The general or secular education system has the largest enrolment of students and perhaps is the most widely known. It has three segments: basic education of 11 years, higher secondary education of two years and tertiary education of three years or more. Children begin their schooling at the age of 6 years when they enter the first grade of primary, known as pre-primary (Class PP). At the 12 end of the primary cycle, children are required to sit for a national level examination which is set by the Bhutan Board of Examinations but administered and assessed by the schools. If they pass this examination, they then continue to secondary education.
The secondary education programme consists of two years of junior secondary or lower secondary (Classes VII and VIII), two years of middle secondary (Classes IX and X) and two years of higher secondary (Classes XI and XII), which was previously known as junior college.
Students sit national examinations at the end of each level of education, namely at the end of
Classes VIII, X, and XII. Those who are successful at Class XII may, based on merit, continue to study in a general degree programme. The rest either repeat the examination to get better marks, enrol in one of the training institutes or find employment. While education up to Class X constitutes basic education and is intended to be universal, post-basic education is presently more competitive and restricted to cater to the human resource needs of the country. A number of training options are available at this level, including engineering, agricultural extension, health sciences, office support services and teacher education. A major shift in recent years has been to make secondary education much more relevant by introducing basic skills training within the curriculum and by introducing career counselling to orient the youth to the world of work.
Tertiary education is provided in Sherubtse College, the two Colleges of Education at Paro and
Samtse, the Institute of Language and Culture Studies, the Royal Institute of Health Sciences, the College of Science and Technology, and the National Institute of Indigenous and Traditional Medicine. A limited number of students are selected for government scholarships for professional studies abroad, while others who can afford it, arrange their further education abroad privately. Because monks are held in great respect, there is still a demand for monastic schools, particularly from poor families. Monasteries have served as a sanctuary for orphans and children in crises, and their reputation as reformatory institutions is also well known. The number of students enrolled in the monastic schools has been estimated at about 15% of the total school enrolment.
NFE has been the principal strategy to reach out to dispersed and marginalized groups in the
country, especially women. The combined efforts of the Dzongkha Development Authority (DDA) and the National Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB) gave birth to the NFE programme in 1992. The programme was taken over by the MOE in 1994 and has since then grown to over 646 centres with over 18,550 learners. Wherever there is a minimum of 20 learners, the Government provides a teacher and books to start a NFE centre. NFE consists of three levels with the first year being devoted to a basic literacy and numeracy course.
This is followed by a post-literacy programme, which lasts from six to 12 months and enables learners to enhance their skills and to gain knowledge on health, farming and other useful enterprises. At the third level, there are opportunities for students to advance their learning by self study at the local schools or community learning centres (CLCs).