Since time immemorial, Bhutan was cooped up in thickets of isolation and had remained anonymous to the rest of the world. It ain’t until 1960 that Bhutan woke up from its long slumber of seclusion to the dawn of modernization, and set out on embracing the outside world.
Although with the crowning of Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck came the inception of modern education, it was predominantly monastic education that thrived prodigiously to flourish language, arts, philosophy and literature. Riveting details of Sindu Raja and Nawachhe, the Bhutanese Jog yig by Demang Tsemang in seventh and eighth centuries were the products of the monastic education in the country.
The Monastic education was institutionalized in the Dzongs under different Je Khenpos, private temples and a separate Shedra in Tharpaling around 1914 by first King inviting His Eminence Tongden Shacha. His Eminence sent Atsara Rimpochhe to Bhutan. Many young people were sent to study under His Eminence Tongden Shacha. The Second King patronized the Shedras further. Many Shedras like Phajo Ding, Tangu, etc. were constructed by the successive monarchs. Monastic education flourished symbiotically and it complemented modern education.
Bhutanese monks were continually sent to Tibet to learn from revered lamas only to return years later to develop monastic centres or to teach dharma in their own ways, steadily paving the trail for the advent of modern education.
"Despite the late start of education in formal and organized sense of term, there were already awakened minds and enlightened initiatives which lit the lamp of learning, albeit in the most modest surroundings, right from the beginning" concludes the then education minister, Thakur Singh
History has it that 46 boys from Bhutan were enrolled in Dr. Grahams Homes, a Scottish mission school in what is known as today's Kalimpong.
Bhutan’s first school was also inaugurated in 1914 at Haa with a Bhutanese teacher called Lopon Karp. The following year another school was founded at first king’s palace in Bumthang, especially for the crown prince Jigme Wangchuck and some children of people attending at the royal court. They were mainly drilled in English with teachers from Scotland mission and Tibetan dialect.
By 1919-1920, there were about 21 students at Bumthang and 28 students studying in Haa. The education system slowly took to its pace and number of schools augmented to 11 schools and 400 students were enrolled by 1961.
Further, with the introduction of first five year plan in 1961, modern education was promoted to address basic educational needs and to develop human resources. The subjects taught then were English, arithmetic, Hindi and Buddhist scriptures.
Since our primitive ancestors were ignorant on the importance of education, a good number of parents shunned their children’ from sending to schools dreading their helping hands would be at bay when required. Oral history unearths the fact that instances of education officials setting out in disguised form to have students enrolled in schools also prevailed. Gradually, in the course of evolution as they deciphered the scopes of education in near future, our parents didn’t hesitate to dispatch them. Moreover, with the mapping of network with outside world, Bhutan witnessed burgeoning number of schools with students from different walks of life being taught by expatriate teachers. That was how the lamp of modern learning was lit.
Today, we have schools close to 504 across the country. Realizing that modern education can play an irreplaceable role in snowballing self-growth, socio-economic development and progress in Bhutan, we, now, see hordes of students thronging for admission which is a sufficient testimony that the nation has long before exited the most cherished state of isolation and checked into world of no more desolation.
However, there is a subtle difference in the education system in Bhutan compared to elsewhere in the world. In Bhutan, the education system pays particular attention to imparting to the students a sense of belongingness and respect for the culture and tradition of their country. In addition, ever since the birth of globally celebrated paradigm philosophy GNH by our very soul, JSW, Bhutanese education has never failed to incorporate it and transmit through curriculum to our learners. It is because of this unique philosophy pronounced by K4 that, we pride over the education system in Bhutan.
His majesty the fourth king believed, as did his predecessors, that every citizens must be educated in order to create an enlightened and productive Bhutanese society. Therefore, the education sector became invincible one. Till date, we enjoy free access to primary, secondary and even tertiary education. Further under the unparalleled reign of our charismatic kings, schools spanned throughout the nation has been blessed with myriads of facilities that comes without having to pay. (Books, dress, geometry box etc). Of all, extra precedence was set purposefully over the education sector as it was inevitable in producing future architects of the nation that serve as the engine for development.
Ultimately, my words here would not suffice to match the timeless deeds and noble contribution but as I reluctantly put end to my speech here, we, your subjects, remain firmly indebted and pray for your longevity and commit selflessly to contribute in the building of the nation- Palden Drukpa.
Ours is a journey of myths and legends to the quest of modern education. It is a journey that has come a long way and stood the test of time under the benevolent leadership of Wangchuck dynasty.
Thank you for installing education right at our disposal.
May you perpetuate to bless us with your unfathomable wisdom for all times to come?
Note- I extend my acknowledgement to all the references i have made