Development Education

Can the expansion of private schooling in developing countries serve to improve access, efficiency, quality and equity in basic education? The case of primary education in South Sudan


The focus of this essay will be on the role of private actors in primary education in the Republic of South Sudan (South Sudan). This paper seeks to discuss how the expansion of private schooling, specifically the role of so-called low fee private schools, can serve to improve access, efficiency, quality, and equity to primary education in South Sudan, in the context of education for all (EFA). Low fee or cost private schools (LCPS) catering for basic education have grown in number in a variety of low-income contexts over recent years and data evaluating impact of these schools is agnostic. The concept of low-fee vs low-cost private schools is contentious (Day Ashley et al 2014), however in this essay I use the definition given by Verger et al(2018), “private schools that have been set up and owned by an individual or group of individuals for the purpose of making a profit and are supposed to be ‘affordable’ for low-income families” (pp 256). There continues to be debate about these institutions and the role they can play in development with one side claiming that they can improve access and quality and the other concerned with issues of equity. They may also not be the most efficient way of providing education for all. This essay aims to analyse the role that LCPS can play in the fragile state of South Sudan through the lenses of key economics of education principles. A fragile state can be defined as “lack[ing] political will and/or capacity to provide the basic functions needed for poverty reduction, development and to safeguard the security and human rights of their populations. (OECD 2007, page 2). A fragile state provides an interesting case study for these economic concepts because of the inherent lack of government capacity to regulate markets and an extreme scarcity of resources will make it challenging to implement a nationalized education system.

This essay is organised as follows: in the first three sections I present a discussion of the relevant economic theory and its application to low-income contexts before moving on in section four to review the application of these theories specifically in South Sudan. I argue that private schools are an important ally for low-income governments to expand access to education, but their role needs to be carefully planned to ensure issues of citizenship and developing social cohesion are considered, alongside issues of equity of access and quality. Private education gives flexibility to meet the linguistic and cultural needs of communities through consumer choice. Private education may help overcome geographic and structural difficulties through market competition.

Section 1: Human Capital Theory and Education Investment

The relationship between education and the economy was first recognized as early as Adam Smith (1776) but it was not until Shultz (1961) and Becker (1964) that it was first formalized through their human capital theory (HCT). This theory positioned education as a form of growth for an economy as opposed to a consumption and has been the major justification for the investment in education systems of developing nations by external donors. Notable in this regard is the World Bank that oversees the human capital project and produces the human capital index (World Bank 2021a).

HCT justifies individual and societal investment in education by assuming that human skills, knowledge, and their development through education are all directly linked to economic productivity. If we accept this assumption, it follows that by increasing the level of education that any individual has, we can raise the education level of the population on average and therefore increase the productivity of an economy and allow it to grow. Education can bring both monetary and non-monetary benefits to individuals and society which can be partially measured through the estimation of rates of return. Amongst policy makers working in low-income contexts, HCT has justified concerns about making quality education of all levels accessible to individuals within any developing country. Once we agree that investment in education is essential for the development of a low-income economy, we then must agree whether this investment is best realized through government spending or through private markets.

Orthodox, neo-classical economics views individuals and markets as superior to government and regulation (Alcott 2021, Chang 2011). This view argues that individuals and markets lead to improvements in quality, efficiency, and equity far superior to any provided by the government. This is because individuals are supposedly rational and assumed to hold a high degree of knowledge about what is best for them to maximise their utility. In this way, markets are thought to be more responsive and flexible to the needs of the individual as opposed to the government. This responsiveness is theoretically due to the accountability of the market. Those actors in the market who are not responsive to demands of the consumer will lose out. In this way the market reflects Darwinian principles of natural selection (ibid). In addition to this view, Public Choice Theory (Buchanan & Tullock 1962) suggests that all elements of government action are made by self-interested actors creating a principal-agent problem. Public Choice Theory argues that governments cannot really provide anything for society because parties and politicians are self-interested and following their own interests in pursuing policies. Thus, from this view, an ideal society is one where people can make as many decisions for themselves as possible through markets. Finally, if we accept that individual citizens reap the greatest benefits from investment in their education, then there is a case that they should be the ones to pay for it through private markets. According to neoliberal economic principles this use of private markets for education would have the added benefit of driving up quality.

Arguments that favour government production of education justify it for several reasons discussed in this essay. Firstly, education brings benefits or returns to wider society, not just the individual. These societal benefits of education are described as “externalities” (Oketch 2021a), “neighbourhood effects” (Friedman 1962) or “semi-public goods” (Sen 1999) and can be monetary as well as non-monetary. Non-monetary societal returns have been suggested to include reductions in fertility and mortality rates, the avoidance of natural disasters like famines, and greater democratic participation (Sen 1999). Secondly, it may be more efficient for the government to provide education because of deviations from the first best economy model (Barr 2020). Finally, government provision of education is justified because education is a fundamental human right, and governments are best placed to ensure all their citizens can access it.

Despite these theoretical considerations, in low-income contexts there may be many barriers to effective government provision of education. These are documented by Tooley (2009) and include reasons, like graft, unmotivated teachers, and language barriers between teachers and students in poly-lingual societies. Finance is often an issue for the governments of low-income countries with data from UNESCO showing that in Sub-Saharan Africa alone 16 countries spend less than the UNESCO recommended 4% of their GDP on education (UNESCO 2021). South Sudan ranks the lowest among East African countries, currently spending less than 1% of GDP on public education investment (UNICEF 2019). Further to these concerns, in a fragile state like South Sudan a top-down national education system may not be the most efficient way to organise the system, because inter-group and intra-group trust may be lacking after a civil war. An important final consideration is that different ethnic groups may have different linguistic needs which may reduce the efficiency of a national education system if it takes a one-size-fits all approach.

Section 2: Access and Quality through Choice and Competition

If education returns benefits to wider society, then ensuring access to quality education for all citizens is of consequence to the development of that society. This access can be provided through private markets or through government intervention. Even neoliberal writers who argued for free markets also argued for some government intervention in education. Writing in 1962, Milton Friedman referred to the societal non-monetary returns to education as “neighbourhood effects”. For Friedman these effects are one of two major reasons why government should intervene in education, the other being paternalistic care for irresponsible individuals (children). Friedman recognises that government intervention is important: “A stable and democratic society is impossible without a minimum degree of literacy and knowledge on the part of most citizens and without widespread acceptance of some set of values. Education can contribute to both. In consequence, the gain from the education of a child accrues not only to the child or to his parents but also to other members of the society…” (Friedman 1962 pp 86). Even this simple recognition that education promotes a stable society is enough for us to consider the role that government should play in education.

            Ultimately however, Friedman (ibid) favours as large a role as possible in the market for private schools, and as limited role for government as possible. For Friedman the ability of users to exert choice through the marketplace, away from government intervention is the ultimate expression of democratic values and freedom. Friedman uses the word freedom to focus on freedom of choice and economic freedom primarily as opposed to wider freedoms expressed by writers like Sen (1999). Friedman suggests that general education for citizenship, literacy and numeracy should be government supported but what he terms “vocational training” should not be supported by the government because it renders most returns to the individual. For Friedman (1962) governments should limit themselves to ensuring access to basic education that provides a stable society through literacy and citizenship education. It is unclear what exactly he means by vocational training initially although he provides some clarity later with the reference to dentists and beauticians. Friedman argues that parents should not be forced to pay for education if they cannot afford it as their children are not an asset that they can rid themselves of unlike a car (or a flatscreen TV). He makes a good case for social responsibility and argues that one of the reasons family sizes can remain large is that people do not always take financial responsibility for the education of their children. Friedman (ibid) argues that government involvement in education should be limited to the imposition of minimum levels of education by law (to ensure basic and citizenship education) and the financing of primary and secondary education (through vouchers to allow market mechanisms to work). He argues against the nationalising of the education industry.

