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Until the 1950s, except for a few private schools, the only education available to the people of Bhutan was through Buddhist monasteries. Even then, the first secular schools were private and established without public support.

In the 1950s, several secular schools were established through private means, and without tax funding. Not long after, others were opened in some of Bhutan's largest towns with government funding. By 1960, there were fifty-nine primary schools in Bhutan, including thirty private and twenty-nine government-sponsored schools, but the total enrollment was only 2,500. Students who wanted to continue to secondary education had to cross the border into India.

The early private schools were taken over by the government during the 1960s and, while some of the rural schools were closed due to low enrollment, there were one hundred and eight primary schools in Bhutan by 1966, enrolling 15,000 students in primary education.

A director of education was appointed by the government in 1961, and a five-year education plan was developed, in which children would grades one through five, after one year of preschool at the age of four. Students who completed the five-year primary school could continue to grades six, seven, and eight at the junior high school level, then to high school for grades nine, ten, and eleven, similar to many Western educational programs.

The newly created Department of Education would administer a national examination to determine promotion from one level of education to the next. The Department of Education also produced government school textbooks, prepared course syllabi, and provided teacher training, arranged for students to study abroad, organized academic and athletic tournaments between schools, solicited foreign assistance for its educational programs, and was responsible for recruiting qualified teachers.

The core curriculum for the government schools included mathematics, English, and Dzongkha. Although English was the language of instruction, Dzongkha was also a required subject. Until 1989, Nepali was required in South Bhutan. Other subjects taught in the public schools included biology, chemistry, geography, history, physics, religion, and science. Practical skills, such as agriculture, animal husbandry, and forestry were also taught.

By the late 1980s, Bhutan had one hundred and fifty elementary schools, twenty-one junior high schools, and nine high schools, as well as some technical, vocational, and special schools. Education was still not compulsory, and only about 25% of primary-age children, 8% of junior-high-age, and 3% of high-school-age children were enrolled. In the early 1990s, Bhutan's literacy rate was 30% for men and 10% for women. By 2015, it had risen to an overall literacy rate of almost 60%.

Given the distances that many students would have to travel, and the mountainous terrain, some primary schools and all of Bhutan's junior high and high schools were boarding schools. The government paid most of the expenses, with some schools even providing clothing.

In 1972, Royal Bhutan Polytechnic, now operating as Jigme Namgyel Engineering College, was established to provide for higher education. Kharbandi Technical School also opened in the 1970s, largely through United Nations funding. Sherubtse College was founded in 1983 as a degree-granting college associated with the University of Delhi, also with UN assistance.

In 1990, the Bhutan government secured a $7.13 million loan from the Asian Development Bank to fund a major expansion of Royal Bhutan Polytechnic.

Currently, Bhutan has both private and public schools at all levels of education.



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