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UNICEF: Girls enrolment lagging behind
Bhutan is among 25 countries worldwide that failed to meet the Millennium Development Goal of achieving gender parity in primary and secondary education by 2005, according to the Gender Achievements and Prospects in Education report released by the United Nations Children's Fund (UNICEF).

The '25 by 2005' acceleration campaign designed by UNICEF to intensify efforts in 25 countries which fall behind deadline includes countries mostly in South Asia and Africa.
The countries were selected based on one or more of the criteria that defined the country's drawbacks in achieving the goals.


Disparity among schools?

While government has always stressed on quality education for children in a conducive environment - with adequate sanitation, safe drinking water, well-ventilated rooms - many schools in Thimphu fall far behind in fulfilling the criteria.

Crowded classrooms, inadequate sitting space, broken blackboards and a run down school building are a common sight. Too often schools have poor drinking water facility with sanitation in deplorable conditions. Some schools like Changzamtog Lower Secondary School run shifts to adjust the high number of students in the primary section.

On the contrary, some schools in the capital are the envy of everyone. Well-maintained buildings, manicured gardens with better sanitation facilities and better equipped classrooms which spell out the obvious imbalance in the distribution of infrastructure facilities among the schools.

Although education officials agreed that some schools in the capital needed attention, they denied the allegation that disparity existed among the schools. They said that some schools had lagged behind in development activities because "of the plans to shift the location".

The officials also said that the responsibilities also lie with the faculty and the administration of the schools. "Efforts have to be made by the administration division by highlighting problems to the dzongkhag authorities," said the education spokesperson, adding that the ministry had already taken action in some cases.

The report states that with net enrolment ratio of 50. 7 percent, only half of the total children in Bhutan are enrolled in primary school. The net enrolment rate for boys, at 53.3 percent was higher than the enrolment rate for girls at 48.0 percent.

The report highlights that Bhutan stands next to Afghanistan in the region and faces the second highest required average annual rate of increase to meet the goal by the final deadline of 2015.

The report, however, points out that 'lack of reliable data' in Bhutan makes it difficult to assess progress in the field.

Agree education officials. The officials said that the data reflected in the report could neither be denied nor accepted because of the lack of proper figures.

"Only after the exact population figures are in place can we get the proper picture of where we stand," said the school education director, Tshewang Tandin.

A UNICEF official observed that data always varied when it came to Bhutan as every calculation was based on the previously projected population figure of 2.1 million with the UN that is yet to be updated.

Although there is a general consensus that still more needs to be done to bridge the gap, education officials said that Bhutan is not far behind. The gross primary enrolment, according to education ministry's general statistics book, has made considerable progress from 55 percent in 1990 to 84 percent in 2004. The girls, however, surpassed the boys in the enrolment growth in primary education with a growth rate of 5.6 percent to that of 3.4 percent growth rate for boys.

Among the SAARC countries, Sri Lanka had already achieved universal education while Maldives was fast on track. But India, which accounted for 23 percent of global absentees, had about 26.8 million primary school-age children left out on education.
Pakistan and Bangladesh followed behind with seven and three percent of the total children not in school.

The report states that gender parity in education is a 'far-off' destination in more than half of the eight countries in the region. A total of 23.5 million girls in South Asia were out of school.

According to the report, universal education depends on an infrastructure that supports quality education which goes beyond the physical structure of a building or the classroom content.

"Quality education is lost when children are jammed into classrooms with insufficient textbooks and untrained teachers," the report states.

Contributed by Karma Choden,KUENSEL, Bhutan's National Newspaper, 2004

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UNICEF:
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