Examining exams

Need testing

Earlier this year, when the education ministry announced that they were thinking about doing away with written examinations for students of PP to Class III, I asked if phasing out the exams was a good idea.

41% of you said YES, exams should be discontinued for Classes PP to III. But 56% of you said NO, written exams should not be discontinued. The rest said that they were not sure.

Thank you for taking the poll.

The idea of doing away with examinations was first mooted at a GNH for Education conference. The education ministry considered the proposal, but seem to have dropped it after concluding that, at this time, our schools do not have a suitable alternative to assessing student performance.

I agree. That, plus removing examinations from our classrooms sounds uncannily like NAPE  (new approach to primary education), another modern idea that our schools and teachers were not adequately equipped to implement.

No exams?

The education ministry is reportedly considering doing away with written examinations for students of PP to Class III.

Please take the poll asking if phasing out exams for PP to Class III is a good idea. And please share your thoughts on this important issue.

Bhutan by Bhutanese

Learning to express

“Bhutan by Bhutanese” a photo-exhibition by students of the Bhutan Institute of Media is being hosted by the city of Baar in Switzerland. The exhibition, which will continue for the next three weeks, was innaugurated on the 29th of January.

The banner features a photograph by Dorji Yuden, a student at BIM. I’ve uploaded a few more photos in the Gallery.

Excerpts of my speech during the innauguration follow:

We are gathered together as friends – friends of Bhutan. Some of you have visited my country. Some of you have worked there.

But  all of you – whether you’ve been to Bhutan or not – all of you would have some impressions about Bhutan.

Think about those impressions. What images come to your mind? What is the story of Bhutan?

  • The mighty Himalayas, the world’s tallest mountains – gigantic, awesome, magical
  • Pristine forests, glacial lakes, clear rivers
  • Monks, monasteries and mask dances
  • Fortresses (we call them Dzongs) – fortresses, farmhouses and lush paddy fields.
  • Prayer flags
  • People in colorful attire, sporting short hair, warm smiles, and an insatiable appetite for ema-datshi, a hot, spicy dish prepared from chili and cheese.
  • Benevolent kings. Kings who are loved – genuinely and deeply loved by their people. A king who abdicated his powers and resigned his throne … voluntarily. A king who started democracy … forcefully and against the very will of his people.
  • Gross National Happiness. A development philosophy that the world is talking about.

This story of Bhutan – medieval, magical, romantic – is a story about a Shangrila. And this story has been told and retold, hundreds of times, in postcards, magazines and coffee-table books.

Is this story of Bhutan correct? Is it accurate? I think so. I hope so.

But no matter, it is not complete story. It is not complete as this story – picture-perfect as it is – has been painted almost exclusively by foreigners. They are people who visited Bhutan, fell in love with our country and our people, and, as friends of Bhutan, decided to share their story with the rest of the world.

The story of Bhutan will be more complete – more accurate and more real – only when we, Bhutanese, express how we see our own country. When we, Bhutanese, tell our own story. But what is that story that we, Bhutanese, see in our own country?

Unfortunately we don’t know. Actually, that’s not correct – we do know! Obviously we know how we perceive our own country. It’s just that we haven’t yet begun to tell that story as we see it, through our eyes, and using the camera to transform what we see and feel into pictures.

But this is changing. Changing slowly but surely as demonstrated by today’s exhibition, “Bhutan by Bhutanese”.

“Bhutan by Bhutanese” showcases Bhutan as we, Bhutanese, see our own country. It is the story of Bhutan – our past, our present and our future – as seen by our own people. It is a story of Bhutan, as seen by the Bhutanese, and narrated by the Bhutanese.

But that’s not all – Bhutan by Bhutanese is the story of Bhutan as seen by the youth of Bhutan. They are the ones who are born and bred in Bhutan, who feel and breathe Bhutan, and who are confronted with the many changes taking place in our country.

Their stories also celebrate the wonders of Bhutan – our mountains and rivers, monasteries and monks, culture and people. But, as Bhutanese, they are able to view our country from the “inside” as it were, and so they bring an additional perspective.

“Bhutan by Bhutanese” is about that perspective. No doubt it is about the grandeur, the pomp, and the colors of Bhutan. But it also provides an insight into the real people and the real lives that thrive beneath the powerful veneer of pomp and colorful ceremony.

So “Bhutan by Bhutanese” is a story about Bhutan as our youth see it. It is a story about the hopes and joys, the fears and anxieties, the dreams and ambitions of our young people.

I’ve met some of these young people. Barely one year ago, none of them knew how to even hold a camera. And already, their photographs tell a compelling story about Bhutan. I hope you’ll enjoy their story.

Many photographers still depict Bhutan as a Shangrila. There’s nothing wrong with that. But Bhutan is changing. And changing fast. It’s important to recognize these changes. And to record them … preferably by our own people. Bhutan by Bhutanese.

