The 2018 Information and Communications Media Act defines information and communications technology (ICT) as “the full range of electronic technologies and techniques used to manage information and knowledge”.
The 2019-23 Education ICT Master Plan (iSherig-2) is named iSherig which translates into information and communications technology (ICT) in education, with the ‘i’ alluding to innovation and integration that the plan intends to promote through the use of ICT in education. However, the term ICT is not defined. ICT is similarly referred to in the 2014-24 Bhutan Education Blueprint without giving an exact definition of the term. The 2019 National Education Policy refers to ICT, distance learning, and online learning, while distance learning, online learning, virtual learning, and eLearning are also referenced in the country’s 2020 COVID-19 Response Plans Guidelines for Curriculum Implementation Plan for Education in Emergency (EiE) and 2020 Education in Emergency (EiE) Phase II, without specific definitions.
The term educational technology (EdTech) is used in the 2014-18 Education ICT Master Plan (iSherig-1) and 2019-23 Education ICT Master Plan (iSherig-2), although no definition of the term is provided.
The 2017 Standards for Inclusive Education define “assistive technology” as an “umbrella term that includes assistive, adaptive and rehabilitation devices for people with disabilities and also include the process used in selecting, locating, and using them”.
Constitution and laws: The 2008 Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan stipulates that “the state shall…foster technological innovation” (Art. 23). There is no national Education Act or Law in Bhutan, with plans to institutionalize and enact one in 2021-24.
The 2018 Information and Communications Media Act regulates the ICT and media sectors in Bhutan, including provisions for increasing access to ICT infrastructure in schools (Art. 197) and ensuring universal access to all ICT services at affordable rates (Art. 51).
Policies, plans and strategies: Bhutan has a strong policy and strategy framework for the integration of ICT in education, including specific ICT-in-Education Masterplans.
In 2014, the first 2014-18 Education ICT Master Plan (iSherig-1) was developed with the intention to guide the government’s investment in ICT in education and lay the foundation for future advances in the use of ICT in education in Bhutan. Building on the foundation of iSherig-1, the 2019-23 Education ICT Master Plan (iSherig-2) was introduced in 2019 to take ICT in education further as a means to improve teaching and learning and also focus on building and applying digital skills. Both master plans focus on three broad areas: (1) iAble – capacity building, (2) iBuild – content development, and (3) iConnect - system building, internet connectivity and provision of infrastructure, with inclusion of focused projects on Non-Formal Education (NFE) and Special Education Needs (SEN). According to iSherig-2, “It is generally accepted that Information Communications Technology (ICT) plays a pivotal role in improving quality and equity of education. ICT is regarded as one of the important and effective tools that can support and lead to an improved student learning and better teaching methods”. The iSherig-2 envisions “nationally rooted and globally competent citizens through equitable and pervasive use of emerging and relevant technology”, with ICT considered to be providing the “vital tools for global competence” and “playing a pivotal role in improving the quality and equity of education”.
The 2019-23 Education ICT Flagship Programme published by the Ministry of Education aims to enhance the overall quality of ICT education in the school system, with a focus on coding, teacher capacity development in ICT, the integration of ICT into STEM subjects, and the development of the required ICT infrastructure in schools.
The government’s investment in ICT in education is further highlighted in the 2019 National Education Policy that states that “Information and Communications Technology (ICT) shall be promoted in schools through provision of ICT based resources to leverage the power of ICT in teaching and learning”. The 2022 National Education Policy similarly includes ICT objectives, aiming for all educational institutions to promote digital education, including the use of technology in teaching-learning, assessment, planning, and administration.
The country’s vision to integrate ICT within its education system is also clearly highlighted in the 2014-24 Bhutan Education Blueprint, which aims to leverage ICT for learning and use it as a tool to “facilitate inclusiveness by enabling citizens to access information and knowledge, and to make education more relevant and easier to administer”. The country’s 12th Five Year Plan 2019-23 similarly aims to “leverage ICT for delivering education”.
The 2003 ICT Policy for Bhutan: Whitepaper forms the basis for an inclusive and consultative process for formulating a new strategic framework for ICT in Bhutan, with five strategic components: 1) infrastructure, 2) human capacity, 3) policy, 4) enterprise, and 5) content and applications. The 2014 Bhutan Telecommunications and Broadband Policy, which is a major component of the national ICT policy, includes broadband objectives for schools.
