Bhutan launches an inclusive National Education Assessment Framework

Tuesday 26 January 2021

The GPE grant to Bhutan is supporting the development of the country’s first National Education Assessment Framework.

Despite Bhutan successfully expanding access to education (the out-of-school rate decreased from 12.5% in 2010 to 8% in 2018) and the Net Enrolment Rate at primary level increased from 92.9% in 2018 to 96.5% in 2019, concerns about the quality of education remain.

The country is still striving towards having a robust assessment system to monitor the health and quality of the education system and provide timely feedback to key stakeholders. The capacity to undertake and utilize the findings of the national assessments is seen as one of the constraints for the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA).

Among the various learning assessments in Bhutan, enhancing the National Education Assessment (NEA), which has been administered irregularly since 2003, is considered a priority. The NEA can be a powerful tool to diagnose the health of the education system. From it, evidence-based policies can be derived and recommendations for improving teaching and learning processes can be made.

As of now, there is no policy framework that governs the NEA. The lack of such a framework has resulted in unclear linkages with other existing assessments and examinations in Bhutan, often causing misunderstanding of the NEA as another high-stake examination.

Acknowledging that the priority need was a policy framework to govern the NEA, the $2.5 million GPE grant to Bhutan supported the development of an inclusive framework. The grant will also support the implementation of the framework by supporting the BCSEA to conduct an NEA in grade 3 in 2021.

A new National Education Assessment Framework

The NEAF is the result of a collaborative and collective effort from several stakeholders. It has been developed after a series of consultations with teachers, principals, parents and education experts within Bhutan as well as with the technical support of the Australian Council for Educational Research (ACER) India.

The framework is aligned with the existing set of national policy documents and guidelines, strategic documents and research studies, as well as the national curriculum. The framework is guided by sound principles and best practices of large-scale assessments conducted by experienced global leaders such as the OECD, World Bank and ACER.

The key features of the NEAF are:

  • A clear description of the aims and objectives of the assessment, and a clear definition of the domain to be assessed.
  • Description of the types and proportion of knowledge, skills, values, and attitudes as well as learning outcomes.
  • Inclusion of 21st Century Competencies in the context of Nine Student Attributes
  • Contextual factors that correlate with students’ achievement
  •  Test design, including the item format, duration of the test, number of test booklets, number of items in each test booklet, and the number of linking items  within and across the grades.  
  •  Universal inclusion through appropriate accommodations for children with special education needs (CWDs).

Process of development, endorsement and launch

The NEAF development process entailed a thorough review of policies and strategic documents as well as the curriculum and textbooks from pre-primary to grade 10 for English, Dzongkha – the official language of Bhutan – Mathematics and Science. Based on this review, a wider group of subject experts selected measurable learning outcomes suitable for a large-scale assessment.

Initial drafts of the NEAF and Technical Standards were developed after a series of workshops. The BCSEA Technical Core Team and the National Core Review Team provided constructive feedback and inputs and facilitated the process of arriving at a concrete shape for the NEAF.

The NEAF was endorsed by the Board of Directors, BCSEA, in June 2019, after a series of consultations with relevant government agencies, development partners, and civil society organizations at different stages of development.  The framework was launched in mid-November by the Minister of Education.

During the implementation of the first cycle in 2021, only grade III students will be assessed, and reports will be generated accordingly. The results will be analyzed and disseminated following the standards and procedures set in the NEAF. Policy recommendations based on the results will also be developed and shared with the MoE as well as the key stakeholders.

In the subsequent cycles, grades VI and IX will also be assessed, thus successive reports will contain comparable information pertaining to the performance across the grades participating in an assessment cycle as well as across the assessment cycles. Monitoring of each cohort participating in assessment cycles across years shall be achieved using a set of techniques such as scale building, horizontal and vertical linking of test forms, and so on. This tracking of each cohort will enable reporting on the progression of student learning as a result of a new policy or intervention.

The complete National Education Assessment Framework (English version) can be downloaded from the BCSEA web portal.