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Let's Spell Wholesome Education

Another week is up and gone. It is time for another episode of Supper Spellers – spell it right on BBS TV. Watching the show against the backdrop of lazy and less eventful Sunday is a testimony to many things about our schools, students, teachers and the quality of education in Bhutanese schools, if being able to spell some English words correctly is any indication. It is a clear direction as to where our education system is headed and observers are left with the revelation that gap actually exists between schools in remote and urban areas. Of course for now the show is only for students of Thimphu, but we can already imagine what would be the state of things if their cousins in remote schools are made to compete with them.

Let’s spell three things correctly here – education, experience and exposure all that describe our education system. It has been years now since the deteriorating quality of education has become the big talk of this small nation. And rightly so! As a parent I want my children to get the best education possible, not just passing exams and getting promoted to the next higher grades. And in Bhutan, the policy on the paper is to have wholesome education. This policy comes as relief to many parents.

No offense to our teachers stationed across the country, but is it farfetched to say that the standard of education in Bhutan decreases as we move farther away from the towns? The Ministry of Education has all the reasons to disagree with the statement justifying the quality of education imparted is same irrespective of geographical locations of schools in the country. Learning is a two-way process – the quality of teaching and the receptiveness of what is taught. Do we have same facilities in place in Gasa those that Thimphu students enjoy? Do we have same number of teachers willing to teach at a remote school in Zhemgang like we do in Thimphu? There are schools in far flung places where one man is forced to take multiple roles of the principal, teacher, scout leader, bell ringer, flag hoister, co-curricular activities coordinator, et al.

Now let’s talk about experience. We have far more experienced teachers in urban schools. Our common experience tells us that new teachers are first posted in remote schools. Of course nothing comes without exceptions. I am sure there are teachers who have been teaching their entire teaching career at a school fatefully located in a remote area. But on the whole this is the thump rule. Teachers should have some considerable experience before they can teach in urban schools, but even an apprentice teacher could teach well in a remote school. This is an inconvenient truth. It is heartening to note that now two colleges of education are doing away with the apprenticeship program.

And that’s that – let’s now talk about exposure. Exposure builds confidence, which exacerbates learning process. Some students in remote areas painfully study things that they have never seen in their life which their cousins in towns live with every day. The point is children in remote schools have fewer avenues to learn. But that’s their problem, which should be our concern as well.

So, back to the show - the recent episode of Super Spellers which featured two students contending on behalf of Genekha Lower Secondary School and Druk School, clearly demonstrated to us marked difference between a government and private school. It tells us so much about the standards. We have seen some exceptions too. But if such is the scenario, then parents in Thimphu entrusting their children’s education to private schools in the lower classes has solid reasons. Some private schools are outperforming a few government schools. The remote versus urban schools, government versus private schools and experience of teachers teaching and the exposure of students being taught in all these schools, is topic for some research works.

Of course we should all understand what appears on BBS is just a spelling competition. And I personally feel some of the words are too bombastic given the participants’ grades. Many observers feel that there should be a system whereby participants are given an option to pick a lot to choose a set of words that they would be made to spell because right now the show host merely reads the list in random order. Given the accent in which our children are taught, some of the words are beyond the gathering of the participants. Maybe it is time we do things the Bhutanese way.

But I am just wondering what if we have a similar competition in Dzongkha. I am sure you already know the answer!

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