The 2009 Bhutan ICT Policies and Strategies includes many education objectives related to ICT skills, platforms, and infrastructure, while the 2015 Revised Bhutan ICT Roadmap includes collaborations with the Ministry of Education in leveraging ICT towards social and economic development guided by the values of Gross National Happinness.
Bhutan’s ICT vision is for “an ICT-enabled, knowledge-based society as a foundation for Gross National Happiness”, originally reflected in the country’s 5-year e-Government Master Plan in 2012. The Master Plan sought to establish a clear roadmap of ICT initiatives that would cut across the whole government, which included (1) ICT for Good Governance, (2) ICT for a Bhutanese Information Society, and (3) ICT as a Key Enabler for Sustainable Economic Development. This led to the development of the two separate ICT Master Plans specific to the education sector. The 2014 Bhutan e-Government Master Plan provides a coherent and holistic view of the ICT strategies, initiatives and projects that the Royal Government of Bhutan will undertake over the next 5 years, including education-specific objectives.
Digital competency frameworks: The 2020 Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers include ICT competencies within the standards on Content and Pedagogical Knowledge (Standard 3) and Planning and Teaching (Standard 4). ICT Competency Standards for teachers and students are also included as part of iSherig-2 (iAble), which aims to enhance ICT competency of educators, learners and support staff. These standards specifically aim on making learners “nationally rooted and globally competent citizens through equitable and pervasive use of emerging and relevant technology”, while one of the priority areas of the strategy is also developing competency standards for teachers towards ICT-integrated transformative pedagogies.
Changes occurred as a result of COVID-19: The Education in Emergency COVID-19 Response Plan (Phase II) includes a short section on ‘way forward beyong COVID-19’, which aims to embrace ICT (including the use of mass media) in education, with the school curriculum being changed to focus on core fundamental concepts and delivery shifted to blended learning which combines face-to-face and online education using a variety of platforms. Increased efforts have also been made in content development (including the strengthening of eLearning platforms), teacher preparation, and instilling the culture of learning among students.
2.2.1. Technology infrastructure and digital capacity of schools
One of the goals of iSherig-2 is to “strengthen ICT infrastructure and connectivity for better learning and educational services” in schools and community learning centres (CLCs). This includes ICT infrastructure development (ICT standards and guidelines, digital devices, internet connectivity, and multimedia studio) and administration and learning system development (e-learning platform, education management information system, and non-formal education management information system). The government acknowledges “access to infrastructure and Internet as prerequisites for successful ICT integration in education” and that “the minimum requirement for an effective ICT system for educational settings includes Internet access and broadband connectivity and/or Wi-Fi network, computers and mobile devices and display technologies”. Challenges in ICT infrastructure are clearly highlighted in the iSherig-2, as well as the 2014-24 Bhutan Education Blueprint which aims to enhance access to ICT resources, computers and the internet and expand the nationwide education and learning ICT infrastructure system (iConnect). The main focus in terms of infrastructure is on the provision of digital devices and internet connectivity.
The MoE (Department of School Education), in collaboration with the MoIC (Department of Information Technology and Telecom) aims to develop ICT standards and guidelines for schools, teacher resource centres, and community learning centres to “ensure uniform and equitable ICT infrastructure and usage” (iSherig-2). This document will set the minimum infrastructure requirements and provide directions for effective use of ICT facilities.
Electricity: According to the 2020 School Design Guidelines, which are used as a supplementary document to the 2018 Bhutan Building Regulations and adhere to all the latest rules and regulations of building by-laws of each Dzongkhag/Thromde, all schools should have a power supply agreement with the Electricity Authority that identifies the best connection points, while the new school should be connected to an existing Low Voltage (LV) network in the area. If a LV network does not exist or there is not enough capacity, a connection to the Medium Voltage network will be required (with a minimum plot typically planned).
