Measuring Success

In so much as trying to explain a teacher in Bhutan, one must first try and understand the cultural construct in which this profession took root and from whence we haven’t been able to discard the linear interpretation of that profession.

Yet, when a nation needed to move forward, it was the teachers. Without the zealous loyalty and belief in the government by these groups of people, it would have been difficult altogether to crawl, let alone walk. Initiating a new wheel of learning and schooling, per se, would have required dedicated citizens to believe that wheel was taking them someplace better.

Talk to any educated person, from the erstwhile environs of rural life with an understanding that education was the red robes of the monastic body, and you will receive varying stories and impressions of bittersweet- stories of many strange men on horseback, claiming to be government teachers and looking for students to take along for ‘modern’ education; some parents were strong enough to believe that there is a better life which the government was offering for their children, and then of course, there were those who hid theirs behind barns, under hay or on rooftops. From these stories you can begin to take impression of what a teacher’s job consisted back then; for a nation that needed to teach, it also needed learners. The provincial mindset of a rural population must have needed much convincing, knowing too well that suspicion are rampant in ignorance.

The dedication of a young ‘modern’ nation can be traced in the provision of basic necessities to every student willing or willed to study; from toothpaste & brush, bedding, hostel and food. I also like to believe they were directly exposed to a well established system and holistic approach of learning. India as the only development partner provided a replica of their education system as well as their wealth of both native and foreign teachers, besides admission of Bhutanese students in their schools.

Back home, the many Jesuit nuns and fathers in the country were given the responsibility to shape and nurture the young Bhutanese minds. Most obviously, their responsibility always laid in guiding the few local teachers. The education system was holistic as it focused on not just books, but on activities like gardening, crocheting, baking, knitting, singing, housekeeping, games, music etc. Most of our country’s erstwhile students were not necessarily young, considering some of them were teenagers when they enrolled. Yet, they were given wholesome education to understand their own talents. Trying to teach a new form of art in a foreign language must have been a task; like teaching a young child, but without much the capacity to absorb as easily.

Through conversations one understands a hostel student’s day was scheduled to include these various activities of learning, and they were also given the task of taking care of the younger students. Most students then were boarders, as parents did not have the capacity to provide for or were generally far away. Every aspect of growth was the responsibility of teachers and the school administration. For the right reasons, teachers and the job as a profession were viewed with a great deal of respect among the population. Culturally, these groups were responsible for sowing seeds that are still taking roots. As imparters of knowledge, they had begun the process of learning in the country.

However, as the civil service base expanded, and came due importance to other forms of profession and employment, the educators were sidelined. Teachers on horsebacks were stories of the past. Perhaps, there is a need for us to understand the slow but steady sidelining of this profession.

As the Indian teachers slowly filed their way back to India, there was an increase of educated Bhutanese who took over the profession. As policies towards larger employment and training home grown teachers were initiated, it became an easier profession to choose. But when anything is made any easier than it was, it provides for laxity towards it.

As the laxity grew, so did the boundaries of the profession. It may not necessarily be the first choice for any graduate, at any level, and yet, the job requires for a kind of dedication an impassioned individual can only have towards a chosen ambition. Besides try and mold their teaching skills to the newest system introduced and of course, impart their knowledge to the students, they are also required to deal with several forms of life skills and advocacy programs.

Development policies are generally required to be implemented and considering the teachers are the main link to society, they are overburdened and made responsible for various initiatives of many ministries. There is always one or the other introduction and up-gradation program happening within the country and educators are invariably required to be part of the program: why? Because they are important to society. Teachers by virtue of their profession are connected through the students to their parents, who make up the community and of course, the students are the future of the nation.

Then why is there condescension toward the profession in our society?

Especially, now when the responsibility of a teacher is far greater; with several more lesson plans to be pre-produced, theories to be tested out before lecture, and the global trend of adolescence hitting Bhutan. The subsequent global policies on protection which are required to be inculcated in the system, gives way to unchartered territory for students as well as teachers. Don’t get me wrong; protection for both the students and teachers are necessary, but considering the mindset of Bhutanese people, this has created inhibition amongst the educators. I don’t condone capital punishment, nor is it right for a student to use any form of reprimand as grounds for complaints against the school management, without proper assessment.

Add on further responsibilities of being members to several clubs, committees, sub-committees, et al, which focuses to bring about wholesome education, and a teacher is exhausted come dusk.

In trying to bring about wholesome education, there is a need to recognize whether the same teachers were brought up with the same form of education. How should this work? Should knowledge and systemic approach work or should there be an innate capacity to recognize these nuances in educating also taken into consideration? How does the mindset of a teacher, brought under the old system of education try and deal with students with attitude? Is it always as easy as prescribed?

As educators in this new age world of information, the job of teaching just doesn’t stop with the text book. In a sense, a teacher, by profession has to be aware to different changes taking place. I believe the biggest problem is the change in attitude; not just within the profession, but with the students. The ‘cockiness’ is bound to have existed, but it’s become more pronounced. Who do we place the blame on for this trend taking place all over the country, and more so in the urban areas?

Are teachers really required to do so much? Or should we call upon our community to be involved? Why should prevention exercise happen only at school, and not also at home? When I began this article, I talked about the linear understanding of the profession. In linear, I meant as the least attractive job, mostly defined by a monotonous schedule of having to teach every single day, and having to deal with students.

Yet, there is no linear in their responsibilities, and there never has been. In the olden days, teachers were responsible for the curriculum and also the life and growth of students, since most of their lives were spent in boarding schools.

In this day and age, we still demand the same, when every other thing has changed around us. In trying to explore the responsibilities of a teacher, we might want to explore the responsibilities of parents, community, society and the students as well? Are we making our jobs easier by putting everything onto the teachers? What does that say about the parenting trends of the country or the acceptance of our society to such trends?

We may have to try and re-evaluate our education system vis-à-vis trends in society, familial ties and the responsibility of the government towards these disturbing, yet emerging trends.

“A teacher’s reach cannot be measured or fathom”, and yet, we serve as tangible proof towards a profession imbued in a dedication to pass down our knowledge and wisdom.

We should at least try and find ways to bring to light the journey towards modern education began under humble circumstances and was brought about by common people. Perhaps then, all those nasty, uncalled for comments may subside to bring glory back to the profession. We should let the assumption of regression subside and aim for wholesome community ingrained progress.

* Article for DRUKPA magazine, March Edition 2011.


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