There are two major tensions highlighted in Friedman’s writing. Firstly, we value independence from government in education for a free-thinking society to exist, but we value government controls for citizenship education to ensure a stable society. Secondly, there is an apparent tension with HCT as Friedman claims that there are no externalities of vocational or professional training and that all benefit is accrued by the individual. He uses this argument to justify removing government funding for higher education. However, HCT argues that improving educational levels through tertiary education improves the growth of an economy generally and some authors argue that the returns to society from higher education are greater than those for primary or secondary (Patrinos 2016). I do not think Friedman’s assertions about vocational training are supported by evidence as more recent quantitative studies in the field fail to concur.

Friedman’s theories of economic organisation were developed in the context of a high income, stable, monolingual educated society, with a functioning government able to provide funding to education and are informed by a culture of liberalism. His proposals assume a market with no imperfections, discussed below. For now, I just want to highlight that most citizens cannot easily relocate and take their vouchers to whatever school they choose for their children.

 These assumptions mean that the application of Friedman’s thinking to low-income contexts some of which may be polylingual and unstable, with lower levels of education in the general population needs careful consideration. Härmä (2020) argues that even so called LCPS in low-income contexts can still be too expensive for many of the poorest children to attend. The fees are low to outside observers but not necessarily those members of the community that need access to education. If this is generally the case, then private schools may reduce access to education. For Härmä (ibid) because education is a basic human right, it cannot be left up to the private market in low-income contexts because many families would still be unable to enrol. Tooley (2009) argues that LCPS will sometimes increase access. Studying LCPS in Lagos, he found that many parents living in slums would send children to LCPS because the walk to a government school was too dangerous. Supporting this Pinnock (2013) found, despite the cost, that families use private schools because government schools are considered low quality, and other authors have found that LCPS increase access as they are found in areas where there are no government schools (Andrabi et al 2008). The case for LCPS increasing access in the absence of suitable government schools is very strong.

Section 3: Efficiency and Equity Considerations

While ensuring access to a quality education is important for development, resources (financial, human and material) are scarce and not equally available. The concepts of economic efficiency and equity help us consider how best to allocate and distribute those resources. Economic efficiency is concerned with the input of given resources into a system and the outputs achieved from those inputs. Equity is concerned with the distribution of those resources. In this section I will focus on the concepts of efficiency followed by equity in low-income contexts generally before applying them to the case of South Sudan in the next section.

Economic efficiency is concerned with the optimal allocation of scarce resources given peoples tastes (Barr 2020). Lockheed & Hanushek (1994) write that efficient systems are ones that obtain more outputs for given inputs or a comparable level of output for fewer inputs. In low-income contexts the most efficient system is one that will get more children into primary education for the same amount of funding. From this perspective, a country must be concerned with increasing access to education before considering quality. “For a country that does not have universal primary education, expanding exposure – almost regardless of quality considerations – is likely to be an appealing policy. But once general exposure, which can be justified on equity grounds, is reached, educational policies switch from purely quantity to considerations of differential quality.” (ibid). In other words, the primary focus of the education system, at least at first, in a developing country must be concerned with getting “general exposure” or as many children enrolled in school as possible. Once steps to achieve this are underway then concerns with quality become more important. Therefore, in terms of the allocation of scarce financial resources, we should aim to maximise the number of children enrolled in school for every dollar spent.

This maximisation of education is described as productive efficiency and as discussed by Oketch (2021a), is only one part of the economic efficiency concept. The second part is allocative efficiency which is concerned with how well resources are allocated across communities. And the final part is pareto efficiency which occurs when it is impossible to make one party better off without making someone worse off. In society we want to maximise pareto efficiency to ensure that the economy is as efficient as possible. In terms of the free-market, trades are efficient only when they better one party without compromising another party. A totally efficient economy is maximised when as many efficient trades as possible are made. For education this means ensuring that the production and allocation of education resources to one sector of society does not make another sector disadvantaged. It is not efficient to educate some at the expense of others.

When the market economy delivers an outcome that does not maximise efficiency in this sense there is a market failure. In the prior section we examined arguments in favour of a free market in education, where private providers can compete in the market and consumers can choose which provider to use. This could improve access and quality even in low-income contexts according to Tooley (2009). We will now consider whether it is economically efficient to rely on private markets considering market failure. Market failure would mean that a society does not reap the maximum social returns to investment in education.

Education markets can fail for a variety of reasons. One of these is information failure. Oketch (2021a) and Lockheed and Hanushek (1994) claim that poor illiterate parents are unable to choose a quality school, that these families may not be able to discern a quality educational product from another. “illiterate parents in developing countries are likely to send their children to schools having few material resources and poorly educated teachers” (Lockheed & Hanushek 1994). However, I think this characterization is weak. Tooley (2009) makes a compelling case that parents can tell when their children are learning nothing, citing this as a reason for parents choosing LCPS over government schools. It could also be argued that educated wealthy parents fail to make a good choice in schools as they can be swayed by marketing and fads, or their own experiences of schooling. The point is that parents may not always know what works, but they can tell when their children are making progress. They know when their child is learning to read, write and use numbers. It could be argued that in the education marketplace it is very hard to gain this information until your child attends a school. Since moving is school is not necessarily as easy as Friedman (1962) assumes and the results of which can have negative impacts on learning (Hattie 2008). Informational failures can occur in education markets even if multiple school providers exist in a community. Parents cannot always simply put their children in another school. Schools are often selected based on proximity to home, as Tooley (2009) shows in his work in Lagos and families are restricted by distance, dangers and transport making free choice in the market problematic.

Another reason for market failures in education markets is credit failure. This means that not all consumers can access the funds needed to access private schooling for their children. This could be particularly important in low-income contexts where the choice to send a child to school can mean a loss of income for the family. Parents have no collateral to gain credit and are unable to borrow money against the latent future earnings of their child. This may restrict their ability to from gain access to schooling from private providers.

Externalities, information, and credit failures are imperfections in the market. Taken together they are all examples of deviations from what Barr (2020) describes as the model of the first best economy: an idealised model state under which the market can allocate resources efficiently. Imperfections in the market move us to the model of the second-best economy which justifies some form of government intervention in the form of: Regulation; Finance; Production; Income Transfers (taxation). The choice of which will depend on context.

Equity, or the distribution of resources, is another reason for government intervention (Oketch 2021b). Equity is the fairness with which resources are distributed between individuals or groups. Here the government redistributes resources, shifting resources from some groups to others. This is needed to achieve pareto-efficiency. In this sense, equity can be seen as a form of efficiency. For example, if education is paid for entirely through private markets without government intervention, then those whose parents earn the most will get the most by accident of birth. This would be inefficient as discussed above but also not equitable. Thus, efficiency in this case this would mean ensuring that the access to quality education is evenly distributed.

In low-income contexts, EFA in primary education has been shown to increases access in terms of enrolment but reduce quality as more children place increased strain on the capacity of teachers to teach. The outcome of this is that more children are educated but to a lower quality (Inoue & Oketch, 2008). Specifically, EFA has increased equity but reduced efficiency and quality in Malawi (Inoue & Oketch, 2008). This highlights the need to consider equity of procedure and distribution, as well as efficiency when it comes to government provision of primary education in South Sudan.

When considering the scarcity of finance, we may have a trade-off between equity and efficiency. Cunha and Heckman (2007) note how there is a trade-off for the timing of investment in education. In terms of primary education in low-income contexts, where there may be polylingual ethnically diverse groups, there may be a trade-off between the distribution of access to education for different groups and the efficiency of providing access to education to those groups. Private markets funded by government vouchers may help to alleviate this problem.