Computers and devices: The government policies and strategies mainly aim on providing ICT devices to schools, rather than to students directly. The Department of School Education (MoE) is responsible for strengthening the provision of ICT devices for students and teachers, with the supply of digital devices being decentralized to local governments. As part of this goal, iSherig-2 aims to conduct a situational analysis of digital devices in schools, supply teachers with computers, equip and set up computer labs in primary and secondary schools, and supply primary schools with projection devices such as projectors, smart boards and smart TVs. Digital devices such as computers, printers and projection devices will also be provided to community learning centres. Moreover, the construction of computer labs in primary schools and the provision of additional computers and laboratories in larger schools is included as part of the government program to introduce coding in education (Annual Education Report 2019-20). In 2018, 20% of primary schools and 98% of secondary schools had at least one computer lab, although computers were not adequate and student access to digital devices was limited to ICT classes only. There was an initiative in 2009 by the Ministry of Education to provide soft loans to buy laptops.
iSherig-1 aimed to provide portable devices for remote centres on a “need-basis”, with tablet-based learning considered “much easier” to deploy to students across the country, particularly in remote areas. Moreover, the five remote Gewogs of Sombaykha, Soe, Naro, Lunana and Lingshi were connected by radio technology as these Gewogs do not have the power distribution network to carry the fibre optics.
According to the 2014 Bhutan e-Government Master Plan, other ICT projects that enhanced ICT integration in classrooms include One Laptop Per Child (OLPC) funded by the International Telecommunication Union (ITU). The project donated 210 “XO Laptops” to 21 schools in 19 Dzongkhags. 15 primary schools in 15 Dzongkhags also received 20 Intel’s Classmate PCs each (300 in total). The Master Plan additionally aimed to equp computer labs in schools with a 1:30 computer-student ratio for primary schools and 1:10 for secondary schools.
Internet connectivity: The government acknowledges that adequate and affordable internet connectivity is “fundamental for ICT in education”, with the MoE having invested to provide internet connectivity to schools in many government documents. According to the 2020 School Design Guidelines, which are used as a benchmark by all involved in the planning and design of school infrastructure facilities, ideally, all schools should plan for secure, reliable and effective connectivity to fixed and mobile networks that support advances in technology. A strategy should be developed to ensure that demand for ICT telecommunication services can be supported over the lifetime of the school, including external connectivity structure, site-wide distribution infrastructure, ICT spaces and cable pathways, Wireless LAN (Wi-Fi), and campus data network (LAN). However, these are not a legal requirement. One of the objectives of iSherig-2 is to improve internet connectivity in all schools and community learning centres, through the Ministry of Information and Communications (Department of Information Technology and Telecom), the support of the MoE (Department of School Education), and local governments for implementation. The strengthening of internet connectivity in schools is also one of the aims of the government’s program to introduce coding in education (Annual Education Report 2019-20). In early 2019, the government negotiated for subsidies on internet rates for government agencies and institutions with Internet Service Providers. The Department of Information Technology and Telecom has also initiated GovNet and DrukREN, which are high-speed internal networks to connect government agencies and institutions to facilitate effective and efficient delivery of services at a minimal cost. With support from local governments, this project aims to strengthen Internet connectivity in schools to support ICT integration in the teaching-learning process. According to the 2019-23 12th Five Year Plan, Bhutan’s focus on recent years has been on strengthening ICT infrastructure such as national fibre optics backbone and Internet connectivity. About 85% of the population have access to the internet, with over 95% of households having mobile coverage. The Ministry of Information and Communications is primarily responsible for internet connectivity, as well as rural communication and connectivity.
The government also aims to provide schools with free internet access in accordance with the 2018 Information and Communications Media Act and the 2021 Rules Governing the Establishment and Administration of the Universal Service Fund as part of Universal Service. According to the 2014 Bhutan e-Government Master Plan, Universal Service Fund will also provide subsidies for Internet access, including connectivity/network infrastructure to support high speed Internet access for schools. The 2009 Bhutan ICT Policies and Strategies and the 2014 Bhutan e-Government Master Plan similarly support the development of a country wide connectivity plan (which includes schools), while the 2014 Bhutan Telecommunications and Broadband Policy aims for all primary , secondary schools and youth centres to have broadband access.
