Despite Bhutan successfully expanding access to education – the primary net enrollment rate increased from 92.9% in 2018 to 96.5% in 2019 (Bhutan Annual Report) – concerns about the quality of education remain.
The country is still striving towards having a robust assessment system to monitor the health and quality of the education system and provide timely feedback to key stakeholders. The capacity to undertake and utilize the findings of the national assessments is seen as one of the constraints for the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA).
Among the various learning assessments in Bhutan, enhancing the National Education Assessment (NEA), which has been administered irregularly since 2003, is considered a priority. The NEA can be a powerful tool to diagnose the health of the education system. From it, evidence-based policies can be derived and recommendations for improving teaching and learning processes can be made.
As of now, there is no policy framework that governs the NEA. The lack of such a framework has resulted in unclear linkages with other existing assessments and examinations in Bhutan, often causing misunderstanding of the NEA as another high-stake examination.
Acknowledging that the priority need was a policy framework to govern the NEA, the $2.5 million GPE grant to Bhutan supported the development of an inclusive framework. The grant will also support the implementation of the framework by supporting the BCSEA to conduct an NEA in grade 3 in 2021.
A new National Education Assessment Framework
The NEAF is the result of a collaborative and collective effort from several stakeholders. It has been developed after a series of consultations with teachers, principals, parents and education experts within Bhutan as well as with the technical support of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) India.
The framework is aligned with the existing set of national policy documents and guidelines, strategic documents and research studies, as well as the national curriculum. The framework is guided by sound principles and best practices of large-scale assessments conducted by experienced global leaders such as the OECD, World Bank and ACER.
The key features of the NEAF are:
- A clear description of the aims and objectives of the assessment, and a clear definition of the domain to be assessed (Dzongkha reading literacy, Dzongkha writing literacy, English reading literacy, English writing literacy, mathematical literacy and scientific literacy)
- Description of the types and proportion of knowledge, skills, values and attitudes as well as learning outcomes.
- Inclusion of 21st Century Competencies in the context of Nine Student Attributes
- Contextual factors that correlate with students’ achievement
- Test design, including the item format, duration of the test, number of test booklets, number of items in each test booklet, and the number of linking items (common areas among different tests) within and across the grades.
- Universal inclusion through appropriate accommodations for children with special education needs.