Section 4: South Sudan

So far, we have discussed the key economic principles and their application to low-income contexts. I now move on to apply these concepts to South Sudan. Totally landlocked, South Sudan is a sub-Saharan African state that borders Sudan to the North, Ethiopia to the East, Uganda, Kenya, and the Democratic Republic of Congo to the South and the Central African Republic to the West. It was announced as the world’s newest country in 2011 but the birth of South Sudan has been difficult. Within two years, the country was plunged into its own civil war, after tribal groups, once united against the central government of Sudan, fought each other for control of the new country. This internal war lasted from 2013 until 2020 and left 400,000 dead (Checchi et al 2018). South Sudan is composed of 10 states, 60 indigenous ethnic groups and 80 linguistic partitions (UN 2021) and this diversity and distrust amongst groups has been a key driver of conflict. In addition to this recent endemic ethnic conflict, the country poses some extremely challenging terrain and suffers from flooding and a lack of infrastructure, and which leaves almost 60% of the country inaccessible for much of the year. 82% of the 11 million population is defined as living in poverty and the gross national income (GNI) is around 1090 USD (World Bank 2021b). All these factors have contributed to South Sudan been classified as a fragile state. In 2020 South Sudan ranked 3rd on the Fragile States Index with a composite score of 110 out of 120 across the indicators (Fragile States Index 2021).

South Sudan suffers from an unusually severe educational situation (Global Partnership for Education 2012) with an adult literacy rate of around 27% and enrolment rates of 73% for primary and 11% for Secondary (World Bank 2021b). Resources for schools are stretched with learning materials and trained teachers being in short supply. This unique mix of challenges: lack of trust between ethnic groups and conflict, poor infrastructure, lack of material and human resources, linguistic, cultural, and geographic diversity, and limited finances present severe problems for a national government in South Sudan in the top-down implementation of a public school system.

The role of the government in South Sudan to achieve EFA is currently limited by the reasons outlined above. In this scenario it may be helpful to consider the role that providers of private education may play in helping citizens of South Sudan achieve equitable access to quality education that is efficient in terms of the allocation of scarce financial resources. The ideal state is to have a fully funded government primary education system that caters for the needs of all communities. However, at present there is a significant challenge to developing this system. Below I offer some suggestions on ways to achieve this, starting with supported private schooling that can be slowly replaced by government schooling over time.

In terms of education markets in South Sudan, there are several major concerns which need to be considered. Firstly, linguistic diversity which provides a challenge of access to the curriculum and thus quality of learning. Secondly, recent conflict which has left many children out of school (UN 2021), and thirdly lack of shared citizenship means that many different ethnic groups do not identify with each other’s common values of what it means to be a South Sudanese citizen. Education can be a powerful force for developing a national identity (Bereketeab 2020) and an understanding amongst divergent groups of shared South Sudanese cultural values, while different cultural identities can be also be respected. It may well be that private education markets within communities provide an initial solution to this problem as they provide an alternative to state-controlled top-down government-imposed education for all, which may be distrusted by some groups. Private actors providing education within communities may be more trusted, especially if the providers are managed by individuals from the community as they may offer an alternative to any apparent government agenda. Mechanisms should be put in place to support the development of education markets in areas of linguistic and cultural diversity, but government support as capacity grows will be essential to ensure that all children are able to access these opportunities.

One mechanism could be a voucher scheme funded by the government or NGOs helping families access schools in their local area. This would need to be backed up by incentives for families to send their children to school. Some families may lose income with their children attending school or they may not trust the individuals providing the schooling following on from events in the recent conflict. Parents will need to feel secure in entrusting their children to other adults. Providing the education will not be enough to overcome these barriers until trust is built and the benefits of education can be widely felt.

Another mechanism could be micro finance loans used to help entrepreneurs start schools in their local communities where none currently exist. This added to incentives for parents to let their children attend school and vouchers to support the costs of schooling could be combined to kick start education projects specific to the needs of diverse communities. These mechanisms could be regulated by the loan providers to prevent monopolisation of the education market which would create further imperfections.

A second benefit here is that there is the potential for children to be educated in their mother tongue at least at primary level. Learning in one’s mother tongue is essential in the early years of education (Taylor-Leech 2013) because without this provision children struggle to access the curriculum and make learning gains. This can mean that children who cannot access the learning can quickly fall behind children who can, and these learning losses will only be compounded with time. Studies like Young Lives have shown that many children in low-income contexts have learning levels below the grade they are currently enrolled in. This learning gap will get larger with time (Oketch et al 2020).

Private markets could improve access both in terms of enrolment, if it allows communities to overcome distrust and encourage families to enrol in schools, and in terms of linguistic access to curriculum if teaching can be delivered in students mother tongue. This would also improve the quality of learning, as more children would be able to make learning gains by accessing the curriculum more easily. In larger communities consumer choice and competition should allow for the maintenance of quality as consumers should be able to go elsewhere. Finally, private schools do not have to be for profit, they can be run as socially motivated schools (Pal & Saha, 2019), this could bring the costs of attendance down further, although there may be less incentives to establish schools in the first place. Education is important for securing citizenship values, but the challenge remains of uniting diverse groups. Anderson’s (2016) study of nationalism suggests that one way to achieve this could be through centrally administered higher education institutions that allow individuals who have been schooled in their own communities to meet and together develop a shared understanding of what it means to be South Sudanese, like the model adopted in Eritrea (Bereketeab 2020).


This essay set out to answer the question: can the expansion of private schooling in South Sudan serve to improve access, efficiency, quality, and equity in basic education? It is argued that it can, at least initially. While the government is currently unable to provide access to education, private markets should be encouraged for the societal returns of education to be realised. These returns to creating a stable society based on common shared values need to be prioritised.

Properly supported through vouchers and loans, families can make choices in the marketplace which will award some level of quality to the education received. The challenge is to ensure efficiency and equity. As the government becomes financially solvent and stable it can begin the process of producing education and replace the private markets. Clearly, as described above, in South Sudan we have a scarcity not just of schools as resources for learning but also finance to fund education. It may be more efficient to simply finance as opposed to build schools and supply teachers who may not speak the same language as the communities they serve. There will be high costs of production in terms of the materials needed to build schools and train teachers needed in different languages which will reduce the rate of return. These principles of productive efficiency would suggest that encouraging grass roots education initiatives in communities would get maximum education output for inputs.

If productive efficiency can be improved and consumption of education is improved, then we also improve allocative efficiency. This system would be a pareto improvement because all individuals would have a better chance of accessing education. A government-imposed system with a single national language as the method of instruction may advantage some groups over others, this would not be a pareto improvement, quite the opposite.

To avoid market imperfections and market failures the government would need to ensure that all schools are accessible and help parents financially to place their children in school. This can be done through vouchers for families and encouraging entrepreneurship to set up community schools. These do not need to be run for profit. Private schooling can overcome both issues if embedded in communities and provided by members of those communities. Private schooling does not need to be exclusive if the government can find methods to finance for all.


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Whole school support for EAL learners

Originally posted on July 10, 2018 @ 10:30 am

One of the exercises on my online DPC course had the participants looking at IB research. I had a look at this summary article and I thought what I read warranted further reflection.