In this regard, I’m happy that, because of BIM, Bhutan by Bhutanese is now possible. In fact it is already a reality.

Respect, honesty, pride

Value education

Thimphu Primary School graduated their first batch of students this morning. 21 children who had recently appeared for their first board exams received certificates from their principal, Ma’am Carolyn Tshering.

In her final speech to her outgoing students, Ma’am Carolyn urged them to never forget the all-important values of respect, honesty and pride that their school had taught them. I’m reproducing her speech below to share her timeless message with students, teachers and parents throughout our country.

This week’s banner celebrates primary education in Bhutan.

Ladies and Gentlemen welcome to our first ever Graduation .  In most western countries it is normally college and university students who enjoy a graduation ceremony, but in America they hold graduations for pre-primary students, primary, middle school etc.  In this case I don’t see anything wrong in following an American custom.!!

This morning’s function is all  about class VI.   I advised them to talk about what school has meant to them and what they have learnt about life, over the past six years of their education.  I asked them not to talk about any particular teacher but to thank  everyone and most importantly to thank you the parents. What they are about to say are their own words. Most have not shown their parents.

I have watched  with pride, some  of class VI students from KG to VI  (Pema Lexzim, Galek, Tobden, Tenpa, Yiga, Selden, Jitseun Pema and Tseki. )  change from adorable wide eyed children, thirsty for knowledge grow into mature, thoughtful  eleven year olds.

To you boys and girls,  I hope  you will not forget what we have instilled in you – respect, honesty  and  pride

Respect for your parents, family, teachers and every human you meet. I hope you will show as much respect to a school bus driver or your home help as  you do to your parents. They are all human beings, with equal feelings.

Honesty and integrity – without these you will have no  true friends.  Money does not always bring happiness – it an help, but true happiness is being blessed with good health, a loving family and true friends. Remember your friends in class VI. Keep in touch with each other.

Do not be swayed by peer pressure .  You will be entering schools where many students are much older than you. When someone (or a group) try to persuade you into saying or doing something you are not sure about, question yourself. Is this what I have been taught?

Is this right? Is this what my parents would want me to do?

Be strong. Stick to your convictions.

Pride – for your family, for your school, for your country and equally important for yourself and what you are trying to accomplish and what you have accomplished. Hold your head up high, think positively.

Finally I hope you will all continue to love your amazing environment and  educate those around you to preserve what we still have in Bhutan.

Have a dream. If you don’t have a dream, your dream will never come true.

Thank you for giving me the   privilege of teaching you.

Kilu Music School

Playing Beethoven

Are you a parent in Thimphu? If so, have you grumbled that the city does not provide enough after-school activities, especially during the holiday season, for your children?

I have. I’ve often wished that Thimphu provided better opportunities to learn about art, literature, culture, religion, music and sports.  But, I, like most parents, haven’t got round to organizing any constructive activity that would keep our children productively engaged during their free time.

Not so, with the group of parents who, in 2005, decided to create opportunities for their children to learn music. And so they started Kilu Music School, a non-profit organization that is run by volunteers and parents. Support from donors – in cash, kind and sponsorship – help keep Kilu going. And, every year, they organize fund-raising concerts.

This year’s concert, held yesterday at the Taj Tashi, featured Frances-Marie Uitti, a renowned composer and cellist, and Kilu’s very talented teachers. And, of course, the students – they impressed their parents and guests with their singing, and their renditions of Rossini, Mozart, Bach, Beethovan and Linkin’ Park!

More than taekwondo

Thimphu Club won the most medals in the recent under-15 tae­kwondo championships. Thimphu Primary School came in second. And Zilukha LSS third. 105 students from 9 clubs had participated in the championships that had been organized to commemorate Bhutan Taekwondo Federation’s silver jubilee.

Not bad, I had initially thought, till I looked at the medal standings properly.

Courtesy: Bhutan Observer

Of the 9 clubs only two were from government schools. Five of them, on the other hand, were from private schools. The remaining two were not school based – one, the winner, is part of the Federation, and the other, White Tigers, is a private club.

Thimphu has 12 government schools at the primary and lower secondary levels. So why is it that they had only two teams in the tournament, when almost every private school in town could field a team each? Did they lack the resources? Or did they lack the interest?

Today, private schools are staffed with teachers who are less qualified, less trained and lower paid than their counterparts in government schools. They generally have access to fewer resources. And almost every private primary school operates from an apartment building or semi-permanent houses.

If, given these conditions, private schools are already outperforming government schools, I dread to think what will happen when they are permitted to charge higher fees, and because of that, they are able to recruit the qualified teachers, buy better resources, and build proper infrastructure.

TPS book week

In wonderland

Mountain Echoes, a four-day literary festival in the capital, organized by the India-Bhutan Friendship Association, has concluded successfully.

