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What are our children learning? 

Poor reading habit among the Bhutanese isn’t something that comes as surprising. The recent findings of PISA-D assessment show that poor reading literacy among students hinder their academic performance. The finding is also not new.

Past studies have shown that our students are unable to comprehend the meaning of the texts to answer questions correctly. What is also perhaps not new to us is the lack of action taken to address this problem. We have debated much on the declining quality of education and blamed teachers for the state of education today. But rarely have we seen measures taken to improve the quality of education and the morale of our teachers. Never have we questioned the quality of training provided in our teacher training colleges.

Often, measures taken to improve quality are limited to schools. Professional development exercises, cramped during school holidays are more a formality than to tailored  to address the problems confronting the education sector. Amid reforms initiated to improve learning outcomes, reports consistently show that our children are learning without understanding – that poor reading literacy among students manifests in their performance in other subjects such as Science and Mathematics. Students skipping questions and not having enough time to answer them were also attributed to poor comprehension.

The report found that although Bhutan performed better than most PISA-D countries, there is a huge performance gap between Bhutan and PISA countries. Bhutan’s performance is about 38 to 48 percentage points below the percent correct values of PISA reference countries. The findings tell us where our education system stands against the world and in the region. It tells us where we are lacking and sets a certain benchmark.

But improving our education system is our responsibility. We are not accountable to others but our children for the quality of education we provide. Where the education of our children should bring together policy makers, educationists, parents and the society, we are wary of those in policy making positions enrolling their children in foreign schools. When policy makers lack confidence in our education system and initiate reforms that are likely to affect thousands of children without thorough research, we have a problem.

Yet education is one such area that forces the society to come together. A significant finding reiterated in the recent report is to enhance the school curricula and strengthen competency-based activities. The assessment found that the existing curricula were broad but shallow, which led to poor learning outcomes. Work to thin the existing curricula is already on and the findings should help make informed decisions on what our children should learn.

There is a need to cultivate and instill the habit of reading among children. The state of public library in the capital is a telling reminder to the adults of the dying culture of reading.

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