The summary highlights what I have mentioned in previous blog posts, that there is an agreement in the academic literature  that there is a specific academic language of school and that this is different from general language style:

There is a general consensus in the literature that there exists a specific style of speaking and writing which is appropriate for the school context of academic learning. Although researchers and theorists disagree on the exact nature of this language style, it is widely accepted that students who are learning in a second language require support in acquiring the academic language of the classroom

This could arguably highlight the concepts of BICS and CALPS identified by Jim Cummins and which I have written about here and here. Writing about EAL instruction in biology teaching has been one of the focusses of this blog and reflects my thinking and reflection around school practices that best support EAL teaching.


It is important that teachers are aware of the difference between academic and “general” language and take individual responsibility to instruct their EAL students sufficiently in the language of their academic subject when working at an advanced level. EAL “specialists” may be able to support with instruction at times, but they don’t necessarily have the technical expertise to have a strong enough grasp of subject-specific terminology and concepts to fill in the gaps left by teachers who maybe aren’t aware of these differences.

For example, I teach biology in y12-13/g11-12. This subject (like all subjects at this level) has a highly specific language. One that even native speakers struggle with when first encountering the subject at those grades. When I first was exposed to the distinction between prokaryotic and eukaryotic cells at A Level, I had to repeatedly commit to memory what these terms meant.

I could understand easily that one had a nucleus, and the other didn’t but I still had to learn the distinction. The point is, this relied on me knowing what a nucleus was and developing my understanding further.

An EAL student may have to then learn what a nucleus is, either by translating from the knowledge they already possess in their mother tongue or depending on their academic background may have no conception of this in their own tongue.

An EAL specialist may or not be able to help them unpack these words depending on their own expertise – it is highly unlikely that any teacher without a biology background would understand immediately the distinction between these two types of cells and therefore would perhaps be limited in the support that they could give.

In order to provide effective instruction in the academic language needed for success in the content areas, teachers must be prepared to integrate academic language teaching into the teaching of the disciplines (Bunch, 2013; Heritage, Silva and Pierce, 2007; Wong-Fillmore and Snow, 2000). High-quality professional development programmes targeting academic language instruction can result in improvements in student performance (Kim et al., 2011; Anstrom et al., 2010; Dicerbo, Anstrom, Baker and Rivera, 2013).

The problem here is that many schools in my experience (which is limited) simply run a training session for staff (maybe on BICS and CALPS) but offer very little in terms of helping subject teachers develop practical skills in terms of language teaching of their subject.

Even less so, do schools spend time educating parents on these issues. I remain surprised by how many parents think they can switch there child from one academic language to another in upper secondary and not understand the difficulties this might pose for their child.


Data from this report shows that many schools will assess students level of English at the point of entry but do no follow up to that assessment

The survey results indicate that when schools are assessing the proficiency of second language students on an ongoing basis, they are doing so using appropriate measures. However, almost half of the schools which responded to the question (45%) provide no language proficiency assessment beyond initial screening for identification. This is potentially problematic in cases where teachers require ongoing information about students’ language proficiency in order to be able to provide effective support.

How can language learning be supported if there is no formative and summative assessment of a students progress to date.

So what would an effective policy for supporting EAL students look like?

I strongly believe that the best support for EAL students in the final years of secondary/high school will come from their classroom teachers. This based on the belief that these individuals are the experts in their subject and, having had a high level of academic training within their subject, will be best placed to understand the academic language norms of vocab, grammar and style or discussion unique to their subject area.

I also believe that these subject teachers may not initially be all that familiar with the needs of EAL students and should, therefore, receive ongoing support and training from specialists. These specialists would best be represented as individuals from the same department who have studied the subject at some depth.

It may be helpful to have these subject EAL specialists associated with an EAL support department comprising EAL generalists and subject-specific specialists in EAL instruction across the whole school. This department would be responsible for delivering training to teachers in the community which help them gain an understanding of EAL concepts like BICS/CALPS and tier 1, 2 and 3 words.

Teachers would have access to high-quality ongoing training. This would have to:

  • Have elements of direct instruction to get teachers familiar with some of the general principles in EAL teaching.
  • Have elements of flexibility that allowed teachers to continuously develop in this area as their needs allow – perhaps providing ongoing “clinics” where teachers can bring questions to the EAL specialists.

Schools needs to provide effective assessment measures for EAL development:

  • Initial assessment of a student’s needs and abilities to decide on what strategy of support to put in place. This needs to subject specific as well as general. For example in biology, I may have all students take a vocabulary test which includes tier 3 words but also tier 2 words like yield and coolant – it is important to assess each students understanding relative to one another.
  • Ongoing language assessment within subjects delivered by subject teachers – this may mean that students take vocabulary tests on specific vocabulary throughout the year. This should be done in such a way that the performance of all students can be compared and so

It is not acceptable to admit students into the higher grades of secondary school if they don’t have a good grasp of tier 2 vocabulary and the school isn’t willing to place resources into developing those students language skills. Neither is it acceptable to simply except classroom practitioners to differentiate down so far for these students who are placed in exam classes without additional support.

In addition the school needs to work proactively to educate its parent community about these issues if they exist.


Teaching & Learning

A summary of the structure of knowledge

Originally posted on June 27, 2018 @ 1:20 pm

In the final term of this year, I completed an online course on “Theory of Knowledge” from the University of Oxford’s department for continuing education. As part of this course, I have to submit two assignments. The first, which is a summary of the structure of knowledge and limited to around 500 words, was due on the 5th June and I am posting a copy of it below.

A summary of the structure of knowledge

According to Pritchard (2014), we can distinguish between two types of knowledge: knowledge of something or knowledge of how to do something also referred to as propositional knowledge and ability knowledge respectively. It is the first of these that we are interested in in this summary.

Knowledge is valuable because knowledge has instrumental and non-instrumental value. Having knowledge is instrumentally valuable in the sense that it helps us achieve our goals, but it is also non-instrumentally valuable in the sense that having knowledge enriches our lives in and of itself.

To claim to know something is to make a claim or a proposition that a) you believe something and b) that your belief is true. If I claim that it is raining in London while I am living in Lausanne, and assuming that I have no ill intent to deceive those I am talking to, I am making a proposition which I must ultimately believe – how could I claim it was raining if I didn’t ultimately believe it to be so? Intuitively it seems that we cannot claim propositional knowledge if we don’t first believe it.

The claim that we know something “aims at” truth, to use Pritchard’s (2014) phrase. Claiming knowledge intuits at the truth of reality. We don’t normally count someone who holds a false belief as holding knowledge of something. For example, in a pub quiz, someone could be said to be knowledgeable of the topic in question if they hold what is commonly accepted as the “correct” or truthful response. Someone who incorrectly or falsely believes the answer is another proposition cannot be said to know the answer.

Thus, we can say that truth and belief are necessary conditions of knowledge. However, a guess (like a bet) that gets to the truth of the matter (that turns out to be true) is also a claim that contains truth and belief but is not considered knowledge. Under normal circumstances, someone who wins at roulette with the number 29 can’t be said to know that 29 was the correct number, but they did have a true belief that 29 was the number.

Therefore, to count as knowledge, a claim needs have more than truth and belief, it also needs to be justified. Knowledge has historically been counted as justified true belief. All three of these elements are necessary conditions for knowledge but on their own, they are not sufficient conditions for knowledge.

For example, Gettier cases show us that justified true belief isn’t always enough for knowledge. By luck, some agents can still hold true beliefs that are justified but that we would not normally count as knowledge. In the case of an agent who “knows” the time by looking at a stopped clock, if they look at the clock at the “correct” time even though the clock has stopped they will have gained a justified true belief, but they will have done so by luck. If they had looked at the clock five minutes later or five minutes earlier they would have acquired a false belief (Pritchard, 2014).