Coincidentally, Thimphu Primary School organized a lesser known, but no less important, literary festival of their own last week. Students pledged to stay away from television during all of “book week”, yielding, instead, to the delights of storybooks. They read books, wrote and told stories, designed book posters, donated books, bought books, and quizzed each other about books and authors.

And yesterday, at the final day of the TPS book week, the students put on a costume parade for their parents and teachers. Most of them dressed up as their favourite characters from their favourite books.

This week’s banner showcases the Class VI students of Thimphu Primary School. You’ll find more photographs of the costume parade – mostly from Class VI, I’m afraid – at the gallery.

Graduating students

Well oriented

Well oriented

About 1,300 graduates are currently attending this year’s National Graduate Orientation Programme. And, like last year, the opposition party has not been included in the programme.

So today, when I heard that the graduates were hosting a cultural show for the public, I rushed to the Nazhoen Pelri. I’m glad I went. Our graduates are obviously talented. And they put on quite a show. From boedra and rigsar to Bhutanese rock and hip hop, the graduates entertained us with a range of performances. Not bad, considering that they’ve been together for barely ten days.

The chief counselor, Namgyal Dorji, told me that the proceeds from the cultural show will go to a charity. Good job.

Congratulations to all graduates for a wonderful performance. This week’s banner, a photo from the cultural show, celebrates the 2009 graduates.

Youngten Lempen Tharchen, an NGOP participant and a temporary reporter at Bhutan Today, has been writing about this year’s graduate orientation on his blog.

Happy Teachers’ Day

Gakiling has only one school, a community primary school. It is in Rangtse, a small, impoverished village located four walking days from the nearest motor road in Haa. Tshering Dorji is its principal.

In 2006, after teaching for about three years in remote schools in Samtse, Lopen Tshering volunteered to go to Rangtse to establish a community primary school. There he met enough children to start the school. And he saw a community eager to build their school. So together, they – farmers, children, and teacher – erected a two-room hut that would become Rangtse’s first classrooms.

Early the following year, 38 children showed up for school. And Lopen Tshering got to work. He taught his students to read and to write, to sing and dance, and to work and play. His first students included a paraplegic and several toddlers in the “pre-school” section. By the end of that year, the school had treated the public of Rangtse to their first ever cultural show. But that was not all: the principal took the show on the road, where his talented students entertained admiring crowds in Sombaykha and in Dorokha.

Today Rangtse CPS has 97 students studying in classes PP through III, many coming from villages that have never had a child attend school. The school now has four teachers including the principal and his wife. And they have a few more huts, some of which are still being built. But that is still not enough. So all the teachers – the principal, his wife, and the two others – live in one room. That room is furnished with three beds and one cupboard.

Lopen Tshering has shown how much can be achieved with so little. He’s built a school from scratch. A school that gives hope. And that provides the only opportunity to escape poverty.

So today, on Teachers’ Day, I want to recognize the hard work that Lopen Tshering Dorji and his teacher friends have put into building Rangtse CPS. And I want to acknowledge the tremendous sacrifices that they have made. And thank them.

I wish Lopen Tshering and his teacher-colleagues throughout our country: A very happy teachers’ day.

Educating doctors

On 23rd March, the Ministry of Education announced rules on the recently approved medical scholarship grants (see the rules). The rules clarified how the government will implement the grants. But we should be concerned at least on two counts.

One, on the impact on current private students. According to the rules private students currently studying in universities recognized jointly by RCSC, MOH and MOE in the SAARC region, Thailand and Cuba are eligible to apply for the scholarship. Of them 15 will be awarded the medical grant.

Obviously, every private medical student by now expects the grant. And convincing them that they may not be eligible or that their universities are not recognized will be difficult. We’ve already upset most other private students. Now, it appears, that we may upset many private medical students as well.

And two, on the impact on future students. According to the rules, medical scholarship grants will be awarded to 15 private students each year selected on the “basis of academic merit and competition”. This is good. But there is one catch: to be eligible, a student must have already secured “their own placement/admissions to medical institutions/universities deemed reputable.”

The problem is this: a student having the best possible marks (among those who couldn’t get the full government scholarships) but without the financial backing or the connections to apply for admission privately, will not be eligible for the grant. So the grant is not based solely on academic merit; it favors the rich and the well connected.

And that could also be unconstitutional. Article 9.16 of our Constitution states that “The State shall provide free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

But it’s not enough to say it’s unconstitutional and do nothing about the shortage of doctors. So what’s the solution? I don’t know about current private medical students – we are already in this mess.

For the future, however, the solution is quite straightforward: Just do away with the grants for future private medical students. And, instead, create additional full scholarships that will be “equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.” It can’t be that difficult to create 15 more full scholarships. The government is obviously willing to make the money available. So all that’s really needed, is to convince other governments or medical universities to reserve a certain amount of admissions for our students each year.