Opposing the oppostion

My last entry made Di demand that the opposition leader oppose the government’s decision directly and firmly. This is what she said:

“dear OL, are u not going to say anything to oppose this directly to the cabinet? this is wrong wrong wrong. this goes against every morals, values and ethics we have ever been taught. this is showing us that the people who are incapable and the least deserving get the best in life. It is a mockery to everything we have been taught is right. Do u not have duties and rights, as the opposition leader, to oppose this firmly?”

Di is right.

I have the duty to oppose the government when their decisions are unlawful or are not in the best interest of the tsa-wa-sum. I have this sacred duty at two levels: first, personally, as a citizen of this great country; and second, officially, in my capacity as opposition leader.

My last entry was a “personal” attempt to oppose our government’s decision. Through this blog, I have made my personal views on the medical grant issue public. Naturally, I hope that my humble views may receive favour of our government’s attention.

Similarly, but more importantly, many of you have also expressed your personal views in this blog and other on-line discussion fora. I believe our government will give serious consideration to all constructive comments, regardless of how they are communicated.

But what will I do officially? As opposition leader, I still do not know the full story. I don’t know the real objectives of the grant, the number of private students it would cover, criteria for selecting students, obligations of the students, financing source, and how the scheme will be implemented from the new academic session onwards. I also don’t know if the government is considering similar assistance for private students specializing in other professions.

So, as opposition leader, I have spoken with people in the cabinet secretariat, ministry of education and ministry of health. I have also written “officially” to the ministry of education, who will presumably implement the scheme, requesting for information. Their feedback, your views, and the government’s response will determine if I, as opposition leader, should “officially” oppose our government’s decision.

Our government will make mistakes. But know that the opposition’s earnest belief is that, when that happens, our government will admit their mistakes, apologise for them and take corrective measures – all this without “official” opposition.

On a related note…

The public has been quite vocal. This is good for democracy.

But our media has not given any attention to the public’s growing concern on medical grants. This is not good for democracy.

Visit di’s blog

A bold scheme

Our government’s decision to award grants to private medical students is bold. But it is wrong.

It is bold because it shows that our government can take unconventional measures to get things done – in this case to train more doctors.

But it is wrong because awarding grants to private medical students will not increase the number of doctors. Current private medical students will graduate and become doctors even if the government doesn’t intervene. So helping them will not add to the pool of doctors.

It is wrong because the unexpected grant will benefit current private medical students unfairly. They would enjoy the government’s generosity without having to compete for it.

It is wrong if our government’s decision is, as our education minister reportedly told Kuensel, “… in response to requests made by students”. We have thousands of students studying privately abroad. And it must be that many of them would have even more compelling requests for support.

It is wrong because our government has taken this decision without first understanding how the scheme will be put into practice. Or, for that matter, if it can be put into practice. The “implementation modalities” are only now being developed even as the public continues to voice serious concerns.

And it is wrong because our government should not single out medical students when the country also faces severe shortages of professionals in other areas. These include lawyers and pilots, chartered accountants and chefs, professors and architects, engineers, and even teachers. Will the government help these private students as well?

We need our government to be bold. But that’s not all. Our government must be bold and right. Otherwise we, the people will loose trust and confidence in our own government. And that wouldn’t be good.

Our government should retract its decision.

Medical grants

Many of you have commented on the government’s decision to provide financial assistance to private medical students. And some have telephoned me.

I don’t know enough about this sudden development to comment publicly. So I’ll talk to people who do know. And learn.

I notice that all the comments I’ve received so far denounce our government’s decision. So I urge those in support of the decision to share your views.

Solving problems

Today is World Maths Day.

And children throughout the world are celebrating mathematics by solving mental arithmetic questions online. Their goal is to set a new world record in the number of questions they collectively answer in 48 hours. But the real objective is to make maths fun. And to promote numeracy among students.

Last year more than 1 million children from 20,000 schools and 150 countries set a new world record by correctly answering 182,455,169 questions in 48 hours. The organizers of the event already predict that, by tomorrow, another world record will have been set.

The competition began at 5PM yesterday. So the competition will go on for another 31 hours even as I post this entry. And that means there’s still time. Registration is easy and free. All you need to register and participate in the event is internet access.

