Bhutan has made great strides in modernizing its educational system and making education available to all of its citizens but it is still dealing with the problem of illiteracy. Since the 1960s, the country has been able to develop a basic educational infrastructure with some help from foreign donors. The governmental views universal education as one way to increase the GNH (Gross National Happiness) of it people and help the country progress and develop.

Education expenditures: 6.6 percent of Gross Domestic Product (GDP) (2018) (compared to 5 percent of GDP in the United States, 7.6 percent of GDP in Norway and 2.8 percent in Pakistan. Compared with other countries in the world, Bhutan ranks 18th. Bhutan's government spends 22.8 percent of its government budget on education. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020; “World Education Encyclopedia”, 2001]

Bhutan’s First King — Sir Ugyen Wangchuck (reigned 1907 to 1926) — opened the first Western-style schools. The Second King —Jigme Wangchuck (reigned 1926 to 1952) created Bhutan's first public school in 1926. In the early 1950s, Bhutan for the most part had no electricity, hospitals, paved roads, telephones, proper schools, a postal system, industry, diplomatic contact with the West, centralized education, airports, stop lights or currency. In 1962, Bhutan finished building its first paved road, opened its first post office, opened its first modern school. Some of the early kings went to boarding school in Darjeeling King Jigme Sinye Wangchuck (reigned 1972 -2006) king endorsed the creation of secular schools and promised of universal education.

Education has been a top priority of Bhutan's development programs and there were over 350 educational institutions in the country in the mid 2000s. The Ministry of Education sets educational policies oversees schools across the nation to some degrees. It consists of the Department of Education, the Department of Adult and Higher Education, and the Department of Youth Culture and Sports. It and the Technical and Vocational Education Division received significant funding in the 1990s from the Asian Development Bank.

In 2004 education was made compulsory up to the age of 11. But at that time still only about 73 percent of primary-school-age children and 35 percent of secondary-school-age youth attended school. In many cases young people who receive an education return to the villages to become farmers. These days more and more are migrating to the cities in search of work, opportunities and fun. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 *]

These days the vast majority of Bhutanese youth finish primary school and most finish secondary school. Up until the early 2000s, there was no compulsory educational in Bhutan and only half of Bhutanese children attended school. In 1993, there were 235 primary schools with 1,859 teachers and 56,773 students. The majority of the students who completed secondary education that continued their education did so at universities or other higher education institutions in India. [Source: “Cities of the World”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002]

Education Statistics

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 12 years; male: 12 years; female: 12 years (2013). School life expectancy (SLE) is the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Gross enrollement: Primary school: 91.1 percent in 2005; 105.8 percent in 2020; secondary school 44.6 percent in 2005; 90.1 percent in 2018;
Out of school children primary age: 3,252; male: 2,286; female: 966.
Adult literacy rate: male: 75 percent; female: 57 percent; total: 67 percent.
World Bank]

Expenditure on education as a percentage of total government spending: 22.8 percent
Expenditure on education as a percentage of total government spending: 6.9 percent
World Bank]

Early Childhood
Attendance in early childhood education: 10 percent
Early stimulation and responsive care (any adult household member): 54 percent
Early stimulation and responsive care (father): 51 percent
Learning materials at home — children's books: 6 percent
Learning materials at home — playthings: 52 percent
Children left in inadequate supervision: 14 percent

Adjusted net attendance rate, one year before official primary entry age: 51 percent
Adjusted net attendance rate, primary education: 95 percent
Adjusted net attendance rate, lower secondary education: 53 percent
Adjusted net attendance rate, upper secondary education: 24 percent
Completion rate, primary education: 69 percent