2.2.2. Technology and learning environments
The 2019 National Education Policy states that opportunities shall be provided to enhance distance and online learning. The MoE and DCPD have been developing an eLearning platform as part of the Digital Drukyul Flagship Programme funded by the government of India (Annual Education Report 2019-20). The 2009 Bhutan ICT Policies and Strategies similarly aim to establish a system for distance education.
Following the COVID-19 outbreak in 2020, the MoE released the COVID-19 Response Plan: Guidelines for Curriculum Implementation Plan for Education in Emergency (EiE) 2020 (including Phase II), which included information on the Education in Emergency (EiE) curriculum (adapted curriculum, prioritized curriculum, and mode of delivery), assessment, and guidelines for the roles and responsibilities of different stakeholders. These are short-term guidelines for the delivery of education during the pandemic. According to the 2021 Education in Emergency (EiE) Report, during the school closures, the MoE in collaboration with the Royal Education Council (now DCPD) initiated online teaching through social media, video and radio lessons, broadcasting television services, and Self-Instructional Materials (SIM), including psychosocial support through Sherig Counselling services.
Self-instructional materials (SIMs) were developed in March 2020 under the theme ‘Reaching the Unreached’ to facilitate education for students living in remote areas with limited or no access to broadcasting services or the internet for e-learning classes. The Ministry (in consultation with the Dzongkhags/Thromdes) identified approximately 17000 students who did not have access to TV and internet at various grades and provided them with self-instructional materials and radio lessons. Moreover, to strengthen online teaching and learning access to students who require additional support, the MoE sought support from the government for the provision of internet data packages and electronic gadgets for the needy students, and free internet charges for all students to access online learning materials. As of 2021, a total of 160,675 SIM booklets were printed and distributed to 32,135 students across the country and 221 lessons on SIM were broadcast using BBS radio and Kuzoo FM.
In addition, the 2020 Education in Emergency Program for Students with Disabilities During the COVID-19 Pandemic was developed to specifically address the learning continuity for students with disabilities. Students with special education needs (SEN) that could cope with the general curriculum could follow the educational package like other general school students with adaptation and modification in the curricular materials to suit students accessing education from home. Students with SEN that could not cope with the general curriculum were offered Daily Living Skills, with programs being highly diverse and often individualized. The ECCD and SEN Division initiated the consolidation of existing curricula and programs for students with SEN under the Alternative Pathways Programmes to befit the current EiE. Finally, Google Earth training for pilot schools in Zhemgang Dzongkhag was implemented by the MoE in collaboration with the Department of Disaster Management which was aimed at enhancing the capacities of school staff and children in using Google Earth technology to map risks and resources in schools for informing risk reduction, mitigation, and preparedness actions and decision making.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, the 2021 Education in Emergency (EiE) Report included a study conducted by the Education Monitoring Division (MoE) to assess the experiences and challenges faced by students, parents, teachers, and other stakeholders during the pandemic. This included a report on student access to lessons, applications used during online learning, student challenges in using different applications, student access to textbooks, data on students with disabilities, learning effectiveness through Bhutan Broadcasting Service (BBS) TV, Self-Instructional Materials (SIM), and Google Classroom, student response to online learning, and perception of online learning effectiveness. Challenges were also reported, including poor and expensive internet connectivity, lack of student cooperation due to lack of devices, poor financial status, distractions, internet connection issues, lack of parental support, online lessons not suitable for pre-primary students, lack of authenticity in student assignments, inadequate ICT skills and knowledge, vulnerability to cyber threats, time management issues, and mobile teaching.