So, we also need more than justified true belief. We still need to consider the type of justification that is used when combined with true belief. More specifically we need to consider what supports our beliefs in order for them to be justified. There are normally three ways of considering this: a) beliefs do not need to be grounded on anything b) beliefs can be founded on an infinite chain of justifications c) beliefs can be grounded on a circular chain of beliefs. The different schools of thought of infinitism, foundationalism and coherentism offer different responses to this trilemma.

Justification and the support needed for belief is closely linked to rationality. Normally only rational beliefs would be considered knowledge. We can think of a judge who reaches their decision either by weighing up the evidence presented or on the basis of their emotional or prejudice. A judge who rationally weighs up the evidence to reach a verdict can be justified in their true beliefs but a judge who doesn’t, can’t be. However not all rationality is linked to finding the truth and to justify our beliefs we should be concerned with having epistemically rational beliefs. Pascal’s wager is a good example of the difference between epistemically and non-epistemically rationality. In the same vein, we need to consider whether agents can or should be held responsible for their beliefs.

Are people responsible for paying attention to how their beliefs are formed? Can we count a belief as knowledge if the agent in question has not considered how they have formed their belief?


Pritchard, D. (2014) What is this thing called knowledge? 3rd edition. Routledge.



Taking your Diploma Programme to the next level

Originally posted on June 20, 2018 @ 9:20 am

In the fourth and final week of the Diploma Programme coordination category 2 online course we looked at some of the more intangible elements of a successful Diploma Programme. These included relationships with students and staff and strategies for managing these, particularly when stress levels might be quite high; making sure that students stayed with the full diploma program and got the recognition they deserved and how to use data to improve the program further.

In the first activity, we reflected on strategies to help bring enthusiasm for the program to students and faculty.

I think the key to providing the enthusiasm needed to champion students relies on the coordinator supporting teachers effectively so that they are able to support their own students effectively and maintain their own positive teacher-student relationships.

Of course, the DPC needs to think about their own relationships with the students on the programme, but to inspire kids, colleagues need to be empowered and supported in their own work.

This can come about through careful discussion and planning of the assessment calendar and support teachers in holding students accountable for making sure deadlines are adhered to. I have often witnessed the snowballing effect of when a teacher thinks they are being kind to a student by extending a deadline, only for that piece of work to then be happening at the same time as another piece and so the student ends up feeling doubly overwhelmed.

There, therefore, needs to be structures in place so that staff can get help with problems in their own areas but also so that students can get the support they need formally and informally.

Going forward I would like in a small school environment:

  • Mix the y12 and y13 homerooms so that DP1 and DP2 students can learn from, communicate with and support each other.
  • Facilitate meeting and communication between the school guidance department and the CAS advisors so that all students are receiving the same advice and all students feel that they have an individual teacher that they can go to if necessary.
  • Operate office hours so that teachers/students can book appointments to meet with me on an ad hoc basis.
  • Provide supervised study hall sessions so that students can get help with developing their ATLs.
  • Review the school’s assessment policy to ensure that teachers understand the differences between formative and summative assessment and know when each is appropriate.
  • Put systems in place to ensure that students are monitored and so that there are safety nets in place to stop snowballing of problems.
  • Think carefully about the assessment policies and procedures to maximise student wellbeing – making sure that staff understand formative and summative assessment, what it is used for and when it is appropriate.

In the second activity, we reviewed the role of the DPC in admitting students to the Diploma Programme and the need for communication and collaboration with the admissions department. We also looked at the IB research and were asked to comment on one article from this area.

In terms of the IB research, I am a little sceptical of some of it as I question its independence but  I have become increasingly interested in the status of second language learners who are studying the DP in languages, not their mother tongue. This interest has developed from working in two academic contexts where students had a Francophone academic background but our teaching was in English.

I had a look at the research summary for “Language proficiency for academic achievement in the International Baccalaureate Diploma Programme”.

This study was composed of a literature review looking at the academic literature of what is meant by academic language and the practices recommended to support students academic language proficiency, as well as a review of examination results from IBIS to examine how well students studying a second language perform. The third part of the research looked at the practices that have been implemented within schools.

I took away from this just how little ongoing monitoring for second language learners there is. It seems that while many schools give an initial assessment of a students proficiency they do not follow this up to inform future teaching. In addition, many schools leave second language support up to a small group of teachers.

The report recommends that schools give an ongoing formative assessment of students second lang development to inform teaching across their subjects and ensure that all teachers are engaged and trained on the teaching of EAL.

This is interesting because I have worked with so many schools where EAL training is restricted to a single inset day and then that is it. What I believe subject teachers need is also ongoing support and training, as the literature is vast and to get this right there is a lot of time that teachers need to invest in it.

Could school departments all have an EAL or equivalent lead who would be responsible for developing the department’s resources to support this?

In the final task we considered using IB data to further reflect and goal set.

Development Education

Education for Happiness? Relationships between Nationalism, Development and Education in Bhutan’s National Education Policy.


Bhutan is almost unique in its approach to development. The adoption of gross national happiness (GNH) as a metric instead of gross domestic product (GDP) seemingly broadens the goal posts from a purely economic focus to a humanist one, concerned with creating a flourishing society. In this essay I aim to examine the extent to which GNH, is incorporated into the National Education Policy of Bhutan. Specifically, I will examine the National Education Policy of Bhutan published in draft in 2019. My essay is limited to this single policy analysis due to the constraints of space. In order to unpack the policy, I will first examine GNH and compare it to human capital theory (HCT), probably the major hegemonic paradigm for justifying investment in education at this time. Discussion of the literature about nationalism and national identity follows, in order to illuminate the relationship between government education policies and national identity formation before presenting an analysis of the National Education Policy of Bhutan mentioned above. I argue that the adoption GNH in the education policy of Bhutan is a gloss covering a definite retention of the language of HCT and investment in education for the purpose of economic development. I suggest that this use of GNH, which has been interpreted as embodying a humanist vision that rejects the prevailing economistic view of education, is perhaps best explained as a continued exercise in nationalism or nation branding. This process of nation branding began with the development of an ethno-religious Bhutanese national identity by the ruling minority group, the Ngalong, in the 1970s and 1980s.

This paper is organised as follows. In section one I provide a brief overview of the history and context of Bhutan and the GNH initiative. This is followed, in section two, by a discussion of GNH compared to HCT and, in section three a discussion of relevant theories of nationalism. Finally, in section four I provide an analysis of the Bhutanese National Education Policy 2019 draft document through the lens of the literature presented in the previous sections.

Section one: Bhutan and the GNH initiative

Bhutan is a small independent nation wedged in the Himalayan mountains between India and China. According to recent World Bank (2021a) data, since the turn of the 21st Century Bhutan has seen strong economic growth and large decreases in poverty, with an average annual GDP growth of 7.5%. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bhutan’s gross national income (GNI) was only just below that required to be classified as a middle-income country and it was estimated that in a few years the country would no longer be classified as low income. Currently, India accounts for 98% of Bhutan’s exports and is its largest trading partner (Marshall 2018, pp 158). This trend in economic growth began in the 1960’s when Bhutan adopted so called modernization development methods. In the 1970s Bhutan shifted its development focus from modernization to its unique approach of GNH (Krogh & Giri 2015).

Bhutan has a geographically dispersed population of around 750,000 with diverse linguistic and ethno-cultural groups. According to Saul (2000) there are three major ethnic groups. Firstly, located in the North, and practicing Buddhism, the Dzongka speaking Ngalong make up around 20% of the population and include the Royal Family. Dzongka is the official language of Bhutan. The Sharchops are another ethnic group making up approximately 30% of the population. They generally practice Buddhism and speak Tsangla, another Tibeto-Burman language. Lastly, In the South there are the Lhotshampa who primarily speak Nepali and practice Hinduism and are ethnically related to the Nepalese. In the 1960s this group accounted for almost 50% of the Bhutanese population but more recent official statistics state they make up 30% (Saul 2000). There is a history of discrimination against the Lhotshampa which is discussed later in the essay.