History of Education in Bhutan

Education was traditionally provided by Buddhist monasteries. Western-style education was introduced to Bhutan during the reign of Ugyen Wangchuck (1907-26). According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “Until the twentieth century the only schools that existed in Bhutan were the monasteries set up by the Drukpa subsect of Kargyupa sect of Mahayana Buddhism. The growing influence of the British in the late nineteenth century influenced Ugyen Wangchuk (1907-1926) toward Western style education, and he set up English-medium private schools for the elite in Ha, Bhumthang, and Thimphu (the national capital).” Until the 1950s, the only formal education available to Bhutanese students, except for private schools in Ha, Thimphu and Bumthang, was through Buddhist monasteries. [Source:”World Education Encyclopedia”, 2001 ++]

In the 1950s, Jigme Dorje Wangchuk began government-supported primary schools for common people. Several private secular schools were established without government support, and several others were established in major district towns with government backing. By the late 1950s, there were twenty-nine government and thirty private primary schools, but only about 2,500 children were enrolled. Secondary education was available only in India. Eventually, the private schools were taken under government supervision to raise the quality of education provided. Although some primary schools in remote areas had to be closed because of low attendance, the most significant modern developments in education came during the period of the First Development Plan (1961-66), when some 108 schools were operating and 15,000 students were enrolled. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991*]

Systematic efforts toward developing the education sector began in 1961, with the introduction of the First Development Plan (1961-1966) that provided for free and universal primary education. The First Development Plan provided for a central education authority — in the form of a director of education appointed in 1961 — and an organized, modern school system with free and universal primary education. Since that time, following one year of preschool begun at age four, children attended school in the primary grades — one through five. Education continued with the equivalent of grades six through eight at the junior high level and grades nine through eleven at the high school level. The Department of Education administered the All-Bhutan Examinations nationwide to determine promotion from one level of schooling to the next. Examinations at the tenth-grade level were conducted by the Indian School Certificate Council. The Department of Education also was responsible for producing textbooks; preparing course syllabi and in-service training for teachers; arranging training and study abroad; organizing interschool tournaments; procuring foreign assistance for education programs; and recruiting, testing, and promoting teachers, among other duties. *

Education programs were given a boost in 1990 when the Asian Development Bank granted a US$7.13 million loan for staff training and development, specialist services, equipment and furniture purchases, salaries and other recurrent costs, and facility rehabilitation and construction at Royal Bhutan Polytechnic. The Department of Education and its Technical and Vocational Education Division were given a US$750,000 Asian Development Bank grant for improving the technical, vocational, and training sectors. The New Approach to Primary Education, started in 1985, was extended to all primary and junior high schools in 1990 and stressed self-reliance and awareness of Bhutan's unique national culture and environment. *

According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: In 1960, there were 29 public and 30 private schools that enrolled nearly 2,500 children. Secondary level schooling was available only in neighboring India. By 1998, the government had established 400 schools, of which 150 were primary community schools in remote areas, 188 regular primary schools, 44 junior high schools, and 18 high schools. However, in the twenty-first century there is still a shortage of schools with adequate facilities. [Source: “World Education Encyclopedia”, 2001]

Although government did a lot to improve education, Bhutan still lagged far behind in education. In the 1990s, only about 20 percent of children from ages five to twelve were enrolled in school and only two percent of children thirteen to eighteen were enrolled in high school. Only about 20 percent of adults could read and write. At that time education was not compulsory and the educational system consisted of seven years of primary school and four years of secondary school. In 1994, primary schools enrolled 60,089 pupils. In the same year, secondary schools enrolled 7,299 students. By the mid 2000s, about 50 percent of children were attendin school. [Source: “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of World Cultures,” The Gale Group, Inc.I, 1999; “Countries and Their Cultures”, Gale Group Inc., 2001]

Literacy in Bhutan

Literacy: definition: age 15 and over can read and write: total population: 66.6 percent; male: 75 percent; female: 57.1 percent (2017) (Compared to 45.8 percent for females and 69.5 percent for males in Pakistan; and 99 percent for male and females in Russia, the United States, Japan and much of Europe). [Source: CIA World Factbook, World Bank, 2020]

Rates of illiteracy are still high but have fallen dramatically. In the early 1990s, it was estimated that only about 20 percent of adults could read and write. In 2004, the figure was estimated to 54 percent. At that time Women's literacy was estimated to be 34 percent. In 2005 the literacy rate was 57.8 percent.

