Bonded teachers?

Teachers matter

Suppose you’ve just completed college. And suppose that you are a topper – that you’re in the top 5% of the graduates. Would you consider becoming a teacher?

You should. For the sake of our children, you should. That, at least, is what McKinsey & Company suggest.

About five years ago, McKinsey sought to find out why some schools succeed while others don’t. They did that by studying the school systems of 25 countries, including 10 of the top performers, to identify the common characteristics of high-performing school systems.

McKinsey’s year-long study revealed that increased spending and ambitious education reform do not necessarily improve school systems. Instead, they singled out teacher quality as the most important attribute affecting student outcomes, and suggested that:

“The three factors that matter most are:

  1. getting the right people to become teachers;
  2. developing them into effective instructors;and
  3. ensuring the system is able to deliver the best possible instruction for every child.”

Teacher quality matters and matters a lot. That’s why South Korean schools make sure they attract the top 5% of the graduates. That’s why they boast one of the best school systems in the world. And that’s why the Koreans claim that: “The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers.”

Similarly, other countries that have great school systems also attract the best teachers. Finland, for example, attracts the top 10% of graduates. And Singapore and Hong Kong each attract the top 30% of their graduates.

The quality of an education system cannot exceed the quality of its teachers. That’s right. So that’s why we should do more to encourage our best graduates to become teachers. That’s why we should – as suggested by McKinsey – get the right people to become teachers, train them well, and then enable them to teach.

If we really want to improve our school system, we should get serious about attracting and then training and retaining the best possible teachers. That, unfortunately, is not the case right now.

And the situation is about to get even worse.

The RCSC has recently announced that, except for posts that require a teaching background, teachers will not be eligible to apply for other vacant positions in the government.

Our schools need to attract the best of our graduates. But the best will not opt for teaching if they know that they will never be able to apply for other government posts.

There’s no doubt that the RCSC’s rule is meant to address teacher shortage. But the rule is shortsighted – by preventing teachers from competing for other government positions, teaching is going to become even more unattractive and the best teachers will stay away from teaching in the first place. That will not be good for our schools. And that will not be good for our children. So the RCSC should rescind its rule.

Teaching should be attractive. It should not be forced, even for teachers.

Bonded teachers is not a good idea. The RCSC and the Education Ministry may wish to read McKinsey’s “How the world’s best-performing school systems come out on top” to understand why.

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.

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.