Bhutan is unique from a development point of view with its focus on GNH, supposedly a humanist approach to development. The idea of GNH was first coined by the King of Bhutan in 1972 (OPHI 2021) and developed out of the Buddhist traditions of Ngalong culture. As an approach to development, it aims to give equal importance to non-economic aspects of human wellbeing as well as economic welfare. The GNH philosophy has led to the creation of the GNH index, used by Bhutan to measure its progress.

According to the literature, (Krogh & Giri, 2015; LaPrairie 2015) the GNH index is a multidimensional measure of quality of life and wellbeing that seeks to assess development across four pillars. The four pillars are:

  1. Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development
  2. Preservation and promotion of culture
  3. Environmental protection
  4. Good governance

These are further broken up into nine domains that are used to generate indicators used in the index. What makes the GNH index different from other development indices is that it tries to capture and give equal weight to each domain of which economic measures of development are only a part. This is different to many indices, like the human capital index, discussed below, which are drawn from different paradigms and are mainly concerned with economic development. It is important to note that the GNH index does not leave out economic indicators. They are simply not valued more than other indicators drawn from other domains.

Section two: Theories of development and GNH

As noted previously, Bhutan initially openly pursued modernization principles of development before later switching to pursue GNH. Modernization theories of development are rooted in the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944 and essentially prescribe development as economic catch up for less developed countries (McGowan 2020). From this view development is about expanding the economy of a country to bring levels of income and living standards up to be equivalent to those countries considered to be developed. Modernization theories set an economic bar by which development is measured and place people as the means by which the ends of this development can be met.

HCT is one of the key modernization theories of education and development. It was originally formulated by Becker (1964) and at its most basic level focuses on the relationship between education and development. It justifies investment in education on the basis that increased education raises the productivity of an individual and more productive individuals make the economy expand. HCT positions education as a source of growth for an economy as opposed to a consumption. It assumes that the more education (whether years or quality) an individual has the greater the return to GDP of the country. It makes the education of individuals one of the means to the ends of increased GDP. From the perspective of HCT, governments should invest in the education of their citizens as it increases the skills and productivity of their population which in turn leads to more endogenous growth. The key difference philosophically between HCT and GNH is that HCT makes human beings the means by which the ends of economic development are met where GNH is part of a group of approaches that supposedly try to make development the means by which human needs are met.

HCT is a core principle of modern development theory. It was the theory that produced the modern economic justification for investment in education. Because of Becker’s work, policy makers could justify the funding of, and investment in, a state’s education system as it explained a mechanism by which endogenous economic growth within a country could be stimulated. It remains one of the key mechanisms by which funding for an education system can be sought from development donors and makes up much of the key terminology in education and development policies produced by the actors like the World Bank. For example, a brief look at the World Bank website highlights a focus on human capital. The World Bank produces the human capital index as part of the human capital project (World Bank 2021b).

A modern education system came fairly late to Bhutan. Prior to the 1950s, the vast majority of schooling was provided by Buddhist monasteries and only a small portion of the population attended these institutions (Krogh & Giri 2015). In the 1960s, the Bhutanese government began a modernization programme of the education system, focussed on adopting a system of western style schooling. Since the public adoption of the GNH philosophy, Bhutan has attempted to adapt the education system to the principles of GNH. Krogh & Giri (ibid) suggest that culturally the teacher in Bhutan is a secular Lama or Buddhist monk. As Lamas are revered holders and teachers of enlightenment and truth, GNH philosophy implies that happiness is something that can be learned, and teachers are expected to be the secular monks delivering GNH instruction to their charges (ibid). Regardless of whether happiness can actually be taught, Krogh & Giri (ibid) suggest that teachers are pivotal to developing the understanding of GNH in the citizenry of Bhutan.

HCT justifies investment in education for its returns, both monetary and non-monetary to the individual to society as a whole. While they are hard to quantify the non-monetary social returns of education are undeniable. These effects have been documented as reductions in fertility rates and mortality rates, greater democratic participation and even the avoidance of natural disasters (Sen 1999). Education helps to produce individuals who understand their shared participation in a society and, it could be argued, indoctrinated into a particular world view as required by a government (Harber & Mcnube 2012). Education is a powerful tool for developing a sense of national identity and nationalism.

Section three: Theories of nationalism and GNH

Interestingly, the concept of a nation does not lend itself to easy definition. Anderson (2016) argues that the idea of the nation state and nationalism originated in the independence movements of the Americas. Anderson (ibid) defines the nation as “an imagined political community – and as imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (ibid pp 6). In this work Anderson (ibid) traces three distinct types of nationalism. The first is creole nationalism in the America’s which provided the model adopted by populist nationalism movements in Europe, the second type. This populist nationalism was adopted as official nationalism, the third type, by European imperial powers, and later global governments, to justify their own positions of power. Anderson (ibid) writes “… ‘official nationalism’ was from the start a conscious, self-protective policy, intimately linked to the preservation of imperial-dynastic interests.” (pp159). Anderson (ibid) argues that this official nationalism model has been applied globally throughout the twentieth century, being adopted by many governments all over the world including Asia. Anderson (ibid) describes how, amongst others, the Thai monarchy (pp 171-5) and the Japanese (pp 96-97) adopted these principles to develop the national identity of their citizens.

Language is important in official nationalisms for building solidarities of nationhood. “It is always a mistake to treat languages in the way that certain national ideologues treat them – as emblems of nation-ness, like flags, costumes, folk-dances, and the rest. Much the most important thing about language is its capacity for generating imagined communities, building in effect particular solidarities.” (ibid pp133). Anderson (ibid) identifies capitalism as allowing nationalism to take hold through the development of print-media of vernacular languages, which dislodged Latin as the major administrative language across Europe. The increasing importance of vernacular languages then began to give rise to national identity. Anderson (ibid) highlights how the rise of these languages through print-capitalism in Europe had a catalytic effect in building national identity amongst populations in pre-nation imperial states. While nationalists are tempted to point to their language as proof of the nation, it was printed language not the languages per se that built nationalism.

Through the use of textbooks, and other printed media, printed language can link to the state’s education system. A nation state can use the education system to build up a sense of national identity directly or indirectly. The adoption of specific subjects such as citizenship education or the mandating of particular topics in specific subjects would be one direct influence. Medium of instruction policies can indirectly influence what linguistic and thus cultural elements gain prominence in society. Languages that are adopted by the state in the education system gain importance for the society. However, the state education system can exclude groups who don’t speak the dominant language at home (Taylor-Leech 2013). As discussed below, since 1961, Bhutan has adopted Dzongka, the language of the minority ruling group, as the sole national language despite linguistic diversity within the territory (Ball & Wangchuk 2015).

Gellner (1999) stresses the importance of the education system in the development of state nationalism. He argues that development of the education system is what allowed industrial societies to become successful. This is because these societies require homogeneity, where mobile, literate, culturally standardized individuals become interchangeable through their educational training. It is this homogeneity and reliance on high culture (essentially having a literate population) in the society that gives rise to nationalism. Gellner writes “Nationalism … is in reality the consequence of a new form of social organization, based on deeply internalized, education-dependent high cultures, each protected by its own state” (ibid pp 48). Like HCT discussed above, in Gellner’s model economic development is dependent on education and nationalism is dependent on economic development. If Gellner’s model is true we should expect to see nationalism develop hand in hand with development of a state’s education system and economy.

