Sunday, September 23, 2012

Celebrating Thrue-Bab (Blessed Rainy Day) away from home

It is believed that on Thrue-Bab (blessed rainy day) all water on earth turns holy. God is believed to shower its blessings over all water on earth. And a shower on the day is believed to cleanse our body and mind of sins, diseases and negativityThis gives all the reason for Bhutanese to celebrate the day. Family members from far and near gather. They throw a feast.  forget their work tension and it is a time for them to relax and have all the fun. A scrumptious porridge and butter tea would be set for breakfast followed  by a grand lunch and dinner. The day reiterates joy, happiness and a sense of unity among family members.

But this year I could just dream of the day, as I am away from my home overseas. I miss my family and friends at home. Nonetheless, I am not alone who have been gripped by the feeling. My friends were also nostalgic. So we planned to make the day at a friends apartment. After I took a shower early morning and pray I headed for the friend's apartment.

We are twelve Bhutanese students in my class. We started the day with a scrumptious Thup (porridge). Karma Drupchu, a man with great culinary skills was our head chef. While he cooked we helped him by cutting vegetables. The rest were lost in cheerful talks, cracking jokes and laughing. After sometime we found Karma's eyes getting heavy. He said he didn't sleep the whole earlier night as he had to guard the chopped pork chunks he was cooking until the bones were cooked soft. That took him the entire night. Thanks to him, we had a very delicious Thup.

Karma at work

Chopping veg.

His demonstration of culinary skills didn't end there. The lunch he prepared was just so delicious. Ever since we came to Thailand we hardly got to eat our native dishes. Today we found the Bhutanese cuisines that Karma prepared as great delicacies. In a sense, it was ironical that we found our own dishes  as delicacies. Once more we thank him for the great lunch.

As for dinner we headed to Rangnam apartment in Bangkok. The president of the Bhutanese Students Association of Bangkok (BSAB) initiated a get-together for all Bhutanese students spread across various universities in Bangkok. It was an opportunity to meet new friends and old friends. In fact, it didn’t matter whether we were old or new friends but the fact that all of us were away from home, simply brought a sense of unity and friendship. There was food, drink, music and dance. One event of the evening was striking-the offering of khaddar (Scarves) of wished and friendship to friends who would soon be graduating and leaving their membership from BSA. About 20 or so friends, including me, were offered Khadars. We exchanged autographs on each other's Khadar. We concluded the event with wishes and prayer for everybody's success in any endeavors.
My autographed Khadar
Although we had all the fun and joy here with friends, deep inside we still missed home and family.


Monday, September 17, 2012

Children fear school on first day of school

Every year young children who attain six years are admitted in schools across the country. These young children are about to start on a very important journey-Education. It is important that their journey begin on a pleasant note. If they start happy, it is likely they find happiness in the rest of the journey.

This reminds us of the importance of the first day of school to children. It is important that children’s first day at the school be a pleasant experience. The impression they build about the school and teachers on the first day at school can have a profound effect on their interest and attitude towards learning.  

In Bhutan, it is not surprising to see children crying with fear and anxiety on the first day of school. Children refuse to part from their parents and get into morning assembly lines. Parents would be seen coaxing but fails. Teachers call aloud at the children in intimidating voices. But these anxiety-stricken children only become more anxious.

This is an undesirable drama on children's first day at school. Children experience an ordeal than anything pleasant.

By principle, schools should be welcome places for children. Perhaps schools in Bhutan have long established as a places of fear for young children.  Children who are just six are delicate minds and they need to be loved and cared for in any type of circumstance. It would only be appropriate for teachers to welcome newly admitted children with love and affection.

In Thailand, last year, I got an opportunity to visit some kindergarten schools. It was the beginning of an academic year. I admired the way the teachers welcomed the newly admitted students. Teachers greet and extend a warm shoulder, speak gently and creates a welcoming environment. Teachers give sweets and cakes as a gesture of welcome. They would then be taken for a campus tour to familiarize with the school compound-right from the school gate to their seats in the classroom. 

