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Bhutan is a fairly small landlocked country in South Asia, with a total land area of just less than 15,000 square miles. Situated at the eastern end of the Himalayan Mountain range, the peaceful country is bordered to the north by China and to the east, west and south by the Republic of India. Bhutan is very near Nepal to the west and Bangladesh to the south, separated by the Indian states of Sikkim (Nepal) and Assam and West Bengal (Bangladesh) respectively. The capital and largest city in Bhutan is Thimphu.
Bhutan has a population of roughly 700,000, which consists primarily of Ngalps in the west and Sharchops in the east. There is also a minority of Lhotshompa people in the south, a name that when translated literally means “southerner.” Nearly two-thirds of the Bhutanese people adhere to the local form of Buddhism, and the remaining one-third of the population practices Hinduism. The national language of the country is Bhutanese, also called Dzongkha, one of 53 languages in the Tibetan language family. English is the primary language of instruction at many of the Bhutanese schools, both public and private.
Education in Bhutan
In the early part of the 20th century, western-style education was introduced to Bhutan, but it wasn’t until the 1950s that formal education was made available to Bhutanese students, save for the handful of private schools that existed prior to that time, which were generally reserved strictly for children of wealthy parents.
Today Bhutan has a comprehensive coeducational school system, consisting of over 200 primary schools, 25 junior high schools, and 17 high schools. Education is funded by the national government and is compulsory for children of primary-school age. At the primary and junior high level, students receive instruction in academic fields that include science and mathematics, Bhutanese and Indian history and culture, language (Bhutanese and English), art, music and sport. High school students can choose between general or academic education and vocational education, in which they train to enter the workforce upon graduation.
Despite recent educational reforms, national teacher trainings and a push to increase attendance at Bhutanese schools, a dismally low percentage of students in Bhutan attend school beyond the compulsory primary level. Recent statistics show that fewer than 15 percent of junior high age children and less than 10 percent of high school age students attend school. In 2001, the United Nations Development program reported that the Bhutanese adult literacy rate was roughly 35 percent and less than 20% for females, who, not surprisingly, are also underrepresented in the school system.
As you might expect, opportunities for higher education in Bhutan are quite limited, and less than 5 percent of the eligible population seeks any type of post-secondary education. Students who do opt to take part in Bhutanese higher education can choose between the one large polytechnic university in the country, offering undergraduate and graduate degrees in courses such as civil, mechanical and electrical engineering, drafting and survey; the lone technical school; or the junior college, which offers 2-3 year degree and certification programs in both academic and occupational disciplines.
Despite the low educational attainment and the poor adult literacy rate among the Bhutanese people, the majority of residents live a very satisfying life in this small country. In fact, in 2006, in a global survey conducted by Business Week magazine, Bhutan was rated the “happiest” country in all of Asia and the eighth happiest in the world.