Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Values-less Education?

 is my teaching philosophy
I am back to Sherubtse, back to the classrooms and back to my students. I am into my third career – teaching. After my short stint last semester (we had earlier agreed that I would test the waters before committing for a longer period) I decided to come back and keep going for a while. 

My brief experience in education makes me conclude one thing: that the students (you can also read as today’s youth) still have the zeal for learning, success and fun. Of course, there are few exceptions as there were during my time.

This important first-hand observation supports my belief that the quality, or level, of education in Bhutan has not really gone down. Perhaps one could accept the argument that the system has not kept pace with changing times - in not being adequate to meet the present challenges or to fulfil future requirements. At best the responses have been reactive and rarely proactive. 

Besides, if quality of education has declined then our students studying abroad should flunk out of foreign universities, which obviously is not the case. Many have in fact come back with flying colours.

So then, where is the problem?

In my view, there are few vital things that are totally missing and which are necessary for people to get a meaning from their work, pursue their dreams and have fun along the way: Professional Values and motivations and inspirations. These shortcomings are primarily because of the way our education system is organised and financed. Classes are taken and teachers and students run, or rush, through the prescribed curriculum. There are no time or resources allocated for anything else besides the course work. And so people end up graduating like goods leaving a factory. 

Learning, in my view, should be much more than just completing the syllabus. For example, besides skills and knowledge, a media student should internalise the professional values that would make them great media persons - traits such as honesty, courage, commitment and thirst for information. Someone studying environment studies need to embrace conservation ethics, outdoor life, love for nature in every small way as students.

Instant hit: With his wits, humours and amazing 
stories, former environment minister and chief 
justice, Dasho Benji Dorji visited Sherubtse 
and became a darling of the students 
Values associated with one profession are also different from the values for another job. A police officer needs discipline, leadership and authority while a filmmaker has to be creative, flexible and easy-going. If someone were altruistic and generous he/she would make a great social worker and may be a good civil servant. These sets of values should be develop (or should be taught or inspired) when they are in schools and in colleges. If not, when? And vice-versa one needs to identify one’s strengths and weaknesses before choosing a career. Honestly, I have no idea where and when things started going wrong. What I do know is that we are producing a very flat society where people survive, and are OK to be floating, in mediocracy rather than swim towards excellence. I bet no one can differentiate between a science graduate and a literature student till they produce their certificates. 

Professional values are also very often missing from students who return from abroad. Irrespective of whether one has studied in Harvard or Hyderabad the same flat mentality pertains. I guess, that's obviously from the lack of foundations in schools here. 

Motivations and inspirations fire you towards your dream. They make you race towards your goals and ambitions. They give you meaning to your life, a feeling of purpose and a sense of direction. Rarely I find anyone who is really inspired or is motivated to do anything more than just to pass the exams, get a degree and find a job - preferably in the Civil Service. 

Should we blame the kids? Absolutely not. The fault is with us – educators, policy makers, parents* and adults for not taking enough time off to really ponder, and accept some honest feedbacks, on what education is really all about. And allocate adequate resources towards achieving the much-hyped wholesome education. 

Talking of resources, there are NO shortages of resources in Bhutan by the way. What is not there is a real and serious shortage of resourcefulness and the sense of setting priorities. 

The learning environment does not inspire either. Whether you are studying environment studies, media, culture or history, you are taught in the same classroom, which are cold and eco-unfriendly, to say the least. The fact is, physical space matters. Otherwise why do we build gonpas and retreats high up in the mountains. Our monks can as well meditate in the middle of Phuntsoling instead of being in Paro Taktsang. I wish instead of building Dzongs that do no emanate any spirituality, we build educational dzongs to make learning more inspirational.

There has been one serious decline though - in the other types of values:  human values as in respects for elders, discipline and self-respect and virtues of handwork, diligence and patience. In short, attributes that make us good human beings and responsible citizens.

The forerunners: Top media partitioners in the 
country led by veteran journalist, Dasho Kinley
 Dorji (Secretary of Information) joined the 
students on the World Press Freedom Day
So then, what am I doing since I am also a part of the system now? Well, I try to play my part well. 

First and foremost, I encourage my students to learn to think rather than learn only what to do. Learning how to think will make you a leader. Learning only what to do will make you a disciple. I teach the importance of asking questions. History has been made by people who asked the right questions not by people who gave the right answers. I also encourage students to introspect. 
One favourite question I pose to students, and also make them write essays on, is on the topic, why am I here? 

I also try to make learning more interactive. We organize and encourage more field trips and outdoor classes. There is no point learning theories of communications and not know how to write a lead.

I invite people** to guest lecture here in Kanglung so that they can tell their stories and inspire - and teach some values and also what it takes to do something worthwhile in life. 

There is also a budding film and music culture here where different groups of students organise on their own and try out their creativity and imagination - again two things missing in our school and colleges. We are formalising these initiatives into a society for film, music and drama with annual festivals, competitions and awards.

Lastly, I try emanating passion in my work because an unmotivated teacher cannot produce motivated students (which actually is the main problem of our education system). 

It isn’t an easy ride though, but things have started moving, which gives me hope and optimism and reasons to smile. May be in some years down the line we will not only see qualified graduates but also few highly motivated, passionate and productive citizens who can take this country firmly into the future.

Learning to share: Encouraging community and comradeship over competition

Open class: Field trip to visit and to write about and make radio 
programs on Rigsum Gonpa, Chorten Kora and Gomo Kora
Role reversal: At times students take on the stage and teachers listen 
Learning by doing: Media students interviewing His Eminence Gyalwa Dokhampa (aka Khamtrul Rimpoche)
Potluck & Bonfire: All innovative ways of learning are explored - including 
bonfire talks and potluck dinners (students cook whatever they have and we share)

More than half of students pursuing media studies were sent against their choice by the
   parents and guardians. And a large number of students majoring in other fields actually
   wanted to study media and journalism.

** List of people who have delivered guest lectures and talks to media students:

(in order of appearance in Sherubtse as of May 2014)

1.   Dawa Penjore, Executive Director, Bhutan Media Foundation
2.   Needup Zangpo, Executive Editor, Bhutan Observer
3.   Kesang Dema, Chief of Bureau, Kuensel (newspaper)
4.   Dr. Yoshiro Imaeda, Visiting professor, Research Institute of Languages and Cultures of
      Asia and Africa, Tokyo University of Foreign Studies, Japan
5.   Namgay Zam, Freelance journalist (formerly with BBS)
6.   Rinzin Wangchuk, Editor (Dzongkha), Kuensel
7.   Pema Rinzin, Filmmaker-Sound Designer (formerly with BBS)
8.   Dasho Paljor J Dorji (Benji), Chief Advisor, National Environment Commission
9.   Dr. Daniel Cordaro, Professor, University of California, Berkeley, US
10. Jigme Drukpa, Singer - Ethnomusicologist
11. Dawa Peljor (Ap Dawpel), Traditional Singer (Druk Thuksey - Bhutan's highest civilian medal) 
12. Dasho Kinley Dorji, Secretary, Ministry of Information & Communications
13. Ugyen Penjore, Managing Editor, Kuensel
14. Dawa, Senior Producer - Anchor, BBS
15. Dr. Francoise Pommaret, Research director, National Centre for Scientific Research
      (CNRS), France and Adjunct Professor, Institute of Language & Cultural Studies, Taktse


Views and opinions expressed here are personal and may not necessarily reflect that of the College or of the Royal University