The relationship between education systems and national identity are also stressed by Green (1994) who argues that the rise of state education systems in Europe in the modern era was a “bulwark against the potential anarchy of rising democracy” (ibid pp 5). Green goes on to write “Governments were concerned more with educating political leaders, administrators, officers, soldiers and loyal subjects, rather than scientists, technologists etc” (ibid pp 7). Green argues that the implementation of national education systems was a result of a need to provide the state with trained civilian and military professionals and to inculcate the population with particular ideologies of nationhood. Green (ibid) writes “The key social factor…. In explaining the timing and form of the development of education systems is the nature of the state and the process of state formation. The major impetus for the creation of national education systems lay in the need to provide the state with trained administrators, engineers and military personnel; to spread dominant national cultures and inculcate popular ideologies of nationhood … cement the ideological hegemony of their dominant classes” (ibid pp 9). This idea is similar to Anderson’s (2016) idea of official nationalism.

To Gellner (1999), Green (1994) and Anderson (2016), education systems all have a role to play in the development of nationalism within a state. For Gellner education leads to economic development which leads to nationalism in industrial societies. For Anderson, capitalist print media (for example textbooks) pave the way for development of nationalism based on solidarities of shared language and for Green the education system is developed by the state in order to build the nation and control the population. Green goes on to cite three historical factors associated with nation building that would also give fertile ground for the formation of national education systems:

  1. when there are external military threats
  2. internal revolutions
  3. to escape from economic underdevelopment.

In Bhutan development of the education system and the economy began in earnest in the 1960s as discussed above. This was not long after China had annexed Tibet, Bhutan’s neighbour to the North. Perhaps the threat of China as well as endemic economic underdevelopment prompted the Bhutanese to look for ways to prevent the same fate. According to Worden (1991) the Chinese conflicts with Tibet in the 1950s that resulted in the complete annexation of the latter by the end of the 1950s acted as a stimulus to the Bhutan government to pursue development and open itself up to the outside world. Fears abounded that unless Bhutan gained international recognition, it too could find itself “annexed” like Tibet, particularly as China had threatened to do so in the past. With the Chinese annexation, Bhutan closed its border to Tibet and began developing relationships with India, its larger neighbour to the South (Worden 1991).

Other writers have focussed on the nature of nationalism. Kohn (1944) provides a distinction within European states between civic western nationalism, that of the UK, France, Netherlands and Switzerland and ethnic eastern nationalism, of Germany, Spain and Ireland among others. The civic nationalism is rooted in the civic ideals of individual liberty, cosmopolitanism and political and individual rights. The ethnic nationalism is illustrated by the rejection of these civic ideals with a focus on ethnicity, language and culture. Essentially civic nationalism is an inclusive nationalism whilst ethnic nationalism is exclusive. Kuzio (2002) critiques Kohn’s (1944) work and rejects his distinction between the two. I would suggest that the framework Kohn provides is a useful starting point for thinking about nationalism but agree with Kuzio’s critique. I would argue it is more useful to see the distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism on a spectrum, with most nation states having had elements of both, leaning towards one or the other at different stages of their development. This is also the position that Kuzio (ibid) takes, and he stresses that nation states have tended to evolve from ethnic nationalism to civic nationalism. From this point of view, the adoption of GNH by the state of Bhutan can be interpreted as secular iteration of an ethnic nationalism focussed on the Buddhist identity of the dominant Ngalong minority.

In Bhutan there is evidence that a growing ethnic, cultural and religious nationalism has been forming hand in hand with development of the economy and of the education system. The adoption of GNH by the King in 1972 can be seen as the first step in the formation of an ethno-religious nationalism that seeks to position itself as modern and secular but rooted in Buddhism. The second step can be seen in the political delineation of who exactly in Bhutanese. Carrick (2008) argues that the Bhutan Citizenship Act of 1985 and the “One Nation, One People” policy adopted in 1988 were two policies adopted by the Ngalong minority elite, deliberately designed to side-line the majority ethnic Lhotshampa community and that the rights of the Lhotshampa continue to be violated by Bhutanese government policies. In 1985 the Bhutanese government effectively made the Lhotshampa stateless through the 1985 Act and subsequent census. In the 1990s there were reported human rights abuses as many Lhotshampa were removed from their homes. Many now reside in refugee camps in Nepal (Saul 2000). It is possible that the adoption of GNH in the years prior to these events marks the start of government policy to forge a national identity based on the rejection of Nepali speaking, Hindu Lhotshampa culture and the underscoring of secular Buddhist, Dzongka speaking, Ngalong culture, to which the Royal Family belong. Following these events, Bhutan adopted a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected government in 2008. Even with these changes towards a more civic nationalism the eviction of the Lhotshampa is still not openly discussed (Christensen 2018). From this perspective the adoption of GNH can be interpreted as part of the evolution of Bhutan’s ethno-religious nationalism focussed on Ngalong culture and Buddhist principles.

Section four: Policy Analysis

Here I examine the document “National Education Policy 2019 (draft)” produced by the Ministry of Education, Royal Government of Bhutan (2019). I aim to analyse the policy statements within it to see what extent it incorporates principles of GNH and HCT in order to understand the role of the education system in developing the Bhutanese National Identity.

The Education Policy 2019 opens with the quotation from the current Monarch of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the 5th King of Bhutan, from 2014:

“As I serve my country, I have a number of priorities. Number one on my list is education. Education is empowering- it’s a social equalizer and it facilitates self- discovery, which leads to realizing one’s full potential. Good education gives you confidence, good judgment, virtuous disposition, and the tools to achieve happiness successfully. A good school gives a child a fair shot at success and ensures that a person’s achievement in life will not be predetermined by his or her race, parentage and social connections.”

In this quote education is claimed to be centrally important for individual citizens in order to overcome inequality of birth. However, as discussed below, there is no provision for teaching in any local language other than Dzongka, which may severely limit the ability of non Dzongka speaking children to have a “fair shot” at accessing their education.

In the introduction to the policy, we find this statement:

the National Education Policy 2019 aspires to provide an overarching framework and directions for building and nurturing an education system that prepares citizens who are nationally rooted and globally competent” (pp 1)

which makes clear the desire of the government to work towards a balance of the tensions between nationalism and globalization.

In section two, the rationale, we have the first reference to GNH:     

“Education should be responsive to the individual interest and changing socio-economic needs of the country in achieving country’s aspiration of Gross National Happiness…. enhance access, quality and equity in education in order to create a strong foundation that aligns with the country’s unique values, traditions, and such an education system will lead towards realizing His Majesty’s aspiration for a robust education system that is timeless and acts as an ongoing social equalizer.” (ibid)

Followed again in section three entitled vision:

This policy aims to enable the development of an education system that will contribute to: “An educated and enlightened society of Gross National Happiness, built and sustained on the unique Bhutanese values of Tha-Dam-Tshig Ley Gyu-Drey.”  (pp 2)

In section four the goals of the policy are stated:                                  

“The purpose of education is to develop citizens that value Bhutan’s unique national identity, traditional wisdom and culture, who are prepared for right livelihood, and practice contemplative learning. It is also to develop individuals who are lifelong learners, who have a holistic understanding of the world and have a genuine care for others and nature. It should also develop all citizens’ competency to deal effectively with the contemporary world, individuals who are critical, creative, informed and engaged in civic affairs.” (pp 4)

Here again we see the stress placed on developing citizens with a strong national identity balanced against the competing tension of globalization. This national identity is conspicuously linked to Buddhist Ngalong principles of care and respect for oneself and others. Further on in this section we find a third reference to GNH:

Inculcates the principles and values underpinning Gross National Happiness, and upholds the nation’s unique cultural and spiritual heritage and values” (ibid)

The Bhutanese heritage and values implied here are those of Buddhism not Hinduism. Afterall, GNH values are based on Buddhist values of peace, tolerance and compassion (Beaglehole & Bonita 2015).