Bhutan's literacy rate in the early 1990s, estimated at 30 percent for males and 10 percent for females by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), ranked lowest among all least developed countries. Other sources ranked the literacy rate as low as 12 to 18 percent. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

By the early 2000, more than half the people older than 15 still could not read or write, but most children attended school. International organizations such as the World Bank and UNICEF have been involved in promoting education and literacy projects in Bhutan aimed at adults as well as children.. As of 2001, nonformal education (NFE) supported by UNICEF, UNESCO, and ESCAP had established 54 centers with an enrollment of about 4,000 participants, of which 70 percent are women. The course, in Dzongkha, is designed for completion within 6 to 12 months. The course materials deal with everyday situations and messages concerning health and hygiene, family planning, agriculture, forestry, and the environment. [Source: “World Education Encyclopedia”, 2001; “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

Schools in Bhutan

The educational system consists of primary schooling followed by junior high school, which in turn is followed by either high school or a vocational center. In the early 20000s, schooling began with one year of preschool at age four, followed by five years of primary school, three years of junior high (grades six through eight), and then three years of high school (grades nine through eleven).

Compulsory educational was only introduced in 2004. In 1991 Bhutan only had 209 schools altogether, including 22 monastic schools, schools for Tibetan refugees, and six technical schools. As of the mid 2000s, there were more than 340 schools and institutions of higher education, including over 150 community schools to serve remote rural areas.. Many teachers from India are employed in Bhutan. [Source: Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations, 2007]

School life expectancy (primary to tertiary education): total: 12 years; male: 12 years; female: 12 years (2013). School life expectancy (SLE) is the total number of years of schooling (primary to tertiary) that a child can expect to receive. [Source: CIA World Factbook, 2020]

Bhutan's coeducational school system in 1988 encompassed a reported 42,446 students and 1,513 teachers in 150 primary schools, 11,835 students and 447 teachers in 21 junior high schools, and 4,515 students and 248 teachers in 9 high schools. Males accounted for 63 percent of all primary and secondary students. Most teachers at these levels — 70 percent — also were males. There also were 1,761 students and 150 teachers in technical, vocational, and special schools in 1988. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Despite increasing student enrollments, which went from 36,705 students in 1981 to 58,796 students in 1988, education was not compulsory. In 1988 only about 25 percent of primary-school-age children attended school, an extremely low percentage by all standards. Although the government set enrollment quotas for high schools, in no instance did they come close to being met in the 1980s. Only about 8 percent of junior high-school-age and less than 3 percent of high-school-age children were enrolled in 1988. *

In the 1970s only around 200 students each years were able to continue their education past the eighth grade. Education improved greatly in the 1980s. In 1991 there were 180 elementary and secondary schools. In 1993, there were 235 primary schools with 1,859 teachers and 56,773 students. In 2001, there were about 88,000 students enrolled in primary schools and 26,000 enrolled in secondary schools. The student-to-teacher ratio for primary school was at about 38:1 in 2003; the ratio for secondary school was about 34:1. Education was made compulsory up to the age of 11 in 2004. At that time there were over 350 educational institutions in Bhutan but only about 73 percent of primary-school-age children and 35 percent of secondary-school-age youth attended school. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Nations”, Thomson Gale, 2007; “Cities of the World”, The Gale Group Inc., 2002; “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009]

School Life in Bhutan

Some primary schools and many junior high and high schools are boarding schools. The school year runs from February or March through December. Tuition, books, stationery, athletic equipment, and food were free for all boarding schools in the 1980s, and some high schools also provided clothing. With the assistance of the United Nations Food and Agriculture Organization's World Food Programme, free midday meals were provided in some primary schools. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991]

