Report of Bhutan’s National Education Assessment 2021 publishedResearch 17 Mar 2023 6 minute read
ACER India supported the development, implementation and reporting of Bhutan’s large-scale learning assessment for grade III students. The findings will support educational policy and practice.
The National Education Assessment (NEA) is a triennial, large-scale assessment programme conducted by the Bhutan Council for School Examinations and Assessment (BCSEA) at key stages of student learning − grades III, VI and IX. NEA evaluates the Bhutanese education system by assessing students’ ability to use knowledge, skills, values and attitudes related to core school subjects.
In 2018, the Australian Council for Educational Research, India (ACER India) began providing technical support to BCSEA to implement the NEA.
ACER India developed the National Education Assessment Framework in 2020, in collaboration with BCSEA, to ensure the NEA was consistent and reliable. The framework defined the key elements of NEA, including test grades, test domains, competencies and learning outcomes, contextual questionnaires, assessment guidelines for children with disabilities, assessment design and assessment cycles.
ACER India’s technical support continued throughout the implementation, analysis and reporting of NEA 2021 for grade III, the first NEA since the development of the new framework. It was conducted between November and December 2021, after a long project delay due to the COVID-19 pandemic. With the importance of foundational learning and the need to focus on students’ learning outcomes in the early years, the first step was to assess grade III students in Dzongkha reading, English reading and mathematical literacy.
One of the objectives of NEA 2021 was to set a minimum performance level for Bhutan’s grade III students in each test domain. Four different proficiency levels in Dzongkha reading and English reading, and five levels in mathematical literacy were established. Based on the results of NEA 2021, Level 2 was set as the minimum level of proficiency expected of students in grade III, and Level 1 was the lowest.
The NEA 2021 results provide meaningful insights into the education system in Bhutan.
School sector and location
There were clear performance gaps in English Reading and Mathematical Literacy between students from rural areas compared to urban areas, and students from private schools compared to public schools. Urban students outperformed their peers from rural schools and private school students performed better than their public school counterparts.
Socio-economic status and parental education
Results showed that socio-economic status affects student learning. Students from a higher-income household had better English Reading and Mathematical Literacy abilities than those from the lowest income group. In the same learning areas, students whose fathers had a college degree outperformed students whose fathers’ highest level of education was completion of high school or who had not completed their education.
Nationally, in Dzongkha Reading, 84% of students met the minimum proficiency level for grade III. In English Reading, 90% met the minimum level and in Mathematical Literacy, 93% of students met the minimum proficiency level for grade III. Bhutan had high proportions of students who met the minimum proficieny levels in English Reading and Mathematical Literacy, despite the obstructions caused by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Regression analysis showed significant gender differences in Reading Literacy, in Dzongkha and English. Girls outperformed boys in the two literacy tests, after controlling for all other variables. However, the difference between the achievement of girls and boys in Mathematical Literacy was not statistically significant.
Student responses to the NEA 2021 student questionnaire gave positive evaluations of their schools’ environment. Students agreed that teachers took care of sick students and reported that most of the essential facilities were available in their schools. It is encouraging to see that students reported that they felt happy and safe.
Students and teachers rated the availability of online classes more highly than the effectiveness of online learning. About 87% of students said they attended online classes, 91% of teachers reported that they conducted classes online during the lockdown, and 92% of principals said online classes were provided in their schools. On the other hand, 77% of students stated that they were able to learn from the online classes they had attended and 74% of teachers thought their students learned from the online classes they conducted.
The NEA will continue on a 3-year cycle and will expand in time to include assessment of grades VI and IX. Results from future cycles will allow trends in student performance to be monitored against the base established in NEA 2021.
The full report is available on the BCSEA website.