Reexamining Arts Education: A Call for Reform

In a move that continues to stir debate and concern, the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB) remains in the spotlight over its decision to discontinue Arts courses in tertiary educational institutes more than two years ago. Despite the impact on students and public outcry, formal discussions between the university and the education ministry have yet to materialize, leaving many stakeholders frustrated and seeking answers.

The decision’s ripple effect has been felt most profoundly among students currently enrolled in Arts streams at the secondary school level. These students, who are aiming to pursue higher education within Bhutan, now face uncertainties about their academic futures. With no significant reforms implemented in Classes XI and XII for Arts subjects, questions loom large regarding the viability and support for arts education in the country.

Members of the National Assembly (NA) have taken up the cause, voicing concerns on behalf of affected students and their families. Tshering Penjor, representing Dewathang-Gomdar constituency, has been vocal about the need to recognize the importance of Arts and Commerce alongside Science and Technology. He emphasized that a balanced educational approach is crucial for sustainable development rooted in humane values.

Meanwhile, Tshewang Rinzin, MP for South Thimphu, highlighted the hardships faced by students affected by the policy shift and called for urgent support measures from the ministry. This sentiment was echoed by Namgay Dorji from Khamdang-Ramjar constituency, who criticized the abrupt decision and advocated for greater student choice in academic pursuits.

Proposals for resolution have varied among lawmakers. Naiten Wangchuk from Mongar suggested a governmental takeover of struggling private schools to reintroduce Arts courses, potentially broadening access for affected students. These suggestions come amid admissions that the current state of STEM education in Bhutan, as highlighted by various research findings, may not be meeting expected standards.

In response to mounting pressure, Education and Skill Development Minister Yeezang De Thapa acknowledged the lack of consultations with RUB, attributing it to the absence of an education reform council. Plans are now underway to establish such a council, aimed at reviewing and updating the curriculum to align with current developmental needs and skill requirements.

The minister’s assurance of inclusivity within the council, including voices from diverse educational backgrounds, has been welcomed as a step towards a more holistic approach to education reform. However, stakeholders remain wary, emphasizing the need for concrete action and timely resolutions to safeguard students’ educational pathways.

Beyond the halls of legislation and policy-making, the impact of these decisions has been felt in classrooms across the country. Teachers report a shift in student enrollment patterns, with fewer opting for Arts streams due to perceived limitations in future career prospects.

As Bhutan navigates these challenges, the debate over Arts education continues to evolve, highlighting broader questions about educational priorities and the role of diverse disciplines in shaping the nation’s future. For now, the journey towards a balanced, inclusive educational landscape remains a pressing concern for policymakers, educators, and students alike.

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