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NEQMAP Capacity Development Workshop in Bhutan

The Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP) Secretariat at UNESCO Bangkok, in collaboration with the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA), a NEQMAP member institution, successfully organized a capacity development workshop from 25-27 April 2016 in Paro, Bhutan. The workshop, which focused on “Student Learning Assessment and International Monitoring of Student Performance”, was attended by representatives from the Ministry of Education, BCSEA, Royal Education Council as well as selected schools. This three-day workshop was supported by the Global Partnership for Education (GPE) and facilitated by Dr. Jim Tognolini, Senior Vice President of Research and Assessment Unit of Pearson Assessment Centre, under a Project Agreement between UNESCO Bangkok and Pearson.

Beyond its capacity development efforts at the regional level, NEQMAP offers technical support to a selected number of countries and institutions upon request and need in the area of learning assessment. The workshop in Paro was organized in response to such a request which came from BCSEA, an independent government institution responsible for the implementation of national examinations as well as assessments in Bhutan. Mr. Tenzin Dorji, Secretary of BCSEA, pointed out the lack of specialized human resources in the area of learning assessment and the limited number of researchers in this area as some of the challenges encountered by the institution, which became autonomous just a few years ago. Given this context, Mr. Dorji noted his appreciation for the relevance and appropriateness of this workshop.

The workshop provided an opportunity for the participants to enhance and deepen their knowledge and understanding on different aspects of learning assessments, starting from an introduction to modern assessment theory to the design and development of quality assessment items as well as background questionnaires. In addition, the practical sessions of the workshop touched upon various issues and questions raised by the participants including the complexity of developing competency-based assessment. As noted by some BCSEA officials: “National assessments in Bhutan are too narrow and aren’t aligned to learning standards/ outcomes/ competencies and as a result they provide little information that the schools and teachers can use to improve the teaching and learning process. There has been much criticism expressed that the assessment system has only enabled Bhutanese students to reproduce content knowledge but has not helped the students to attain the desired competencies. Thus there is an urgent need to make assessment more reliable, dynamic and more holistic in order to cater to the needs of 21st century learners.”

The workshop also shed light on different types of international large-scale learning assessments and other assessment initiatives such as TIMSS, PISA, PIRLS, EGRA and ASER. In groups, the participants had to discuss and reflect on the strengths and weaknesses of each assessment programme and their possible implication and relevance to the Bhutanese education system. This exercise was particularly useful, relevant and timely as the government of Bhutan has been thinking about joining large-scale assessment programmes including PISA or TIMSS in the future.  According to BCSEA officials, participation in such international assessments will help them “to understand where Bhutanese students stand at global scale in terms of their performance and also to review, evaluate and monitor the present education system of Bhutan and to set the benchmark/ baseline and standards on education for the country.”

Overall, the workshop received very positive feedback from the participants. They found the workshop highly useful and relevant to their work and noted that its content was consistent with the announced objectives. The feedback on each session demonstrated that all the sessions were successful in providing informative and useful knowledge to the audience. Dr. Tognolini’s enthusiasm, expertise and efficient presentation style were particularly highlighted and appreciated by all.

This workshop was the fruition of the close collaboration which BCSEA has maintained with NEQMAP since it joined the network in 2014. Mr. Tenzin Dorji summed up this collaboration in saying that:  “Since BCSEA joined NEQMAP, it has benefitted to a large extent in terms of human resource capacity development and maintaining strong linkages with other assessment systems around the globe. We view it as a very positive and affirmative development in the history of BCSEA.” As a regional network, NEQMAP will continue to provide targeted technical support to its member institutions such as BCSEA and selected UNESCO Member States of the region in the future.

For more information, please contact Ramya Vivekanandan [r.vivekanandan(at)] at the Section for Inclusive Quality Education.

Written by Tserennadmid Nyamkhuu [t.nyamkhuu(at)]

Related Links:
• NEQMAP Capacity Development Workshop
• Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment, BCSEA 
• Network on Education Quality Monitoring in the Asia-Pacific (NEQMAP)