 The next morning when the children saw the teacher it was surprising to see children running as though they  longed to see the teacher and the teacher running to the child as though she missed the children. And they embraced in each other’s warm shoulders. The parent just stood surprised and envying over the close relation that the teacher and their children have just developed. It was even more surprising when the teacher scolded the parent the next day on seeing children not in warm clothes on that cold day. In that sense teachers became more responsible and concerned over children’s wellbeing than parents.

We can learn a lot from such practices. Teachers were more friendly with children and were really concerned about the children’s welbeing, development and learning. Perhaps the outlook of our teacher on children should change. Of course we cannot put the total blame on teachers and school for children’s fear on the first day of the school but I believe that 70% of all the reasons that may account for children’s fear would be attributed to teachers and school. Generally most of our teachers are taken by the fallacy that being a teacher means to be above students and commanding. Teaching is a profession that is based on moral values like empathy, love, politeness, generosity, etc, and these are all that takes to be a good teacher. They must take these young children to be as important and as special as their own children. They must know that these young kids need nothing more than love and care. They are very delicate minds and teachers must be scrupulous enough in their conduct and ensure children learn enjoyably and happily.

Bowling experience- Athletes are born not made

Games and sports have been one of favorite pastimes and I am fairly good at some of them. I can play football, volleyball, basketball, snooker, table tennis, chess and badminton. And as a person hailing from a remote corner of the country, I can also play traditional sports like khuru, archery and dego.

While I have played most sports in my country, there are many sports I haven't experienced playing like tennis and bowling because these sports are yet to flourish in our country. We have few but they are in the country’s capital town and common folk like me can hardly get access to them. I just watched these sports in TV. I wished to play them one day.

However, my coming to Thailand gave me opportunities to try out few of those untried sports.  You already read about how I got into Tennis (earlier post).

As for bowling, last Sunday the university organized a tournament among the students of various faculties of the university.  The faculty of education invited two teams from Bhutanese students. We formed two teams. One, of three men and one, of three women.

Before I  proceed to tell what happened during the tournament I would like to ask you a question.. "Are athletes/sportsmen born or made?" Ask me about it. I will go with the former-sportsmen are born. The reason to account for my claim comes from the results of the bowling tournament we played.

None of us had ever played bowling before. We had neither any idea nor skills of playing it. But we were certain of one thing, that bowing ball is rolled along the lane to knock over pins. We were given few minutes to warm up. At one moment we were apprehensive about whether we would know how to hold the ball correctly and whether we would be able to keep the balls on the lane. Every one took few shots and we were quite fine. We did the Bhutanese way. We rolled the balls and up it went and hit the pins.

The tournament began and we rolled one ball after another. We had no idea about how the scores were done. A monitor was hung before us from the ceiling and it displayed the total points each player scored.

But I was quite impressed by the way my two friends were playing. They were playing well. So, I thought that I should also try and keep my score abreast them. Despite the fact that we dint know how to take proper stance, we managed not to let the ball in the drains.  Finally, we scored a good 638, 630 and 421, the highest being mine.   

The tournament ended and we were sitting and clapping in appreciation at the Thai friends who won prizes.  Out of the blue, suddenly, our names were called and we were quite not sure as to why our names were called. The MC said ‘Your team is second.’ We were taken by surprise and at the same time jubilant. 

Even though we dint have any  formal training or prior experience in bowling our natural skills paid off. So that's why "Atheletes are born not made." Is it justifiable? Lol.
The trophy

Thursday, September 6, 2012

Past few months

Past few months, for me, were the busiest months of the year. Thesis, course works, defense, presentations and seminars made most of my schedule and it dint give me any time to read or write blogs. I tried to steal sometime from my busy schedule but I rather found myself chasing one dateline after another.

Today, I recline and look back at those few months. I can see myself a man seriously working on a series of academic works. But not the whole of that while was academic. Other things did happen. I would like to pick out few of those non-academic affairs. They may not be deemed as highlights but I pick them just because they stand out in my memory.