The official language of instruction in Bhutan’s schools and education in general is Dzongkha (the national language of Bhutan written in the Tibetan script). English is also widely used. In 1989, to promote national unity, Dzongkha, the language of the Buddhist Bhutanese was made the national language and the language taught in school. The teaching of minority languages was discouraged. The edicts designed to “preserve native culture” focused on Buddhism and Bhutanese culture. This "Bhutanisation drive" alienated the country’s largely Hindu, Nepali-speaking Nepalese population. Nepalese within Bhutan formed political groups and tried pressure the government to make social reforms. The government response was to expel many of the Nepalese from the country.

Schools in remote rural areas often have no sanitation facilities and lack electricity and drinking water, and students may have to walk several hours a day just to get to them. Brook Larmer wrote in National Geographic: “A rough-and-ready school in Jangbi draws 55 children from three villages. In such remote areas, lack of access to schools remains a problem. To increase enrollment, the government, in its last five-year plan, called for more than 120 community schools to be built.” [Source: Brook Larmer, National Geographic, March 2008]

Older children who continue their education go to boarding high school and come home to visit their families only on the weekends. Those that go to school far from their villages visit their family only during the vacations. Although even the poorest families consider education to be of utmost importance, many families can't send their children to school because schools are in short supply and children are needed for agricultural chores. But this is less the case now than it was in the past as the number of schools in remote areas has increased. In the old days children often didn’t have an opportunity to go to school until they were 13 or 14 and it was not unusual for kids in a first grade class to vary in ages from 6 to 17.

According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: “In 1998, there were a total of 2,785 teachers in Bhutan. Each primary school teacher has an average of 37 students, but the class size goes up to 70 in some schools. Although the government offers special incentives to those who join the profession, it has not been able to train enough teachers. The National Institute of Education (NIE) does provide distance education courses to already-trained teachers. In 1998, gross primary school enrollment was 25 percent with a total enrollment of 77,300.The proportion of girls among primary students was 45 percent. In addition, in the remote areas, 12,600 students were enrolled in community schools. In 1998, the percentage of primary school entrants completing fifth grade was 82 percent. Also in 1998, gross secondary school enrollment ratio was 7 percent for males and 2 percent for females. [Source:”World Education Encyclopedia”, 2001]

School Year in Bhutan

A three-term school year with frequent breaks was introduced in 2005 that gave students 180 days of actual teaching time. According to CAPSD — for Curriculum and Professional Support Division (Department of Education; Bhutan) — the three-term system, spring and summer term examinations would not be held as in the past, but schools, Instead schools would conduct smaller tests spread through the term. Boarding schools kept their hostels open during the term breaks to enable students from far away places to utilize school facilities during the term break. The frequent breaks were introduced in part to address teacher burnout and give them time to attend seminars and workshops, not disturbing their instructional time. [, 2005]

CAPSD joint director, Karma Yeshey said the change in the academic session was initiated to increase the "actual instructional time", which was currently far shorter than schools in other countries. "Schools in Bhutan had fewer than 180 days actual teaching time," he said. Schools in Europe, America and even East Asia had a minimum 160 instructional days at the kindergarten and primary level, while it extended to even 220 in the higher schools. He said students tended to forget what they have learnt when they remain idle during long breaks. The school liaison and coordination officer, Kaka Tshering, said that students performed comparatively better during the three-term system in the 1980s. "More co-curricular activities introduced in the school is taking a chunk of the teaching time," he added.

According to in 2005: The new terms apply to all schools in the country with an exception of those in the high altitude areas. For schools in Laya, Lingshi, and Lunana, school starts in April and will continue until mid-November. Schools in Merak and Sakten will begin by middle of March and close in mid-November. The new academic session, from 2005, will start on February 20 and end on June 10 for a nine-day break. The summer session will start on June 21 and will continue until September 10. The autumn session will start from September 21 to December 18 and then close for a two-month winter vacation.

