This morning, while going through some pictures, I came across a photograph that had friendship written all over it. I’m featuring it in the banner to celebrate international friendship day, almost a week after it’s over.

Checking ourselves

Lops didn’t like my last entry, about the poll results on our government’s performance. This is what Lops noted on Observing the state of the nation, but intended for my last entry: “Looks like OL wants everything to go the way he feels and views!!! POLL is just a poll and i don’t think anybody will take it seriously…For that matter, even earlier polls might be wrong!”

I hope that Lops is not correct about the OL wanting everything to go his way. If he is correct, then the leader of the opposition party sucks – LOPS.

But Lops is correct about our polls not being taken seriously. And, about the possibility of our earlier polls being wrong. Lops is correct, because polls on this blog inherently suffer from three biases.

The first bias is a socioeconomic bias. Very few Bhutanese have access to the internet. And, naturally, access to polls on this blog. Those who participate in online polls are relatively richer and more educated. And, their views do not necessarily reflect those of the masses. So the poll results would not be representative of the public’s real views.

The second is a statistical bias. A sample of two to three hundred people is statistically insignificant. Their views essentially amount to “noise”, and bear little indication of the views held by the general population. In fact, they bear little indication to the views of even just those with internet access.

And the third is a technological bias. One person can vote several times from different computers or, by using proxie servers, from one computer.

So why then do I conduct polls? Because, they make us think about important issues; And because they are fun.

A repeating problem

Jigme Dorji has a problem – he passed Class 12, but wants to repeat Class 12!

He secured an overall result of 65% percent, including a high of 75% in geography, which, I think, is quite good. But he feels that it’s not good enough and insists that he needs to repeat, and get better results, in order to do well in life.

To do well in life means to get a job in the civil service or, at the very least, a big corporation. For that he needs a bachelor’s degree.

65% didn’t get him admitted to Sherubtse College, Gedu College of Business Studies or any of the other free government colleges.

Actually he did qualify for the colleges of education in Paro and Samtse. But he’s not interested. He’s convinced that a B.Ed degree is good only for teaching. And that teaching would confine him to schools and not allow him to progress.

He could, like the thousands of Bhutanese students every year, study privately in India. But his parents are simple farmers in Trashigang. And they have 4 other children to look after. So Jigme can’t afford to even think about studying privately.

He could have enrolled in the RIHS or any of the VTIs. But they are for Class X students. And, he feels, that having completed 12, it would seem like a big setback. Besides he wants to progress and not stay as a technician all his life.

So the only option for him, as he sees it, is to repeat Class 12, study even harder, get better results, and qualify for Sherubtse College. I think this option is difficult, risky and wasteful.

Jigme is not alone. Every year too many students repeat Class 12 although they have passed, some, like Jigme, with quite good results. What a big waste.

What should the government do?

First, it should improve counseling services. This would allow students to plan their future based on their abilities and a better understanding of the careers that are available.

Second, it should develop multiple pathways to and within work. This would make it possible for a person who starts work a technician to become an engineer. Or a nurse to become a doctor. Or a teacher to become a manager. The idea is to keep all doors open by creating bridges and ladders.

If this issue not addressed in earnest, expect more wastage and frustration. Expect more problems.

Happiness for me

More than 90 scholars from 25 countries have descended on Thimphu to participate in the 4th International Conference on GNH. The conference, which is organized by the Centre for Bhutan Studies, was inaugurated this morning.

Interest in GNH is growing. And every year, many more sociologists, economists, psychologists, politicians and even businessmen and women join the ranks of GNH believers. What do most of them do? They conduct study, research, survey, analyze, hypothesize, and propose theories. They publish. And we are blessed with a growing library on the important subject of GNH.

Let me also share my thoughts – simple and straight forward – on happiness for me.

I believe that to be happy I must enjoy a sense of security, a sense of identity and a sense of purpose. And increasing amounts of security, identity and purpose would lead to increasing levels of happiness for me, my family and my community. That would be good for GNH.

HTMT Institute

The construction of the Hospitality and Tourism Management Training Institute is finally making progress.

The institute, located in 16 acres of sprawling property in Motithang, is estimated to cost Nu 385 million. That’s a lot of money to convert what had earlier been used as the Youth Center and, before that, as a government hotel to a training institute.

And that’s a lot of money to train only 50 people a year.

The good news is that once the institute is in full operation it would offer two-year courses in tourism and hospitality leading to diplomas that may be offered jointly with the International Tourism and Hospitality School in Salzberg. We could, therefore, expect the graduates of the HTMTI to be equal to the best in the world. That is indeed very good news.

The tourism and hospitality sector – our country’s largest foreign currency earner and, more importantly, biggest employer outside agriculture – is growing rapidly and demands increasing numbers of skilled professionals. This demand is expected to be met though the HTMTI.

The bad news is I can’t see most of these graduates, well trained and armed with diplomas, employed in local hotels. Most of our hotels are self managed and the growing demand for workers is for skilled workers, not managers.

So unless are aim is to train people for export – to Austria, for example – we need to do a serious review of the institute’s proposed training program.

Start such a review by consulting hoteliers themselves: Ugyen Wangchuk, the proprietor of Jumolhari Boutique Hotel and Chairperson of the Hoteliers Association, says that he expects the current shortage of skilled workers in the hotel industry to reach serious proportions. However, he claims that most of the demand is for semi-skilled workers (receptionists, bell boys, waiters, housekeepers, cleaners, assistant cooks, etc., ) and not the managerial level people that would be produced by HTMTI.

Then consult the experts: my friend in the Tourism Council of Bhutan, a specialist in tourism and hospitality, is already concerned about the relevance of the proposed courses at HTMTI. My friend feels that short, focused training in a range of skill areas would be more effective and relevant for our country, not a two-year management course.

The institute was first proposed in 2001, construction began only in 2007 and I don’t see it being ready before 2010. We’ve waited too long. Let’s not create another white elephant.