There have been several curricular and informal strategies to enhance the ICT competencies of students, such as the introduction of the ICT literacy curriculum in 2017-18 for classes IV – VIII (replacing computer studies) and the implementation of the revised ICT Curriculum (Coding) in 2020. These initiatives aim to “equip students with functional ICT knowledge and skills to perform productively and responsibly in the knowledge society”. The iSherig-2 specifically aims for the Department of Curriculum and Professional Development (DCPD) (with implementation support from the Department of School Education) to equip classes IV to XIII with functional ICT knowledge and skills. This includes implementing the ICT literacy curriculum for classes IX and X and IV to VIII and implementing the Computer Science course for classes XI and XII. In 2019, the MoE additionally embarked on introducing Coding in education starting from Pre-Primary to Class XII, in an attempt to ensure students are engaged with ICT from pre-primary and “make them not only IT literate but competent in coding/programming”. From the start of the 2020 academic session, the Ministry specifically instructed all schools to offer ICT as a compulsory subject in classes PP-XII and to discontinue Computer Studies (offered as an optional subject) for class XI and in 2021 for class XII. Moreover, schools without ICT infrastructure and connectivity were required to start implementing the ICT subject as they are readied by the MoE (34th Education Policy Guidelines and Instructions 2020). The Leap Learner Curriculum was also introduced, which includes teaching students Python from grades VII and Python Programming in grades XI and XII, with teachers attending coding workshops in 2020 required to teach ICT subjects in their schools. The government also accorded priority in the development of student competencies in STEM subjects (Annual Education Report 2019-20). In 2021, ICT was a core subject in grades PP – VIII (ages 5-14) and a compulsory (but not evaluated) course in grades IX – X (ages 15-16). In grades XI – XII (ages 17-18), ICT is an optional course.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) views the integration of ICT in education as “one of the critical means that is expected to impart transferable skills and improve the quality of education”, with deep knowledge and understanding of technology (including ICT competence and STEM) being viewed as “vital tools to…function effectively in a competitive economy”. This is clearly reflected in the iSherig-2, the 2020 National Education Assessment Framework, and the 2014-24 Bhutan Education Blueprint, which explicitly state that students must be productive users of technology, especially ICT, which is viewed as an “indispensable tool for success in all areas of learning”, “equipping learners with right transferable skills and values to make them productive, socially responsible, culturally grounded, ecologically sensitive, spiritually aware and globally competent”. One of the main focuses of iSherig-2 is building and applying digital skills for students in schools and non-formal education programs. In the 2009 Bhutan ICT Policies and Strategies, the government aims to specifically develop a standardised ‘basic ICT literacy’ curriculum for use in schools and other training institutes.
The iSherig-2 specifically creates an ICT competency framework for students as part of the project ‘ICT Capacity Development of Learners’ (1.2), which includes ICT competencies of students, Digital citizenship for students, TVET-based ICT competencies of students, and Digital literacy for NFE and CLC learners.
In the 2019 National Education Policy, the government aims to strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education within the school curriculum to “prepare students to participate meaningfully in a society and economy that is increasingly reliant on information and communication technologies”. Similarly, the 2022 National Education Policy states that ICT shall be one of the core school subjects (with a focus on coding) and that STEM education shall be strengthened to promote creativity and innovation, and prepare learners to participate meaningfully in a society and economy that is increasingly reliant on ICT. However, while the government has several goals for the curriculum and pedagogy to be gender-inclusive and ‘tackle the gender equity gaps’ (Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-24), there is no specific policy goal to increase female participation in STEM subjects.
One of the objectives of iSherig-2 is to enhance the ICT competency of teachers, which includes developing national ICT competency standards for teachers that are aligned with the 2019 Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers and introducing digital pedagogy for in-service teachers and in colleges of education. The Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers includes as one of its focus areas the “positive use of ICT”, which is defined as the “responsible, ethical, safe, and appropriate use of ICT to enhance and reinforce teaching and learning”. The development of ICT competency standards for teachers is expected to guide systematic competencybased professional development programmes to support teachers’ meaningful employment of ICT in teaching as well as identify the learning goals of preservice teachers and capacity development needs of in-service teachers. The pre-service training curriculum and in-service training programs will also be aligned with the ICT competency standards. Moreover, as part of the new Coding course in education, Coding workshops for ICT teachers were organized, with a total of 277 ICT teachers from both state and private schools trained in January-February 2020 (Annual Education Report 2019-20). When it comes to assistive technologies, according to the 2017 Standards for Inclusive Education, individual teachers should be trained by SEN Coordinators on the use of assistive technology in their classroom, as well as on how to plan and incorporate these devices in their lessons. According to the 2019-23 Education ICT Flagship Programme, the implementation of Bhutan Professional Standards for Teachers (BPST) in 2020 and development of ICT-Competency Standards for Teachers are important initiatives to support the ICT capacity development of teaching and support professionals in schools. The iSherig-2 also includes ICT competency standards for teachers, in addition to ICT competency standards for educational leaders and library and laboratory assistants.