Following this section, we find the policy statements for all sectors of the education system from Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) through to tertiary and vocational education and training. The ECCD sections provide an example of the implicit language of HCT. ECCD sections link in directly to current global discourses on the importance of investing in education. Work by Heckman (2010) for example, has stressed the improved returns on investment to early years education over and above investments in later stages of the education system. This has been influential on recent global development discourse and has been an important policy focus for the World Bank among others. The emphasis on ECCD programs indicates that Bhutan, despite the GNH rhetoric, is following the HCT-focussed trends in mainstream global education policy. Other language found throughout the document, with its focus on lifelong learning and global competitiveness, also supports this assertion.

As we move into section seven on “school education” we begin to find explicit references to HCT. In the first instance we read this in the opening statement to this section:     

“School education shall offer opportunities to all students to realize their full potential by strengthening access, quality and equity so that they can become socially useful and economically productive citizens.” (pp 3-4)

Here there is a complete absence of any reference to GNH. Education is stressed as important for offering opportunities to become economically productive. The phrase economically productive is a clear reference to HCT. If GNH were important I suggest we should expect to find more humanist references here.

Further direct references to HCT can be found in section 11:

“This enables a society that responds to changing labour market demands, and well-rounded individuals who can effectively contribute culturally and economically.” (pp 12)

This highlights the priority for economic development and the awareness of the importance of meeting the demands of a changing labour market to continue economic growth. This priority is again tellingly highlighted in section 9.1 “curriculum and pedagogy” in the following policy statement:

“9.1.8 School curriculum shall strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to promote creativity and innovation and prepare students to participate meaningfully in a society and economy that is increasingly reliant on information and communication technologies.” (pp 8)

Elsewhere we find indirect references to GNH, but these are always found alongside references to economic development like this one from section ten where citizens are referred to as human resources:

“Tertiary education system in Bhutan aspires to be a nationally rooted and globally competitive that aims to develop productive, socially responsible, culturally grounded, ecologically sensitive, and spiritually aware citizens equipped to lead Bhutan into a knowledge-based society that values lifelong learning. Tertiary education plays a central role in building human resource requirements of the country.” (pp 10)

The reference to human resources places human beings as the means of development, in line with human capital theory as discussed above. The only time that GNH is directly mentioned in the policy statements outside of the introductory section is in section eleven in tandem with non-formal education:

“Non-formal education shall infuse life skills such as health and reproductive issues, environment, disaster management, social dimensions such as gender, childcare and protection, democracy, Gross National Happiness within its course content.” (pp 13)           

In the policy statements we also find statements that highlight the concern of the Bhutanese government for developing a national identity amongst its citizens. For example, in section seven we find interesting requirements which arguably indicate the importance of schooling to the government of developing national conscious and national identity amongst its citizens:

“7.26 Schools shall hoist the national flag of Bhutan as per the laws of the Kingdom of Bhutan. (pp 6)             

7.27 All students shall attend academic sessions in national dress as a standard school uniform. (ibid)                                               

7.28 The National Anthem shall be sung during morning assembly sessions and on all formal school occasions.” (ibid)

These requirements are clearly designed to help build a sense of national identity and cohesion amongst the children in school. From my experience they are similar to practices in China where the government also expects schools to hoist the flag in assembly. It could be argued that these practices are one way by which a government is able to begin to control its citizenry through cultural indoctrination.

In section 9.1 “curriculum and pedagogy” we find further concerns with developing national identity amongst the school population:                                      

“Curriculum should also promote the country’s unique culture and tradition, values, while learning to participate actively in the process of building an educated, enlightened, and cohesive society.” (pp 8)

“9.1.1 The curriculum shall equip students with the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes based on Bhutanese values of Tha-Damtse Ley-Judrey, Zacha-Drosum, and Sampa- Semke.” (ibid)

This section of the policy highlights a key part of the national identity of the country is the speaking of Dzongka, the language of the dominant minority ethnic group. It is also implicit that the unique culture and tradition of Bhutan are Buddhist and do not include Hindu or Lhotshampa culture as these are not referenced in any part of the policy.

“9.1.3 Dzongkha as the national language shall be taught in all schools to ensure that all students acquire high proficiency.” (ibid)  

“9.1.4 English shall be the medium of instruction in schools. Efforts shall be made to ensure that all students acquire high proficiency in English, and continually improve the standard of English teaching and learning.” (ibid)

This approach of the government to its language education is interesting in a country with diverse languages and cultural groups. Nepali spoken by the Lhotshampa, is conspicuous by its absence. It could be argued that the elevation of Dzongka to the exclusion of other cultural languages helps to ensure that the dominant group remains politically dominant because those children who are already proficient in it when they start school are very likely to have a head start on children who will have to learn Dzongka and English before they can access the curriculum. Particularly in ECCD, prevention of children from learning in their mother tongue in school can hamper their academic progress (Taylor-Leech 2013). The language of this policy document leans heavily towards that of HCT. Throughout the policies we can read the language, both implicit and direct of HCT. The language of GNH is only explicitly referenced in the opening sections and one other location of the policy. GNH appears as a surface gloss. When we dig deeper into the policy we find much more focus on human resource development, making economically productive citizens who can participate as lifelong learners in the labour market. The lack of any space for other languages other than Dzongka, which is spoken by only around 20% of the population is one way, in which the vision of creating an education system that acts as a social equaliser and promotes happiness, is limited.


I began this essay aiming to examine the extent to which GNH, is incorporated into the national education policy of Bhutan. GNH is a key feature of the national identity of Bhutan, and of its branding to the global community. I have compared GNH to HCT as well as discussed some of the key features of three modern models of nationalism. When examining the National Education Policy of Bhutan 2019 through these lenses, it could be argued that the language written into the national education policy of Bhutan emphasizes the cultural features of the minority ruling group, the Ngalong. This is seen through the policy focus of Dzongka as the only local language taught in school. Moreover, it is implicit in the policy focus of the cultural values of “Tha-Damtse Ley-Judrey, Zacha-Drosum, and Sampa-Seme” which derive from monastic Buddhist teaching and eschew Hindu, Lhotshampa cultural values. Through the 1985 Act and census, the dominant minority has defined what it means to be Bhutanese, “othered” citizens who did not fit the cultural type-caste and remained silent on these events. By defining Bhutanese national identity solely through Buddhist principles and along Ngalong cultural lines the government control the national identity. And the rhetorical focus on GNH is part of this process. This is only surface deep in the education policy as the major emphasis of this document is producing economically productive citizens. The GNH rhetoric presents an inclusive nationalism (the development of human flourishing in all the people of Bhutan) but masks an exclusive ethno-religious nationalism that excludes anyone who does not fit the Ngalong model of being a Bhutanese citizen.

Elements of all three models of nationalism discussed in section three are present in Bhutan. The focus on the Dzongka language in the education policy reflects Anderson’s (2016) model of official nationalism, mirroring his argument made about the Thai monarchy. There are elements of an existential threat from China providing the impetus for development of the education system as discussed as a model by Green (1994). Finally, we have elements of Gellner’s (1999) argument that economic development will lead to nationalism as a society moves from agrarian to industrial. The adoption of GNH can be largely seen as symptomatic of this growing nationalism. I have argued here that this focus on GNH in the National Education Policy of Bhutan 2019 is only surface deep and hides a deeper focus on human capital growth for economic development.


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