UPSC MAINS 2019: Lessons from Bhutan

Lessons from Bhutan

Topic: Lessons from Bhutan

Topic in Syllabus: GS Paper 2: International Affairs


IntroductionLessons from Bhutan

  • Bhutan has recently announced a policy wherein Bhutan’s teachers, doctors and other medical staff will earn more than civil servants of corresponding grades.
  • This is a novel move as no other country has accorded teachers and doctors such pride of place in its government service, both in terms of remuneration and symbolism.


About the policy

  • The policy’s has been referred in Bhutan’s 12th Five Year Plan (2018-23), published by its Gross National Happiness Commission, the country’s highest policy-making body.
  • The commission’s strategy is to achieve desired national outcomes through education. The strategy opens with the notation, “making teaching a profession of choice”. Therefore the proposal aims to achieve the country’s human developmental objectives.
  • The decision also comes in the wake of high levels of teacher attrition. Clearly, the government has formulated the policy to put a stop to such fall in numbers of teachers.



  • As per The Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development’s (OECD) Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) there is distinct correlation between student outcomes in a country and the status that its teachers enjoy. 
  • Further already Bhutan spends about 7.5% of its GDP on education. The fiscal implications of the new salary structure are unclear now.
  • OECD’s ‘Education at a Glance 2018’ report says that, “The quality of education can be a strong predictor of a country’s economic prosperity”.


Can India afford a similar policy?

  • India currently spends about 3% of its GDP on education, accounting for about 10% of the Centre’s and States’ budgetary expenses and salaries of teachers and other staff constitute a large portion of this expenditure.
  • The NITI Aayog in its report last year recommended that India raise this to 6% of GDP by 2022.
  • Paying teachers significantly higher salaries may seem like a difficult task, but the Central and State governments could consider rationalising both teacher recruitment and allocation of funds to existing programmes.
  • Some programmes may have outlived their purpose, while others could be better directed. In fact, improving accountability in the system could lead to reduction in cost.
  • A World Bank study found that teacher absenteeism in India was nearly 24%, which costs the country about $1.5 billion annually.
  • Absenteeism could be the result of many factors, including teachers taking up a second job or farming to boost incomes, providing parental or nursing care in the absence of support systems, or lacking motivation.
  • Hence, the incentive of a desirable income with strong accountability, can help mitigate many ills that plague the system, free fiscal space and help meet important national developmental objectives.
  • Further, implementing a policy may be easier in a smaller State such as Delhi.
  • Education is a key focus area for the Delhi government; the State invests 26% of its annual budget in the sector (much more than the national average). 
  • The administration has also worked on improving teacher motivation as a strategy for better educational outcomes. The base has been set. 
  • Moreover, since the State is highly urban and well-connected, it would be easier to enforce accountability measures.



  • No investment that enables an educated, healthy, responsible and happy community can be deemed too high by any society.
  • Improving teacher status by offering top notch salaries to attract the best to the profession could be that revolutionary policy-step forward, which Bhutan has shown a willingness to take.


Sample question:

The quality of education can be a strong predictor of a country’s economic prosperity. Substantiate.

Lessons from Bhutan - Info graphic