Bhutan: Supporting students during COVID-19
January 04, 2023 by Ministry of Education of the Royal Government of Bhutan, and Save the Children Bhutan |
4 minutes read

Read how GPE worked with the ministry of Education of the Royal Government of Bhutan and Save the Children to make sure children’s learning wasn’t interrupted during the COVID-19 pandemic.


When COVID-19 hit Bhutan and disrupted education for children across the country, the Ministry of Education took immediate action.

In late March 2020, the UNICEF office in Bhutan received a GPE grant of US$70,000 to support the Ministry of Education. A workshop on education in emergencies was held in late April to develop a COVID-19 Response Plan focusing on education continuity, especially for the unreached, with wide participation.

Working with education sector stakeholders, the government developed a response plan to provide learning during school closures and created guidelines for safe school re-opening.

From October 2020 to February 2022, a US$750,000 COVID-19 grant from GPE with Save the Children as grant agent supported the government and its partners to realize their plans while strengthening the resilience of the education system during the pandemic.

Ensuring education continuity

To keep students learning during school closures, the Ministry of Education adapted the curriculum for education continuity in the emergency context, eventually establishing the New Normal Curriculum for basic education.

Around 7,600 teachers were trained on how to implement the curriculum and over 168,000 children accessed continued education through the New Normal Curriculum.

Development of the New Normal Curriculum and instructional guides by the Department of Curriculum and Professional Development.
Development of the New Normal Curriculum and instructional guides by the Department of Curriculum and Professional Development.
Credit:
Department of Curriculum and Professional Development, Ministry of Education

GPE funding also helped strengthen the studio of the Department of Curriculum and Professional Development (DCPD), formerly the Royal Education Council, where lessons are recorded to be broadcast on national television.

New equipment was purchased for the studio and 30 lessons were produced during the grant period. The lessons were aired through Bhutan Broadcasting Service and are also available on YouTube.

The DCPD is continuing to develop and share new learning videos on their YouTube Page.

Video lessons being recorded
Video lessons being recorded at the Royal Education Council’s studio using new equipment purchased with GPE funding.
Credit:
Department of Curriculum and Professional Development, MoE

Supporting students with disabilities

During school closures, students with disabilities were at a particularly high risk of missing out on their education. They rely on classroom teachers or learning aids and equipment which are not available at home. The Ministry of Education took several measures to ensure inclusive and equitable access to home-based learning.

With GPE funds, 755 assistive devices, including tablets and mobile phones, were procured and distributed to schools with special education needs programs and two institutes for students with hearing and visual impairments. Additionally, the New Normal Curriculum was adapted and developed into various formats – audio, visual, print, etc. – to make the content accessible to the range of student needs.

As schools re-opened, students continued to use the assistive devices in ways that enhance their learning experience. Learning materials and textbooks have been uploaded to the devices. And in the event of future closures, schools and teachers are now better prepared to support students to learn from home, lowering the risk of education disruptions and drop-out.

Class three students at Wangsel Institute for the Deaf learn to use assistive devices. Credit: Save the Children Bhutan
Class three students at Wangsel Institute for the Deaf learn to use assistive devices.
Credit:
Save the Children Bhutan
Development of teaching and learning materials
Development of teaching and learning materials from the New Normal Curriculum adapted to learning for children with disabilities.
Credit:
ECCD and SEN Division, Ministry of Education

Enhancing the health and safety of students

Getting students back to schools when they re-opened required accessible handwashing facilities and other COVID-19 preventative measures.

Prior to reopening, many schools did not have access to safe drinking water. GPE funded the installation of water filtration systems at 87 schools, benefiting over 17,100 students.

The water filters reduce the chances of children falling ill, and schools raised awareness about the importance of handwashing in the context of COVID-19.

A water filtration system installed at a school. Credit: School Health and Nutrition Division, Ministry of Education
A water filtration system installed at a school.
Credit:
School Health and Nutrition Division, Ministry of Education

Another big improvement to sanitation and hygiene was the upgradation of pit toilets to SaTo pan toilets.

The SaTo pan toilet is Japanese technology that uses an air-tight seal to close off pit toilets from open air, which reduces disease transmission from insects that come in contact with human waste. It also reduces the volume of water needed to flush.

Thanks to GPE funding, 1,500 SaTo pans were installed in 167 schools, benefiting over 68,800 students.

A pit toilet before upgradation, and a SaTo pan after upgradation. Credit: Bhutan Toilet Organization
A pit toilet before upgradation, and a SaTo pan after upgradation.
Credit:
Bhutan Toilet Organization

In addition to hygiene improvements, Bhutan prioritized children’s mental health and wellbeing through improved psychosocial support services. A total of 147 counselors received training on online counseling skills and techniques to support students seeking remote counseling during school closures.

When students are in school, they have access to in-person support, but this is limited to middle secondary schools and higher secondary schools. Many schools do not have a trained counselor on site, and in such cases, focal teachers are identified to provide basic counseling services.

Every school was requested to identify one focal teacher, and a total of 583 focal teachers were trained to provide psychosocial support to students. From October 2020 to February 2022, over 4,200 students received one-on-one psychosocial support.

These interventions have helped ensure that children throughout Bhutan stayed healthy and continued learning during the COVID-19 pandemic. Government coordination and shared vision among GPE, Save the Children and other partners have strengthened Bhutan’s education system, which can better serve students moving forward.

COVID-19
South Asia: Bhutan

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