New academic session from 2005 in Ha
Spring starts on February 20, 2005 and ends on June 10, 2005
Summer starts on June 21, 2005 and ends on September 10, 2005
Summer Starts on September 21, 2005 and ends on December 18, 2005
From December 19, 2005 there is a two-month winter vacation
In Laya, Lingshi, and Lunana the school years starts on April, 2005 and ends on mid-November, 2005. In Merak and Sakten the school year starts in mid-March, 2005 and ends on mid-November, 2005

Winter Vacation Shortened, Summer Vacation Lengthened at Schools in Bhutan

In 2017, winter vacation was shortened by two weeks and summer vacation was lengthened to a month according to a policy change endorsed at the National Education Conference in Phuentsholing. Tempa Wangdim wrote in the Kuensel: “Teachers and students will have to report to their schools on February 1 and 3 this year. The winter break will start on December 18 and end on January 31 for teachers and on February 2 for students. [Source: Tempa Wangdim, Kuensel, January 10, 2017]

“The summer and winter breaks for schools in the highlands like Merak, Sakteng, Laya and Lingzhi will remain unchanged. Schools in Laya, Lingzhi and Lunana will resume only by March or April and end by mid-November. Schools in Merak and Sakteng will start between March 10-20 and end between November 30 to December 5. The reporting time for this year’s class XI will however remain unchanged since evaluation of their exams has just started following the completion of the class XII exams. Class XI students will report by the first week of March.

Tashitse Higher Secondary School (HSS), and the Phobjikha and Ura Middle Secondary Schools, which expressed concerns with resuming before the end of the cold season, will implement the new academic session on a year-long trial. Ura Central School principal Lhawang Norbu said that the problem of starting schools in cold places like Ura is of children suffering from infections because of the cold. “As per our experience, children were found suffering from skin diseases on their head and feet because of the cold weather,” Lhawang Norbu said. Therefore, it was submitted that these schools be allowed to reopen the same time as those in the highlands.

“Education officers also asked the ministry to provide heating equipment for schools in cold places like Haa, Phobjikha and Ura. “Since schools cannot buy efficient heating devices under the existing budget allocation, the ministry should help procure heating appliances for schools,” chief dzongkhag education officer of Haa, Temba, said. The ministry has also asked the Department of Youth and Sports (DYS) and the Youth Development Fund (YDF) to review and align their sporting and other youth-oriented activities with the new academic session. The objective is to keep the youth engaged throughout the month-long summer break and so prevent them from engaging in unlawful activities.

The new academic session has been endorsed to give overworked teachers breathing space and to allow students to spend meaningful and quality time with their families during the summer vacation. “More than the teachers, it is our children who need the long break to get fully recharged,” education monitoring division chief programme officer Phuntsho Lham said. It is also expected to allow students to help their parents with farm work like paddy transplantation in the summers. More importantly children in the southern belt will no longer have to go to schools under heavy rain risking their lives from floods and landslides. Schools will also be spared from losing perishable food stocks like lentils to the humid summer weather.

School Curriculum and Test in Bhutan

The core curriculum set by the National Board of Secondary Education included English, mathematics, and Dzongkha. Although English was used as the language of instruction throughout the junior high and high school system, Dzongkha and, in southern Bhutan until 1989, Nepali, were compulsory subjects. Students also studied English literature, social studies, history, geography, general science, biology, chemistry, physics, and religion. Curriculum development often has come from external forces, as was the case with historical studies. Most Bhutanese history is based on oral traditions rather than on written histories or administrative records. King Jigme Dorje Wangchuk made “driglam namba”, the ancient Buddhist code of conduct, part of the school curriculum. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

A project sponsored by the United Nations Education, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) and the University of London developed a ten-module curriculum, which included four courses on Bhutanese history and culture and six courses on Indian and world history and political ideas. Subjects with an immediate practical application, such as elementary agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry, also were taught. *

