The Government of Bhutan is committed to providing lifelong learning opportunities to adult learners. In 1991, the Non-Formal Education (NFE) Programme was created by the joint efforts of the Dzongkha Development Authority (DDA) and the national Women’s Association of Bhutan (NWAB). In 1996, the NFE Programme was taken over by the Ministry of Education and it began growing rapidly. Currently, 953 NFE centres exist and more than 13 500 learners participate in the NFE Programme annually. Despite this progress, Bhutan still faces a low literacy rate. The NFE Programme, therefore, occupies quite an important role in meeting Bhutan’s objective of lifelong learning.
The basic literacy programme takes place over one and a half years, and is held for three hours per day for five days a week at the NFE centres, usually housed in local schools. It is offered in the official language. In addition to basic literacy and numeracy skills, learners receive a livelihood skills education. Therefore, on the completion of the programme, learners are not only expected to have basic skills in reading, writing and calculations but also knowledge and skills related to health, sanitation, environment, agriculture, livestock, early childcare and development, STD/AIDS prevention and other relevant life skills. The average number of learners is 20 per class.
- Because the majority of the learners are farmers, they find it physically difficult to attend the NFE programme after their hard working days. This has led some learners to miss classes and create variability in learners’ progress, and in return has made it difficult for facilitators to accommodate all the learners’ needs.
- In order to include ‘hard to reach’ communities in the NFE programme, the government has created NFE centres in the most remote areas, including some with very few households, and yet reaching some communities, such as migrate communities, remains a challenge.
- About 25% of the NFE centres are housed either in temporary sheds or in people’s houses that can be too small to accommodate the learners. In addition, most of these centres lack basic facilities such as a blackboard, lights and furniture. These factors are making it difficult for facilitators to conduct effective literacy classes.
- Because most of the NFE centres are located in remote areas and some are not accessible by road (it often takes 1–3 days to walk from the nearest road), it is difficult to monitor them and support their needs. This also hinders constant and effective monitoring, evaluation and support.
- Due to scarce IT-trained personnel and facilities in almost all the NFE centres, it is difficult to keep reliable data at the NFE centres which is creating problems in the planning and execution of the programmes. To solve the problem, the NFCED is now in the process of setting up the Non-Formal Education Management Information System (NFE-MIS) with the technical and financial support from UNSECO.
Pray for women in Bhutan and for opportunities to learn and train and become accepted and contributing members of their society.