Our ICT facilities are rudimentary, at best. And most schools do not even have computers. Still, where the facilities are available, make use of them. Go online. Register. And get a few students – yes, even if only a handful – to participate. We can set our sights higher next year. And perhaps even borrow the idea and adapt it for our specific conditions.

Why am I excited about World Maths Day? Listen to the pain in our beloved king’s voice as he commands that “Mathematics is one of our main weaknesses. We have similar weaknesses in Science and amazingly, even English.”

For more information go to the WMD website. Or read Maria Miller’s blog.

Inspiring Bhutan

I went on a field trip today. I went to see the Royal Thimphu College in Ngabiphu. The college is spread elegantly over 25 acres of gently sloping blue pine forest about 10 km due south of the capital. (See RTC website)

The construction of the college, which began only in October 2007, is already nearing completion. And by July this year, Bhutan’s first private college will have admitted its first students.

These students will be fortunate. Dormitories, classrooms, auditorium, sports facilities, gymnasium, dining hall, cafeteria, club house … the facilities they’ll enjoy are equal to those of the best colleges in our region.

These world class facilities were planned, designed and built by our own people. Gandhara Designs developed the master plan, zoning and all designs and drawings. And Phuensum Builders are the civil works contractors. Together, these two firms have shown that our construction industry, especially our architects, have come of age.

Only a few government officials have visited the college so far. Many more should visit. They’ll see that it is possible to improve the quality of construction in our country. And they’ll see that it is possible to develop education as a viable industry in our country.

But to improve the quality of construction or of private education the government must play a more meaningful role. It must provide vision. And genuine support to realize that vision.

The RTC’s motto is “Inspiring Education in Bhutan.” I am inspired.

Committed vision

“My duty is to worry every single day about our people and country. And to voice these worries frankly so that we do not get carried away, get caught unawares, or become complacent” commanded His Majesty the King to the teacher graduates during their convocation on 17th February (read full text). His Majesty then articulated his concerns about our education system with the clarity, earnestness and sense of urgency that comes from “worrying every single day”.

Our education system has recently come under increasing fire. Yet seemingly little is being done. So His Majesty’s counsel is timely. No doubt, the government will take it seriously. What follows are experts from His Majesty’s address …

Does our education system reflect our changing opportunities and challenges? Contemplate this question.

Our hopes and aspirations as a nation must be reflected in what is taught to our future generations in the classroom.

We must ensure that … young little hands grow to become strong and worthy of carrying our nation to greater heights.

It is the duty of parents, policy makers and the government to put the right tools in their hands – the right books, the right curriculum, the right direction.

We must first ask ourselves … what is the Vision for Bhutan? Then we must build an education system that nurtures people with the right skills, knowledge and training to fulfill this Vision. The sooner we realize this, the better.

Our nation’s vision can only be fulfilled if the scope of our dreams and aspirations are matched by the reality of our commitment to nurturing our future citizens.

If our Vision for the nation is not contained in the pages of the books that our young children hold, in the words of our teachers … and in the education policies of our governments, then let it be said – we have no Vision.

While we pile dream upon dream like floors on a skyscraper, the foundation needs to be strengthened.

Mathematics is one of our main weaknesses. We have similar weaknesses in Science and amazingly, even English.

A nation’s future will mirror the quality of her youth – a nation cannot fool herself into thinking of a bright future when she has not invested wisely in her children.

It is not enough to provide free education – we must provide education of such quality that it will guarantee a distinguished place for our youth anywhere in the world.

Do not … let the light of education ever go out.

Teaching differently

Team teaching – a new pedagogic method practiced in urban schools to address classroom shortages and high enrolment; two teachers teach one class; while one teaches, the other monitors the class and helps students; the two teachers share homework correction duties. This week, Kuensel wrote about “team teaching” being introduced in Thimphu schools.

Multigrade teaching – a pedagogic method practiced in community schools to address teacher shortages; one teacher teaches several classes together, in the same classroom; that teacher teaches all the subjects for all the classes; and that teacher does all the homework correction, for all the students. Last week, Kuensel wrote that community primary school teachers are required to do “multigrade teaching”.

The two Kuensel articles, published one after the other, in two consecutive issues, are disturbing. Together, the articles indicate that our rural schools face a shortage of teachers, while our urban schools could be having excess teachers.

Yesterday, BBS reported exactly that.