Like from Heaven: Our new dormitory manager.
The scholarship agency had arranged a school dormitory for us to stay until we finish the course. We are five Bhutanese students staying the school dormitory. But the school is affiliated to the university and is within the university campus though. It is no ordinary school. There are fantastic facilities. Only affluent lot affords it. The hostel rooms, wow, they are no less than a five-star hotel. When I first entered my room I thought ‘Even Ministers in our country won’t have such rooms.’ But what’s the downside of it? The hostel manager was too strict. She imposed stringent rules. And what bizarre! Within three months she fired six dorm teachers and some eight to ten security guards. Every month we saw new faces at the reception counter wishing us ‘Sawadi khaap’. Now imagine what difficulty it had been for us Bhutanese to move even a hair. We felt as though we were under surveillance all the time and we had to endure it for the last six or so months.

Later, for reasons I still don’t know, she was replaced by a new manager.

The new manger, a man of forties, brought all peace and ease in the hostel. He came as though to rescue us from the prison-like rules. It’s been over two months since he took over and up until now no one has been fired and replaced. We see the same faces at the reception counter. Unlike the former manger, he doesn’t wear any authoritative air and he is easy going and a sociable man. He talks to us and quit often plays tennis with us (I’ll talk tennis later). Thanks Heaven, for sending us the new hostel manager.

Tennis racquets

Inspired by the recent news of my favorite tennis icon Roger Federer winning Wimbledon 2012 and regaining number one in the rankings, I and my friend Bal wanted to try the game. We went to buy racquets. Since we had not played the game before, we had no idea as to what brand made a good racquet. We picked our choices from among the many on display. On closely examining the racquets, we noticed that the tension in the mesh wasn’t so strong so we got them tightened from another sports center. Finally, we got the paraphernalia ready and out we ventured. We were too excited to give our first shots and our excitement took us long until late evening that day. Suddenly Bal started laughing out loud.

‘What’s wrong?’ I asked him.

‘My racquet's twisted!’

I looked at mine, I couldn’t hold my laughter. Both our racquet frames were pulled inward 
to different shapes by the strong tension.

We had picked wrong racquets.

‘Bal where are you?’

We had explored every nook and cranny of the university campus. But there was one place we hadn’t been to- ‘Atop building-11’.

Building 11 is a 14 storied high-rise and it is the first building that comes to sight when we look from the balconies of our dorm. Apparantly, it was built by the engineers from the university and it is an astonishing piece of engineering. It stands beautiful and magnificent. Now that the time for leaving the university is nearing we had a strong urge to  go atop it at least once. We wanted to leave no stone unturned. So one evening, Bal, me and a friend living next door set off for the building.
The upper half of Building-11
There was nobody in the building and all offices were closed. We took the elevator and we were at the second last story of the building. Bal was taking some video shots of the scenic beauty of the campus he saw from there, while two of us went to the topmost floor. We could see the bird eye view of the entire campus.

When we came back to the second last floor, Bal was no where to be seen and to our shock the window through which he was taking video shots was wide open. For a moment two of us stared at each other  dumbfounded. We thought had jumped from the window.Then we frantically called out ‘Bal where are you? Baaaal, Baaaal’. No there wasn’t any response. I called him several times and there wasn't any response.We quickly made our way back to the ground floor and heck! there he was playing on his Andriod i-pad. We hit him hard and said 'Man dont ever do that again!' 

Sprained my ankle:
A Sunday morning football match sprained my ankle. I stepped on a depression on the ground and I could hear the sound of the tendon snap. It got my ankle swollen for three weeks and I had to limp all that three weeks.

A jittery interview
One Friday afternoon a call woke me up form my afternoon nap. An unrecognizable voice said ‘Ajahn (means teacher in Thai) wants to see you in her office right now. Get up, freshen up and report to Ajahn immediately’ He hung up before I could say a word. It got me rushing.