According to the “World Education Encyclopedia”: The National Board of Secondary Education in the Department of Education conducts nationwide examinations at the end of the eleventh grade. The Department of Education is responsible for producing textbooks, course syllabi, in-service teachers training, organizing interschool tournaments, recruiting, testing and promoting teachers, and procuring foreign assistance. Curricula have been developed in assistance with UNESCO, the University of London, and the University of Delhi. [Source: “World Education Encyclopedia”, 2001]

in 2017, after summer vacation was lengthened and winter vacation was shortened, the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA) looked into reviewing its exam evaluation system. Tempa Wangdim wrote in Kuensel: Tenzin HSS principal Chogyal Tenzin said that BCSEA should change how it evaluates class X given the new academic session. “If the synchronised change isn’t made to the class X evaluation, it will be difficult for the private schools to meet the 180 instructional days since it would be already March-April by the time private schools start class XI admissions,” he said. Principals and education officers asked to review both the evaluation of class X and XII examinations. “Class X evaluation should be done first instead of class XII like now,” Tashitse HSS principal Ugyen said. [Source: Tempa Wangdim, Kuensel, January 10, 2017]

“Some participants also asked if evaluation of both the class X and XII exams can be conducted at the same time to suit the new academic session. BCSEA secretary Tenzin Dorji said that the council will look into how the class X evaluations can be aligned with the new academic session. However, he added that it will be difficult to conduct the evaluation for both class X and XII simultaneously as it is heavily reliant on teachers and there is a shortage of human resources in the organisation. “BCSEA will however support the idea and try to come out with the results a little earlier,” he said.

Education for Girls in Bhutan

Efforts have been made to improve the education of girls and women, In 1998, the proportion of girls among primary students was 45 percent and gross secondary school enrollment ratio was 7 percent for males and 2 percent for females. [Source:”World Education Encyclopedia”, 2001]

Now there are more females in both primary and secondary school than males. Enrollment in secondary school: 80.2 percent for males and 87.9 percent for females (2016). This is a significant improvement. Boys outnumbered girls three to two in primary and secondary-level schools in the early 2000s. Of the out of school children of primary age in 2016, 2,286 were male and 966 were female. [Source: United Nations, Department of Economic and Social Affairs, Statistics Division, ; World Bank]

Female university students by country: 17 percent (percent of gross, which mans the value can be over 100 percent): (compared to 68 percent in Germany, 102 percent in the United States and 7 percent in Uzbelistan) [Source: World Bank]

The overall literacy rate for women is still very low and lags far behind that for men. Adult literacy rate: male: 75 percent; female: 57 percent; total: 67 percent.
World Bank]

Debate Over When Education Should Start in Bhutan

A 2019 Editorial in the Bhutanese newspaper Kuensel said: “The Ministry of Education standing the ground on the issue of underage admission is welcome.The ministry in May revoked the admission of 890 pre-primary (PP) students (below 5.5 years old) in public and private schools across the country. Parents, proprietors and principals of private schools then submitted a petition to the Prime Minister on June 13 and suggested that the government to set five years (as of March 2019) as entry age for PP. [Source: Editorial Kuensel, July 6, 2019]

The argument from the parents, proprietors and principals of private schools is clear and understandable. There are other factors that impel this decision from their side. There is now the middle class to consider where both parents are working. And there is severe shortage of babysitters or helpers. But then, let’s look at and understand the point that the education ministry is making. It will not allow request from the parents, proprietors and principals of private schools, however it is constructed, taking into account children’s development stages and well-being based on global research findings and practices. It is a valid argument. When the child is not ready to learn or go through the school system, where is the real benefit?

“However, there is also a serious problem with the education ministry. If age criteria for admission of children in class PP in both public and private is six or are children born on or before February 13, 2013, how is this monitored? A circular from the ministry says that if there is space after the admission period, the schools have the discretion to admit children who are five and half years old or older to Class PP.

