly formed Ministry of Labour and Human Resources. The NTTA was bifurcated into two Departments, the Department of Human Resources (DHR) now renamed as Department of Technical Education (DTE) and the Department of Occupational Standard (DOS) in addition to the Department of Labour and Department of Employment which were also bifurcations of the then National Employment Board (NEB).

The RTI in Phuentsholing has also undergone various transformations in accomplishing the objectives of producing trained human resource for the country. In 2003, the RTI was bifurcated into several vocational Institutes, spreading across the country to provide more access to TVET program for the youth and the unemployed. With the introduction of Bhutan Vocational Qualification and Accreditation (BVQA), the training curriculum has also undergone a paradigm shift from conventional mode of training to competency based training and assessment system (CBTA). Today, there are several well established public and private training institutes to provide much needed skills to drive socio-economic growth of our country.

Nonetheless, skilling people with appropriate skills for the right job entails adequate and pertinent training facilities so as to narrow the skill mismatch in the labour market. Paradoxically, the training tools and equipment currently used in most of the government training institutes are obsolete and not in harmony with the available technology, resulting in skill mismatch in the job market. Indeed, TVET is expensive but it must be seen as an investment so that the dividend paid will ultimately contribute to growth of the nation through skilled manpower. Unemployment of youth can be tackled through skill development by the TVET institutes but sadly the training institutes are experiencing dwindling enrollment in the training program.

This is a clear indication that TVET is still seen as a last option and the image of TVET has not improved even after more than five decades of its existence. The youth entering TVET programs are not generally out of inherent choice but out of sheer desperation as the last option and for being unable to afford higher studies. Thus, it calls for serious attention of policy makers to make the TVET system attractive and dynamic in solving the rising unemployment problem. As many TVET experts articulate “if education is considered key to effective development strategies, then TVET is the master key to alleviate poverty and help achieve sustainable development”.

Prior to the re-location of the then RTI, there was an ambitious proposed plan of establishing regional centers in selected dzongkhags and the RTI to function as the main campus to embark into a centre of excellence by providing various types of advanced skill program, such as curriculum development, pedagogy (didactics), resources development, trainers capacity development, research and development, etc.

What however, came as a blow to the already weak TVET system was when the entire RTI was bifurcated and relocated at different dzongkhags as Vocational Training Institutes, now renamed as the Technical Training Institutes (TTIs), to boost the image of TVET. The TVET institutes have to be re-established all over again in the new locations but not without challenges and hardship. Hence, the radical initiative currently taken by the highest legislative body in re-engineering TVET system in the country is a good decision.

The TVET system was delinked from the periphery of the general education system, so as to fully function as an out of school program. The separate entity was only apt and plausible approach to provide career path to the growing school leavers. They should be provided with an alternative career option to pursue professional career of their choice. The general education and TVET program should have a distinctive approach to prepare and develop the youth towards their preferred career path as spelled out in Bhutan Vocational Qualification Framework (BVQF).

The training delivery systems of TVET institutions need sweeping changes in preparing the graduates with the right attribute. The mismatch in supply-demand persists, especially with TVET graduates lacking life skills, core values in the work environment, such as initiative, leadership, communication, creativity, problem solving and endurance etc. that are primary requirements for the world of work. The tracer study once carried out in 1998 for the graduates of Deothang Polytechnic and RTI had provided pertinent input in the direction of training need. Such initiative is unheard of to date.

A Competency Based Training (CBT) approach was adopted in 2010 to narrow the skill mismatch but fully realizing the desired goal is still a distant vision. The lack of harmonious linkages and liaison between the suppliers and the end users are yet to strengthen. Besides, on-the-job attachment in the industry is not seriously implemented due to a sheer lack of understanding and the importance of win-win situation. The initiative of trainers’ industrial attachment does not seem to have improved since its implementation in the late 1990s with no serious commitment from the stakeholders due to want of national policy in place.

The so-called Apprenticeship Training Program (ATP) once initiated with full zeal seems to have lost its momentum and sense of direction, in retrospect. The objectives were wise but methodology was not and thus could not be sustained. In India, such a system is undertaken in a formal set up where basic practical and theoretical input are done prior to the actual training in industry to gain full hand on experience. In Germany, the training of such nature is call duel training system, where a vast majority of practical training is done in the firms and the theoretical training in the vocational schools; providing two places of learning (firm and training institute).

However, duel system of training should be cautiously adapted to suit to ones context. Given the size of industries in a country like Germany, the duel system of training is one of the best forms of training as it is culturally embedded in German context but such model, could not be fully realized in other countries like Thailand and Indonesia who endeavor to replicate the system, albeit having large industries.

If the duel system model is to be adopted in our country, it must be so designed to fit into our economic context. Further, the duel system in Germany and other European countries are successful as they have strong legally binding linkages with the industry. Their vocational training providers are directly administered and governed by the chamber of industry and commerce except the teachers whose salaries are met by the states.

In case of Bhutan, the institute-industry linkages may need a rational approach by keeping the duel training principle. To do so, the industries and training providers must have shared responsibilities. The training providers should facilitate up-skilling and retraining of industry workers while the in-plant training is provided by the industries under the trained supervisors. Such method of training is done in the UK through the youth training scheme (YTS), whereby the school dropouts are employed by the firms and sent for up-gradation training and education in Technical Collages. This way, the linkages between industry-institutes will not only strengthen but also sustain. However, it must be legally binding through a TVET Act.

As highlighted earlier, training must be considered as an investment and not a waste. Trained technical personnel are usually not paid the wages they deserved, as one may argue that dignity comes with the take home paycheck at the end of the day. This is invariably one of the demotivating factors. This also leads to frequent job change, causing discontentment to the employers with the TVET graduates.

More pertinent is the lack of proper Human Resource Development plan. The TVET trainers in general are intrinsically de-motivated due to lack of career ladder in the profession. A realistic approach in the teaching-learning environment is that the trainers should be one step ahead of the learners in terms of qualification and experiences. The trainers should be resourceful. To achieve this, the trainers must have sound knowledge of one’s profession with adequate industrial experiences. The training of trainers (ToT) is important as it deals with pedagogical aspects but without the profession knowledge and skills, ToT will have little bearing. The trainers have to be upgraded both in terms of knowledge and skills with changing technology, so that the instruction is based on the current and not obsolete and outdated skills and know-how.

Considering all the above, it is a Clarian call that the TVET system be addressed a lasting solution be found.

Contributed by:

B.Wangdi 

Retd TVET teacher

Rabten Lam, Thimphu

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