When i reached there Ajahn said 'Two Thai professors want to interview you on ‘Quality Assurance’ in our course.’ I was surprised and at the same time apprehensive. She handed me a chit and it read ‘Venue: Building 1, Room #: 308, Time: 4-4:30’ I looked at my watch and it was exactly four. It dint give me any time for any mental preparation. When I came out of the hall I dint remember a word I said to the questions. Lol. 

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Building Children's Self Esteem

Self-esteem refers to an individual's evaluative judgment about himself, herself, or itself (Santrock, 2001). Self-esteem can have a profound effect on children’s ability to learn, overall success and happiness. It also influences children's motivation, attitude, and behavior.

Research shows that children who feel good about themselves or children who have high self esteem do better in school and receive more education. This further indicates that those with more education have a higher level of self-concept. It also supports social skills and makes it easier for children to have and keep friends. Relationships with peers and teachers are usually more positive with a healthy dose of self-esteem. Children are also better equipped to cope with mistakes, disappointment and failure. They are more likely to stick with challenging tasks and complete learning activities. On the other hand, failure is much more likely when children suffer from low self esteem. These children show poor academic achievement because they lack confidence and motivation to try their best and to learn new things (Woolfolk, 1995).

In Bhutan, the issue of decline in quality of education has been a concern for many stakeholders and has been discussed at various forums. It has been attributed to many external factors like resources, curriculum, teachers, teaching methods, etc. However, self esteem, an internal factor of a child has not been talked about much. External factors do effect the quality of learning process and learning outcomes, but it is more important to address student-factors such as their self esteem.    

There are only few studies done to find the level of self esteem of Bhutanese students, and these few studies showed alarming results. A study done by Namgay Lhamo in 2008 which included 158 sample students, 85 girls and 73 boys, whose age ranged from 13 to 17 years, revealed that an astonishing 98.11% of the total students had low self esteem and only 1.89% of the students had high self esteem. 

Who can help build children's self esteem? Researches recommend that Teachers and parents play important roles in building children's self esteem since children spent most of the time with them. 

How can parents and teachers help children build their self esteem?
1. Parents 

  • Give unconditional love. 

  • Spending lots of time with your children

  • Allowing your children to make decisions and choices

  • Avoiding too much criticism

  • Helping your children to solve problems for themselves

  • Providing children with positive attention and praise for their accomplishments.

  • Accepting your children for who they are

  • Avoid comparisons. 

  • Improve your own self-confidence

  • Play with your child. 

  • Give responsibilities to children

  • Listen to your child

  • Let mistakes happen

  • Celebrate the positive.

  • Provide encouragement

  • 2. Teachers
  • Rewarding students’ effort, performance, and good choices

  • Avoid criticism, comparison and labeling.

  • Build skills - academic and social

  • Establish positive, trusting relationships with students

  • Value each student's uniqueness.

  • Reminding everybody not to laugh when somebody made mistakes/ No one is perfect!!

  • Knowing his interest, talents and abilities then help him shine through it

  • Getting him involve and socialize with others

  • Encouraging others to give their moral support to him.                                                                    

  • References:
    Woolfolk, A.E. (1995). Educational psychology (6th ed.). Boston: Allyn & Bacon.
    Lhamo, N. (2008). A Preelminary  Study on the Self-Esteem of Bhutanese students. Centre for Research and Development. Paro:Bhutan.
    Saxena, C.S. (2012). Low Self-esteem in Children. Retrieved from esteem-in-children.html on 01 April, 2012.
    Santrock, J.W. (2001). Educational psychology. Boston: McGraw Hill Companies.

    Sunday, September 2, 2012

    Brief History of Education in Bhutan

    Modern education in Bhutan started very late. Before its inception, monastic education was the only form of education in Bhutan. Although informal religious discourses were held since Buddhism started in Bhutan, formal monastic education started only in 1622 with the establishment of the formal monk body at Chari in Thimphu. Young monks came to learn from their masters. They learnt religious scripts memorizing verse after verse. Understanding the verses wasn’t a priority until they attained higher levels. The main aim of religious education was for the spiritual development of a person (Dorji, 2005).