The iSherig-2 highlights the importance of both pre-service and in-service ICT capacity development for teachers. According to the MoE, “continuous professional development is needed to keep in-service teachers current and relevant in terms of any educational shifts and innovations, including ICT in education”. ICT-integrated teaching and learning is considered one of the core areas of the professional development program and is viewed as important not only in terms of improving teachers’ ICT competency and knowledge but improving their attitude and beliefs towards the use of ICT in education. This includes enhancing the digital pedagogical skills of all teachers and educators, equipping all teacher graduates with knowledge and skills on using ICT as teaching-learning tool in their subject areas, and equipping ICT teacher graduates with knowledge and skills to teach school ICT curriculum. The Colleges of Education in the Royal University of Bhutan are to provide professional development in digital pedagogy to teacher educators in two colleges of education, equip pre-service teachers in using ICT as teaching-learning tool, and align pre-service primary and secondary programs to the school ICT curriculum. Moreover, the Department of School Education (MoE) is responsible for equipping all in-service teachers with knowledge and skills in using ICT for teaching and learning (iSherig-2; Bhutan Education Blueprint 2014-24).
2.4.1. Data privacy
The 2018 Information and Communications Media Act provides for the protection of offline and online privacy (Chapter 17) which requires ICT and Media facilities or service providers and vendors to respect and protect the privacy of personal information, including sensitive personal information which they receive from the users or consumers. However, there is no explicit mention of educational institutions. The 2021 Guidelines on Data Privacy and Data Protection similarly do not apply to educational institutions.
2.4.2. Online abuse and cyberbullying
While there is no law or policy to prohibit cyberbullying or online abuse of students, the iSherig-2 acknowledges the vulnerability of children, youth and non-literates to cyber security risks (including cyberbullying, inappropriate content, and excessive time spent on computers) through increased access to digital devices and the internet and highlights the “paramount importance to build ICT literacy and competency”. An effort was made to introduce some aspects of digital citizenship through the ICT literacy curriculum to create awareness to school students and non-formal education learners in iSherig-1, with iSherig-2 aiming to implement a digital citizenship program for students to provide them with the required skills and competencies required in the digital world. One of its objectives is to “empower students to participate responsibly, safely, and ethically in the digital world” and “enhance parents’ capability to guide their children to use technology safely and productively”. The Department of School Education (MoE) and Department of Curriculum and Professional Development (DCPD) are given the responsibility to provide the digital citizenship program to students and workshops to parents, with support from the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (MoIC), Directorate of Services (MoE) and Department of Youth and Sports. Digital safety and digital resilience are included as part of the Digital Literacy course.
The Ministry of Education (MoE) is mainly responsible for the implementation of ICT in education, through the Department of School Education, School Planning and Coordination Division (School IT Unit). The mandate of the School IT Unit is to “develop, strengthen and implement ICT services in schools (iSherig)”. Under the Department of School Education, the Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) and Special Education Needs (SEN) Division is responsible for coordinating assistive technologies for students with special needs, as well as coordinating with health services for medical related assistive technologies.
The Ministry of Information and Communications (MoIC) and the Department of Information Technology and Telecom (DITT), under the MoIC, collaborate with the MoE in developing ICT standards, guidelines and infrastructure requirements for schools, improving internet connectivity, and providing support and expertise in digital skills and digital citizenship within the curriculum. The Department of Curriculum and Professional Development (DCPD) (former Royal Education Council), now under the MoE, also provides support in curriculum implementation and guideline development.
The iSherig-2 (led and published by the MoE) lists the responsible bodies for each objective. Several bilateral and multilateral development partners also provide technical support towards the country’s ICT vision and priorities.
The 2014-24 Bhutan Education Blueprint highlighted the need to establish specific governance structures to drive the implementation of ICT projects in the education sector. This is equally stated in the iSherig-2, which recommends the establishment of a dedicated division that oversees and is responsible for all matters related to ICT in education. This includes a Steering Committee comprising of members of the MoE, MoIC, and Ministry of Finance (MoF) and Project Leads identified from the implementing agencies.