Education for all

Consider this: Education will get Nu 9,489.130 million for capital investments during the 10th plan. That is almost Nu 9.5 billion to develop the general education system. That works out to almost 13% of the 10th plan’s entire capital budget. That also works out to more than Nu 60,000 for each of the 157,112 students currently in the education system.

I’m happy that the government is investing heavily in education. Education has been drawing a lot of flak lately – standards are perceived to be falling, schools deteriorating, and school enrolment increasing at the expense of quality. So I’m glad that we are set to change our ways. After all, “the future of our country lies in the hands of our youth”.

Now consider this: The Dratshang, our central monk body, will get Nu 23.041 million for capital investments during the 10th plan to improve its education system. That works out to roughly Nu 7,680 for each of the 3000-odd students currently in the monk body. The money is just enough to build the one monastic school, in Mongar, during the 10th plan. And it looks like no other capital work – school repair and expansion, teacher training, curriculum development or the establishment of libraries – is planned for the next five years.

Monastic education has received little attention in the past. And the next five years threatens to be no different. We should reconsider. There are many more students in our monastic schools than we think. And literally all of them come from the poorest of the poor families.

We should also be concerned. If religious schools are sidelined, their students can easily feel left out and become disaffected radicals. This has happened throughout the world, regardless of religion. Let’s learn from their mistakes. Let us develop our monastic schools along with our general schools.

Quality education is important. And it is equally important for young monks. The future of our country lies in their hands too.

Remote schooling

The National Assembly, our nation’s highest legislative body, spent a good 30 minutes yesterday talking about a school in Gasa.

The issue was tabled by the Honourable MP from Gasa, Dasho Damcho Dorji, the other opposition member, on behalf of the people of Gasa. The people want the government to reverse its decision to downgrade Gasa LSS to a primary school. The people argue that if their school is downgraded, fewer of their children will be willing to continue their studies, after completing Class VI, in the boarding school in distant, wetter and hotter Jeyshong.

Lyonpo Thakur Singh, our education minister, claimed that he had consulted the dzongkhag authorities. That’s the problem. He should have consulted the people, not bureaucrats. Civil servants report to, and are accountable to, the government, and, some times, will not represent the best interests of the people.

If Lyonpo Thakur had consulted the local government instead, he would have understood their difficulties and seen their aspirations. And a decision, regardless of what the decision, could have been made jointly.

And the local government would not have raised the issue about Gasa PS in the National Assembly. And its honorable members would not have spent 30 minutes, one-sixth of the total time, talking about a remote school in Gasa.

Decentralize. Please. And strengthen local governments.

(Gasa primary school was upgraded to a junior high school durnig the Eighth Plan. See Kuensel article)

Educating the centre

rangtse-schoolGakiling has 13 villages. Some of the poorest parts of our country can be found in this cluster of villages that lie along the remote parts of upstream Amochu. Together, the 13 villages have just one school – Rangtse Community School, which opened two years ago after Her Majesty Ashi Dorji Wangmo Wangchuck visited the area.

None of the villages is connected by car road. Most don’t even have mule tracks. So the school in Rangtse is not accessible to children living in other villages. And the children can’t live in Rangtse, because the school does not have boarding facilities.

Naturally, the people of Gakiling are anxious. They want schools. They need schools. But they have no idea if their needs will be met during the 10th Plan. They have no idea because no one consulted them.

Education used to be decentralized. And local governments could decide, within the overall education policies and guidelines, where to build their schools. But this is no longer the case. The entire education system will be planned and executed by the centre. That must be the case, because the centre – the education ministry, in this case – has been allocated all the money. And local governments have been given nothing, not even one ngultrum, to develop education in their communities.

During the 10th Plan the Education Ministry will receive Nu 9.5 billion for capital investments alone. Compare this to what has been earmarked for the 20 dzongkhags – Nu 7.2 billion for all their activities; or what has been given to the 205 gewogs combined – just Nu 4.8 billion.

This makes the education ministry very powerful. But its power comes at a high price: decentralization is suspended, and local government is suppressed. That’s not good. Local governments, after all, understand the aspirations of their people better than any expert in Thimphu. And they have much more at stake.

For now, the people of Gakiling are at the mercy of the centre. So are the people of Sombaykha, another gewog with no road and only one proper school. Both, Gakiling and Sombaykha are in my constituency.