    In 1907, monarchical system of governance started. Gongsa Ugyen Wangchuck became the first hereditary king. He opened the first school in Ha1 in 1914. Subjects like Hindi, English, Arithmetic and Dzongha2 were taught. This marked the beginning of Modern education in Bhutan. It differed considerably from the monastic education because it ‘gave more importance to the development of skills and knowledge, which they believed would produce citizens like doctors engineers, administrators which would be useful for the development of the country’. Some of these pioneer students of the school were selected and sent to schools in Kalimpong and Darjeeling in the neighboring country in India on government scholarships for higher studies.

    Since then the number of modern schools increased year after year and by the early 1960s Bhutan had established 59 schools in different places across the country of which 29 were private schools and 30 government schools. Soon all the private schools were converted to government schools to have a uniform system of education. However the curriculum, instructional materials and most of the teachers were imported from India. This led to the adoption of Hindi, the national language of India, as one of the the medium of instruction. Dzongkha was the only subject taught in Bhutan’s national language.

    Meanwhile, the country had begun to plan its developmental activities for five years and the first five year development plan (1961-1966) had already been launched. The successive five year plans brought tremendous progress in education and by 1988 the number of schools increased form meager 59 in 1961 to 193 in 1989. At the same time the enrollment rate increased from 400 students in early 60s to 70,415 in 1989. With the increasing number of schools, the department of education was established at the capital, Thimphu to monitor the schools spread across different regions of the country.

    In 1962, the government took a landmark decision to adopt western style education and adopt English as the medium of instruction in all schools. According to Dorji (2005) ‘English became the medium of instruction in our country, not because it was convenient language but because it was already the lingua franca of the world. It has also been noted that this was perhaps necessary to maintain links with other countries and for the socio-economic and educational need’. Therefore with the advent of western education Hindi lost its rein from Bhutanese educational system. Since then English was used as the medium of instruction to teach all subjects except for Dzongkha. A new education system was burgeoning. However, due to lack of expertise, resources, textbooks, and teaching materials during those days, it started importing practically everything from outside, especially from the British system prevailing in the North Bengal region of India.

    In 1976, the department of education drafted the country’s first education policy and it was also the country’s first curriculum policy. It promised to make the curriculum that is closely linked with the country’s culture and tradition. In 1984 the paper was redrafted and given more emphasis on the need to make the school curriculum more relevant to the needs of the learner, society and the country at large following which a new unit called Curriculum and Textbook Division (CTDD) was established in the headquarters in 1986 to look after curriculum matters. The CTDD launched ‘New Approach to Primary Education’ (NAPE) seeking a major curriculum review for primary schools (PP to VI). Later the CTDD was renamed as Curriculum and Professional Support Division (CAPSD) (Bhutanese education system, module handout, SCE). Since then the CAPSD played very active roles in localizing the curriculum. In 2000 the curriculum of classes VII and VIII was also localized. It aimed to ‘create a truly Bhutanese science for our students’ (Introduction, to class VII science). By 2005 the CAPSD also completed the localization of the curriculum for classes IX to XII.

    December, 2009 saw yet another landmark change in the system, the infusion of GNH values and principles in schools. A new project called ‘Educating for GNH’ was launched. The following is its vision and mission statement:

    The Principle and values of Gross National Happiness will be deeply embedded in the consciousness of Bhutanese youth and citizens. They will see clearly the interconnected nature of reality and understand the full benefits and costs of their actions. They will not be trapped by the lure of materialism and will care deeply for others and for the natural world’
    (Educating for DNH workshop, 2009). 

    To this end all school have started giving special attention to inculcate ‘principles and values including critical and creative thinking, ecology literacy, practice of the country’s profound ancient wisdom and culture, contemplative learning, a holistic understanding of the world, genuine care for nature and others to deal effectively with the modern world, preparation for right livelihood and informed civic engagement’ (Education for GNH workshop, 2009)


    Dorji, J. (2005). Quality of education.Thimphu:KMT publisher.