Teaching history

My son, Gyamtsho Tshering, 17 years, Class XI, is home for his winter vacations. My wife and I are delighted to have our family together, and have often worried that our son has had to be away from home for most parts of the year.

Gyamtsho studies in St Joseph’s School, also known as “North Point”, in Darjeeling, India.

Why is he in North Point? Because while he was at Lungtenzampa MSS, the government decided to teach Bhutan history in Dzongkha. His mother had been seriously concerned. “Even as a subject, most students find Dzongkha difficult” she had grumbled, “so how can they use it to learn history properly?” I agreed. Plus most people, especially teachers, had complained that Dzongkha language teachers wouldn’t know enough of history to teach it, and most history teachers wouldn’t be able to teach in Dzongkha.

So we sent him to Darjeeling, despite the emotional and financial hardships.

Now it looks like 10 researchers contacted 96 schools and 15,000 students to establish what most parents have known all along – that teaching history in Dzongkha may not be such a good idea. I hope that the government takes the research findings seriously and acts quickly to undo years of damage.

But some of the damage can’t be undone. If, as the researchers conclude, teaching history in Dzongkha has failed, then, we must accept that, in the last three years, thousands of our students have learnt little history and they probably now dislike Dzongkha even more. Not good for the students. Not good for our national language. Not good for our country.

As for our son, we have not regretted. He receives a well rounded education in North Point, where academic standards are high and a premium is placed on values, sports, music, art, social work and leadership.

And guess who the principal of North Point is? Father Kinley, a Bhutanese! Five years ago, he was sent to revive North Point, a school that had deteriorated over the years. His challenge was to turn the school around. His tool was complete authority and autonomy to do so. And in five years, in spite of the political turmoil there, he has more than turn the school around. Father Kinley’s efforts are already being recognized – Educational World Magazine recently declared that North Point as one of the top 10 residential schools in all of India.

It’s obvious. Bhutanese teachers are capable. Give them the right incentives, some support and a little authority and autonomy, and they will deliver. And remember, good heads make good schools.