ICLEI South Asia, Regional Programme Political Dialogue Asia of the Konrad-Adenauer-Stiftung (KAS), Singapore, and the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) jointly organised a KASpaces Bhutan webinar on “Accelerating Progress and Equality in Education” on the 16th of September 2021. Attended by 135 stakeholders representing government, think tanks, and more than 10 educational institutions, the webinar focused on identifying key issues and a collaborative framework, promoting stakeholder collaboration, building capacity, and on discussing best practices in education towards achieving Sustainable Development Goal 4 of ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education for all in the context of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Speakers in the technical sessions included university lecturers and professors, school principals and teachers, communication technology officers from colleges under RUB, and students. The presentations and discussions highlighted the challenges and the way forward with the blended learning paradigm, infrastructure and teacher development; inequality in education; and potential improvements in education policies in Bhutan. The webinar yielded key actionable insights for Bhutan’s education system to achieve quality and equality, especially in the backdrop of the pandemic.
Bhutan switched to blended learning when the COVID-19 pandemic struck, but infrastructural, affordability, access and competency challenges ensued. The participants agreed that the country’s education system would fare better with an effective blended learning policy with students at its center, stronger and more accessible IT infrastructure, capacity building in ICT infrastructure use, and a robust blended learning application with more focus on interactive lessons, as well as affordable gadgets, adequate power supply and sociological transformation.
As students in remote areas had little or no access to online resources and devices, the pandemic made stark the inequalities in education, stemming mainly from gender and rural-urban divides. Equal distribution of infrastructural funds to schools across the country, interest-free student loans to procure learning resources, more autonomy in rural schools, teacher preparation and retention in remote areas, and gender-responsive budgeting, besides gender mainstreaming in policies, should be given priority.