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Insights into Editorial: Lessons from Bhutan

Insights into Editorial: Lessons from Bhutan     



Bhutan has recently announced a policy wherein Bhutan’s teachers, doctors and other medical staff will earn more than civil servants of corresponding grades.

The new salary scales will benefit about 13,000 teachers and doctors. This is a novel move.

The policy’s tonal reference is to be found in Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan (2018-23), published by its Gross National Happiness Commission, the country’s highest policy-making body.

These words are highlighted in  OECD’s ‘Education at a Glance 2018’ report: “The quality of education can be a strong predictor of a country’s economic prosperity.


Inspired or fanciful: Examining the policy’s educational aspect

Is the proposal part of a coherent strategy, or an inspired announcement that is resolute in intent but likely effete in effect?

The commission’s strategy to achieve desired national outcomes through education opens with the notation, “making teaching a profession of choice”.

The proposal then is evidently at the core of a larger governmental strategy to achieve the country’s human developmental objectives.

The decision also comes in the wake of high levels of teacher attrition, especially the best. Clearly, the government has formulated the policy as a styptic to stop the serious haemorrhage.

The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is a worldwide study that measures and compares student ability in reading, mathematics, science and global competence, with financial literacy an option.

Development’s Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) highlighted that Policies act as levers that governments use to achieve desired results in focus areas.

The results of Bhutan’s policy, if implemented, will take a few years to emerge for critical evaluation. It is, however, based on credible research.


The fiscal implications:

Bhutan already spends about 7.5% of its GDP on education. The fiscal implications of the new salary structure are unclear now.

Generally, teachers constitute a considerable portion of government employees. Therefore, in India, centre and state governments looking to emulate Bhutan’s lead will inevitably be asked questions about the financial viability of such a momentous administrative decision.

For instance, the Minister concerned in Tamil Nadu, one of India’s better performing States on educational indices, turned down demands of striking teachers for better pension explaining that wages, pensions, administrative costs and interest repayments already amounted to 71% of the State’s expenditure. They asserted it leaves little for other developmental programmes.


Can India afford a similar policy?

  • A World Bank study found that teacher absenteeism in India was nearly 24%, which costs the country about $1.5 billion annually.
  • Absenteeism could be the result of many factors, including teachers taking up a second job or farming to boost incomes, providing parental or nursing care in the absence of support systems, or lacking motivation.
  • India currently spends about 3% of its GDP on education, accounting for about 10% of the Centre’s and States’ budgetary expenses and salaries of teachers and other staff constitute a large portion of this expenditure.
  • The NITI Aayog in its report last year recommended that India raise this to 6% of GDP by 2022.
  • Paying teachers significantly higher salaries may seem like a difficult task, but the Central and State governments could consider rationalising both teacher recruitment and allocation of funds to existing programmes.
  • Some programmes may have outlived their purpose, while others could be better directed. In fact, improving accountability in the system could lead to reduction in cost.

Hence, the incentive of a desirable income with strong accountability, can help mitigate many ills that plague the system, free fiscal space and help meet important national developmental objectives.


Budget 2019: Allocation for school education up 12.8%, higher education by 14.3%:

  • The government has proposed to establish a National Research Foundation (NRF) to fund, coordinate and promote research in the country. NRF will assimilate the research grants being given by various ministries independent of each other.
  • National Education Mission, also called Samagra Shiksha, consists of schemes like Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (elementary education), Rashtriya Madhyamik Shiksha Abhiyan (secondary education) and teachers training, adult education.
  • The Finance Minister said the government will bring in a new National Education Policy to transform India’s higher education system to one of the global best education systems.
  • There is need for Better Governance framework within the education sector and the government’s announcements like bringing reforms in the Higher Education Regulatory Arms to promote greater autonomy and focus on better academic outcomes.
  • The allotment of Rs.400-crore for “World Class Institutions” are steps in the right direction to build a robust education system;

There is a need in forward to the legislation to set up Higher Education Commission of India (HECI). However, this right intent of the government can truly be attained if we also have long-term strategy and organisational structure in place.


Easier in implementation for Smaller states like Delhi:

Implementing a policy may be easier in a smaller State, say Delhi.

Education is a key focus area for the Delhi government, the State invests 26% of its annual budget in the sector (much more than the national average).

The administration has also worked on improving teacher motivation as a strategy for better educational outcomes.

The base has been set. Moreover, since the State is highly urban and well-connected, it would be easier to enforce accountability measures.



Governments intent on improving the quality of education they offer must step out of incrementalism in policy-making.

No investment that enables an educated, healthy, responsible and happy Community can be deemed too high by any society.

Improving teacher status by offering top notch salaries to attract the best to the profession could be that revolutionary policy-step forward, which Bhutan has shown a willingness to take.

No other country has accorded teachers and doctors such pride of place in its government service, both in terms of remuneration and symbolism.