Education? Know thy needs well

Three things worth considering in education.

In light of the current discussion (or re-discussion) on education – or reforms, curriculum overhauls, needs assessments, blueprints, master plans, parliamentary reviews – or whatever you may call it, here are my thoughts on the topic – having been deep in this field for a couple of years now.

  1. Know thy needs well – Do we really know what we need? Or at least what we want? One of the experiences from my travels is that when I don’t know what I need, I tend to over pack. It happened many times. You don’t know what you need. So fear overtakes you. Instead, when I came to Macau, although I was coming for an extended stay, I just had one medium-size
    “What is education?” asks Prof. Ni of City University of Hong Kong. They don’t seem to know and they keep looking for it. Hong Kong has world’s best. But in Bhutan everyone claims to have the “answer”. That maybe the tragedy.

    suitcase with a 20-piece clothing. It is because I have been here before and I knew what I needed. My serious doubt with our education system is that we really don’t know what we want – let alone know what we need. So we are over packing our curriculum with things that we may never use or with things that someone told us were necessary. It is better to teach less, and teach well, than to pump in contents and concepts that students will never grasp (which is actually the case) or would ever use. One visiting British maths teacher once told me, after going through our Class 9 text books, that she taught those stuff in Class XI in UK. Are we trying to beat the British?

    We saw NAPE being discarded, Shakespeare being thrown out – and then reinstated, REC being pushed around, CAPSS being transferred, relocated and renamed – and all the while trying to figure out if multi-grade classrooms were good or bad.

  2. Motivating the teachers – Many talks and discussions on education end up, as a cliché goes, as old wine in new bottle. Over the years we have seen master
    Teachers in remote schools live in houses such as these. Not very inviting to be a teacher.

    plans being developed, policies being framed and reframed, curriculum overhauls being done, studies being conducted, surveys being carried out, blue prints being initiated. So much so that now there are no terminologies left to title any new initiatives or documents. However, all along we have also refused to take the bull by the horn – teachers’ motivation and quality. As long as teachers are treated at par with 9-to-5 civil servants, everyone will opt for the 9-to-5 life. And the longer we stay in that state of denial, the longer the top performers will continue to shy away from the noble profession – and nothing much will improve in our education system. We might get some temporary sparks but not long term solutions because whatever visions we have, plans we pursue or dreams we would like to achieve, ultimately it is the teachers who have to deliver the knowledge to students. A simple logic says good curriculum taught by bad or demotivated teachers will result in bad students. But a bad curriculum if given to a good teacher might produced good students. Ideally we should have an equation of good curriculum and good teachers.

    How to motivate the teachers? We could we start by building teachers’ quarters and by providing higher financial incentives – instead of erecting ceremonial gates and walls. His Majesty the Fourth King, whom we all boast as role model but only a few emulate, used to provide technical allowance to engineers (I was one) and one grade higher in civil service to doctors to entice Bhutanese students to take up these challenging professions. So all the toppers of my generation opted for medicines or engineering. Why is it so difficult to copy-paste that policy on the teaching profession, if getting good teachers is a challenge?

  3. Nothing wrong with our students – We, Bhutanese (my generation especially), think very low of our young people. We either underestimate them or suppress them – or both. We making sweeping statements like, ‘our children are spoilt’, ‘boys are criminals’, ‘girls are irresponsible’ and above all, students are dumb. They don’t know anything. Well, having moved from Sherubtse to Royal Thimphu College to University of Macau (that has top students from mainland China and many international students), I must proudly say that
    A radio documentary by two of my students in Sherubtse picked up an international award in China in 2014. But it went unnoticed (photo – with the organisers). One of the students couldn’t even get a job in Bhutan.

    Bhutanese students are, by any measure, no less. I have read, assessed and graded test papers and assignments here and back home. I feel proud of what I actually used to read – especially in Sherubtse. An expatriate colleague who now works in the American University in UAE confirms this too. Given the right conditions our students can perform at par with anyone – and will make our country proud and a better place. In fact, one Australian diplomat once told me (and this was also echoed by a Dutch professor) that they were very happy with Bhutanese whom they considered as top performers, hardworking, rarely creating problems and heading home when they are done with their studies.


    I have also written on the same issue many years back. On my previous blog.

5 thoughts on “Education? Know thy needs well

  1. Teaching has to be creative ,fun and engaging or else the students are physically there but are spaced out in planet Mars or somewhere.i think technology can empower young learners as I’ve done simple documentaries and creative short films as an avenue of self expression for the youths.But I’m still learning on how to give a fair grading system as such projects are very subjective unlike scientific projects.I believe that educational projects should teach EQ and not only IQ but my biggest dilemma is figuring out how to evaluate fairly.Any ideas?


  2. Chhimi Dorji

    I fully agree. One of the many causes of overload of curriculum is that everyone outside the teaching profession wants their subject included in the curriculum without commensurate time and teachers. Over the years that I followed the education reforms there were increased in the content of subjects. Ones that come to my mind are value education, environmental science, GNH, agriculture, health and may be more. Yet the teachers remained same, teaching time same or reduced.
    I opined more than once that we could do well if we focus on three subjects- English, Maths and Dzongkha till class 8. This way we will have highly professional teachers and children get to learn in-depth these subjects which are foundation to all the future subjects.


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