“Going by research by educationists worldwide, by the age of 6, a child’s brain is almost adult-like. Learning is significantly dependent on the basic language and higher cognitive capacities the brain has developed in the early years. The ‘right’ age to start school could vary depending on the environment a child is brought up in, but that cannot, and should not, compel us to meddle in the system that is better informed. A study by well-placed university has found that kids whose parents waited to enrol them in kindergarten by age 6 (instead of 5) had measurably better scores on tests of self-control by the time they were 7 and 11. The ministry must carry out a serious study considering the socioeconomic development and the many changes occurring in our society today. But we cannot settle for convenience of a few, because we are talking about education and the future of this country.

Higher Education in Bhutan

As of the mid 2000s, Bhutan had one junior college, two teacher training colleges, nine technical institutes and one four-year, degree college which was affiliated with the university at Delhi in India. The four-year college, located in Kanglung, offered undergraduate degrees in arts and commerce. Many instructors were from India. Under a national service plan and fellowships, many Bhutanese students receive higher education abroad. Scholarships are available for Hindu students to study at Venares University in India. [Source: “World Education Encyclopedia”, “Junior Worldmark Encyclopedia of the Nations”, 2007]

In the 1970s only 200 people each year continued their education past the eighth grade. One reason why so few people received a higher education was that the government was worried that educated youths would be frustrated by the lack of jobs waiting for them when they graduated. [Source: John Scofield, National Geographic, November 1976;

Female university students by country: 17 percent (percent of gross, which mans the value can be over 100 percent): (compared to 68 percent in Germany, 102 percent in the United States and 7 percent in Uzbelistan) [Source: World Bank]

Universities and Foreign Education in Bhutan

Bhutan's first university was established by Father William Mackey, a Canadian Jesuit who came to Bhutan in 1962. The Royal University of Bhutan, founded in 2003, was established to consolidate the management of tertiary education in the country. It is a federated university with 10 member colleges spread across the country and is affiliated with the University of Delhi. [Source: “Worldmark Encyclopedia of Cultures and Daily Life”, Cengage Learning, 2009 ]

In the 1990s,, higher education was provided by Royal Bhutan Polytechnic just outside the village of Deothang, Samdrup Jongkhar District, and by Kharbandi Technical School in Kharbandi, Chhukha District. Founded in 1973, Royal Bhutan Polytechnic offered courses in civil, mechanical, and electrical engineering; surveying; and drafting. Kharbandi Technical School was established in the 1970s with UNDP and International Labour Organisation assistance. Bhutan's only junior college — Sherubtse College in Kanglung, Tashigang District — was established in 1983 as a three-year degree-granting college affiliated with the University of Delhi. In the year it was established with UNDP assistance, the college enrolled 278 students, and seventeen faculty members taught courses in arts, sciences, and commerce leading to a bachelor's degree. Starting in 1990, junior college classes also were taught at the Yanchenphug High School in Thimphu and were to be extended to other high schools thereafter. [Source: Andrea Matles Savada, Library of Congress, 1991 *]

Many Top government officials have been educated in India, Britain or the United States. Bhutanese seeking higher education or professional training often have to attend foreign institutions. Most Bhutanese students being educated abroad received technical training in India, Singapore, Japan, Australia, New Zealand, Britain, the Federal Republic of Germany (West Germany), and the United States. English-speaking countries attracted the majority of Bhutanese students. The vast majority returned to their homeland. *

Image Sources: Wikimedia Commons

Text Sources: New York Times, Washington Post, Los Angeles Times, Lonely Planet Guides, Library of Congress, Tourism Council of Bhutan (, National Portal of Bhutan, the Bhutan government’s main site (, The Guardian, National Geographic, Smithsonian magazine, The New Yorker, Time, Reuters, Associated Press, AFP, Wikipedia and various books, websites and other publications.

Last updated February 2022

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