Some four and half decades ago, a team of officials headed by Lopen Nado, a very renowned Bhutanese scholar came visiting our ancestral village. They were on tour of villages picking boys to study in schools. My grandmother hid my father, who was then a very young boy, inside a big bamboo container where they usually stored maize grains. However, Lopen Nado and his team found my father and got him enrolled in the school. My grandmother appealed to the team that there was no one to look after the cattle if they took away my father. She also tried bribing the team with some locally brewed alcohol, butter and cheese but to no avail. Finally, she had to let go of her son to school.
Sending my father to school was taxing for my grandparents as they had no one to look after the cattle in the first place and secondly, they had to reach food supply to school very often. And during those days, the road was under construction and there were hardly any car on the road. My grandfather used to walk about hundred kilometers to my father’s school to reach the food supply and then come back home. He complained a lot but there was nothing he could do about it. After having failed few times in the first grade, my father was able to complete class nine. Soon after, he was recruited into one of the Government Departments with some training. After that, he was transferred to a place called Sarpang. He started his life as a working man here and earned about Nu. 200 per month. After being employed, he went to meet my grandparents. He had saved enough to buy gifts for the relatives and family. Everyone was overjoyed. Most of the village people were envious of the dress my father wore and they would ask questions about the kind of life in the town. In fact, my father and few hundred others were among the earliest batches of students educated in modern schools in Bhutan. Those were difficult days for everyone. It was difficult for the authorities to convince the parents to send their children to school. So they had to resort to harsher measures of threatening the parents that they would be sent to prison or would be taxed heavily if they didn’t heed to them. In the school, my father and his friends were exposed to harsher world. They were required to learn foreign languages in the first place. The teachers were not very friendly either. Children were required to bring firewood, water and even vegetables for the teachers. And despite all hardships, they were often exposed to corporal punishments. In the night, they studied with the help of wood raisin. They used smoke soot for ink and sharpened bamboo stick for pen. Shoes were luxury that their parents could not afford and even if they could, there weren’t any around. The nearest market was Gu Dama, which was five days walk from my village. It was a border town near Assam.
During winter breaks, my father accompanied grandfather to Gu Dama. Here, they bartered oranges with yarns and vegetable dyes, cloth pieces and other household things. When they returned from Gu Dama, the border town, they were not allowed to enter their house directly because of fear of having brought malaria from warmer places which was a dreaded disease then. They were required to stay in the barns near the house for about a week. The families brought the food and kept at the barn door. Only after a week when those traveler(s) to Gu Dama did not show any symptom of malaria, were they allowed to enter the house. Or else, one was required to leave the village and go elsewhere. Otherwise the whole village condemned the family and blamed the household in case of any natural calamity. It was a survival tactic. Fortunately, my father’s family did not have to go through such social pressure.
Some 15 years later, it was my turn. The difference between my father’s time and mine was that, I had to be coaxed, threatened or dragged to school by my parents and others. School was not a nice place to be as they are today. As a restless but weaker student, I was subject to a fair share of stick judgment. Stick came in many brands; it could be treated cane, big bamboos, smelly Artemisia and thin weeping willow branches. I really don’t know how weeping willow got its name but I did weep quite a number of times. Well, I had accepted it as a part of school life. But when I graduated, I had some choices in the job world and I decided to join the corporate world.
Now its my son’s turn. Like me, he has to be coaxed too but now he has to join the race with thousand others within the classroom and outside of his school. In fact, even within the classroom, he has to compete to find space among the crowd. He has to compete among equals and unequals. When I went to school, at least I had some shoes to put on and some clothes to wear.
Over four decades, everything changed in the way education was delivered to children and the way the fruit of education are reaped by succeeding generations. I believe that we are able to realize through haze and through struggle, through eyes and experiences of many people and also having attained some height in education system what is wrong with our Bhutanese education system. Today, we are able to discuss and debate on the quality of education. Interestingly, many ideas and opinions has emerged.
Personally, I have always felt that there are many facet of education system. One such thing relates to material aspect which helps us to get job but education, unlike my time should teach us to think so that we will have knowledge and understanding. Only when we learn to think will we be able to know the differences between things that are worth thinking about and those not worthy ones and as a result, we will be able to put value to our lives. Thinking allow us to build our own sense of judgment which will give us reasonable place within the society because we are not concerned with trivial issues. Only when we have education are we able to understand other’s problem and also earn peace of mind when circumstances try us. Under pressure, educated people are able to cope with the situation and therefore, they are less distressed. This in turn contributes to building an individual’s capacity and understanding and also create ideals to follow.
Education also means exploring alternatives, finding better ways to do things and do better things better ways. Education helps us make decision that would contribute to individual happiness and when many individuals are happy, the community is happy and thereby the society is happy. When society is happy, we achieve what is Gross National Happiness, the country’s ideal. Isn’t that lovely?
All the natural resources, hydro power, forests and minerals would be meaningless without education and creativity of people. Bhutanese today need all the education and creativity because society is fast changing. Having to work for National Pension and Provident Fund where my organization provides education loan scheme to the members, I have come face to face with many parents who sacrifice major portion of their monthly salary just to see that their children complete at least college education. However, on the other hand, I was shocked to see many children, who go to study outside Bhutan indulge in things that their parents, family and the society wouldn’t have liked or could have afforded. Parents and families become forever indebted to the financial institutes but young people do not realize it.
Today, we live in constant crisis everyday at home or outside. At home, we come face to face with drunkard father, nagging mother, drug addicted brother and when we go outside, we see the same problem portrayed in someone’s family too. This is the reason why we need education. When we understand these, knowledge turns into wisdom.
We do not know what future has in store for us or our children because changes brought in by technology, medical sciences, night life culture, shrinking population brings in new challenges. Some two decades ago, we were worried about increasing population but I guess reverse is happening now. Some ten years ago, it was enough to graduate but now children are required to be a specialist in whatever profession they choose.
Therefore, we are saying that education has to be useful. Reading Gaser Laglen in School was really boring for me because I had to memorize it. That’s why I never did well in Dzongkha. Of course now when I recall the lines from it, it provides me immense wealth of wisdom but if only it was delivered in interesting way at right age.
Only when we are able to create ideas, provide possible solution to the problem, feed critical information, correlate it and make better judgment then can one be called an educated person. Finally when we are educated person, we know where we are now and where we are going and give us enough commitment, inspiration and energy to work towards our ideals at all times
When I was young, I used to wonder how so many songs came out of small box which my father called it radio. My father used to tell me that there were many small finger sized people who sang and danced inside the radio. My next question was, what did they eat? Obviously battery I guess because I saw my father buying new batteries when the old ones didn’t work. Then in high school, I was taught about wave lengths and radio waves. I still don’t know how radio works but I know that people in the street sell Sonny radio for Sony.
Many children during my father’s time and my time didn’t have any or extensive formal education but many learnt while they were at work. It is encouraging to see many people go to evening classes today.
Today, we are no longer required to be a farmer as our grandparents used to be. There are many attractive professions , businesses ventures and crafts that we never heard of when we went to school or college. How many of us would have imagined that mobile phones would be part of our lives? How many of us would have imagined that we would be involved in stock brokerage or become free lance legal service providers?
We have so much to learn even from mere insect like ant. It has not only got skills to find its food but also the principles of finding the food at right place and find right direction back home. Therefore, education without principles, would only lead us from one problem to another and not help us find our way through the uncertainty of tomorrow.
Learning a trade in vocational school is not enough. One also need to know what one wants to be in the long run. Learning trade helps direct hands and fingers but one need to advance higher and that’s when we need brain to think.
When one goes to university, one is required to acquire new knowledge and condition our mind to think. Education reduces the barriers that was known in the past and find new solution to the problems that are emerging. Education therefore let us travel beyond mere fact gathering. In fact, it helps us handle the information and provide better view.
What Bhutan need today is a blend of technical and academic education which combines the general education with the specific and the cultural with the practical. Today, we are talking of mobile society. Children are competing to get job not only in Bhutan but across the world. Therefore, the demand for miscellaneous kind of education has crept in.
Learning from the experiences of thousands of children, there is a need to make education interesting so that it will not end with school days. The school curriculum should be built in such a way that those children studying till class X or XII are able to get some sense of accomplishment when they leave school.
No matter what we do with methods and curricula, the entire success of education depends mostly upon the teacher. Bhutanese teachers do have high ability of delivering the product, it is just that they should be well compensated with incentives because high level of professional skill are required for teaching profession.
Everything that progresses takes time and education too, will move forward slowly, catering to the needs of the time but the most important thing to learn at this moment is to learn from the mistakes and correct as we progress.