Thursday, August 22, 2013

Samtse's Sunday Market Is Seeing Change

Sunday market, an open air market, in Samtse, is seeing change. Over the past few years the number of Bhutanese farmers selling vegetables in the market has been increasing. They are mostly from Tendu, Sipsoo, Ghumauney, Sauraney, Sukrutey, Dorokha and Mechetar. They sell homegrown vegetables, fruits, wild vegetables, poultry and dairy products. And the good thing about their farm produce is that they are organic and fresh.

In the past all that people of Samtse could buy were inorganic vegetables sold by Indian vendors. But, now with the number of Bhutanese farmers burgeoning, the Sunday market now offers people more variety of vegetables to choose from. People can often surprise their stomachs with organic vegetables and fruits.

Initially there were just a handful of them and they would appear innocent and timid among confident and seasoned Indian vendors. Gradually the number grew and today, their number is almost equal to the number of Indian vendors. They are now more confident vendors. The small ground in the center of the pea-size town is half filled with Indian vendors and half with Bhutanese farmers. 

On Sunday, shoppers first thronging around local vegetable vendors. The vegetables are sold like hot cakes. It doesn't take long to finish selling them. By afternoon they would be finished. The crowd concentration then shifts to the Indian vendors. 

With the money they get from selling their produces, the farmers take home oil, salt, rice, slippers, shoes, books, pencils, umbrellas, etc. While for some it is simply business. These farmers are helping our money from flowing out.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Cooperative Learning: A Teaching Technique That Would Bring A Shift In Teaching Trend From Teacher-Centered Learning To Learner-Centered Learning.

Nowadays, there is a significant shift in pedagogy trends worldwide from teacher centered method in which instruction is managed and controlled by the teacher who holds power and responsibility in class, to a more student-centered method which allows learners to become more active in the learning process. However, many countries in the world still practice traditional teaching methods in spite of the emerging innovative teaching methods.  Bhutan is no exception. Traditional teaching is still a dominant teaching method. Instruction is facilitated in conventional ways: the use of textbook learning, rote learning, spoon-feeding technique, rote memorization, and learning is limited to the two covers of the books and the four walls of the room. The prevalence of such practice is evident from the results of many recent studies. For example a study conducted by REC in 2009 to study classroom practice in schools stated the following findings:
·Teaching consists of one-way talk by the teacher to convey textbook content without being able to get the students to comprehend and demonstrate learning.
·Classroom instruction shows predominance of one-way talk by the teacher and writing on the chalk board with lesser evidence of student-centric activities.
·There is lesser evidence of active dialogue between the students and teachers.

Such learning atmosphere has many drawbacks. Students become passive learners. They do not get opportunity to engage in active interaction with teacher and among themselves which keeps them from asking questions and sharing ideas. Their doubts, opinions and questions remain to themselves. They do not get enough opportunities to engage actively in the learning process and have less experience in learning themselves.  They rely on teachers to decide what, when and how to learn. They also lack social skills like communication, leadership and decision making. This generally leads to poor understanding of concepts.. These drawbacks of teacher centered learning has lead to low test scores. Besides, students develop negative opinion towards learning. Students also feel that the concepts they learn have no practical value in their life and have low level of learning satisfaction.

The existence of such a trend is a setback in the growth of education system. Today there is public hue and cry over deterioration of the quality of education. One of the factors attributing to deterioration of the quality would be the prevalence of teacher-centered learning. Time has changed. Today our children need different skills and knowledge to be able to live successfully. These skills are aptly called “twenty first century skills.”  The need to provide new skills and knowledge calls for changes in teaching practice and the onus is on all stakeholders and more importantly on teachers. Teachers cannot afford to stick to traditional teaching methods. It is time we come out of the box and be of age. We need to be seriously innovative and practice innovative teaching techniques.

Over the past decades cooperative learning method has emerged as a leading new approach to classroom instruction. Researchers like Roger and David Johnson, Robert Slavin, Spencer Kagan, Cooper, Graves and Graves conducted hundreds of studies to study the effectiveness of cooperative learning in diverse school setting and over wide range of content areas and revealed that students learning through cooperative group tasks have higher academic test scores, higher self esteem, greater number of positive social skills and greater comprehension of content and skills they study. Further, Johnson and Johnson (1989) stated that cooperative learning is an alternative to competitive-individualistic structures and traditional classroom teaching methods. Since cooperative learning has its root in learning theories that places learners in the center, such as Vygotsky’s theory and Piaget’s theory, it is child centered by nature. Cooperative learning represents a shift in educational paradigm from teacher-centered learning to more child-centered learning. So, cooperative learning method would best be an alternative teaching method to traditional teaching in Bhutan.

What is cooperative learning? Examining dictionary, to cooperate means to work or act together for a common purpose. The educational meaning of cooperation is ‘an approach to teaching and learning in which classrooms are organized so that students work together in small groups to achieve a common goal.’ Johnson and Johnson (aka Johnson brothers) proponents of cooperative learning method defined cooperative learning as ‘the instructional use of small groups so that students work together to maximize their own and each other's learning.’ Cooperative learning requires cooperative interaction and negotiation of meaning among heterogeneous members engaged in tasks in which each group members have both something to contribute to and learn from other members. Kagan, also a leading researcher in cooperative learning defined cooperative learning as ‘a teaching arrangement that refers to small, heterogeneous groups of students working together to achieve a common goal.’ Artz and Newman (1990) defined cooperative learning as ‘small groups of learners working together to solve a problem, complete a task or accomplish a common goal.’

A common feature in all the definitions is that students work in small groups. However, cooperative learning is more than just small group activities. It must be well structured. Simply placing students in groups and telling them to work together does not produce a cooperative effect by itself. A cooperative lesson must be well structured and characterized by the five components or principles (1) positive interdependence (2) individual accountability (3) face-to-face interaction (4) social skills and (5) group processing. It must be ensured that lessons include these five components.

(i) Positive interdependence: The heart of cooperative learning is positive interdependence.  Students in cooperative group depend on each other for ideas, resources and moral support for the success of the group. They work on a common goal and they must think that they are linked to each other.
(ii) Face-to-face interaction: It requires children to discuss, share ideas, views and materials, providing and getting feedbacks, encourage to keep one another highly motivated to complete that task they are assigned.
(iii) Individual accountability: Students in cooperative learning are responsible for their own and group’s learning. Having small sized group enhances group accountability because each member will be accountable for learning.
(iv) Interpersonal and small group skills: Students in cooperative groups practice and develop teamwork skills like leadership, decision making, trust-building, communication and conflict management.
(v) Group processing: Students in cooperative groups discuss how well they have achieved the goal, describe what member actions are helpful and unhelpful and make decision about how to continue or change.

When using cooperative learning, it wouldn’t be interesting to have students sit and work in cooperative groups over and over. To make lessons using cooperative learning interesting teachers should use variety of cooperative learning structures. Dr. Spencer Kagan designed some 250+ cooperative learning structures. The following are few:
Team Jigsaw, Roundrobin, STAD (Student Team Achievement Division), Team-Pair-Solo, Circle the Saint.....
The choice of these structures depends on the learning objectives, nature of learners, learning situation, nature of subject in question. 

Assessment is an integral aspect of teaching-learning process. Many teachers in Bhutan overlook or skip this essential aspect. What do we assess in cooperative learning? Well! In cooperative learning we basically assess three things; Individual success, group success and cooperative skills. The assessment could be done by instructor, individual/self evaluation and peers.
Individual success: Individual success can be evaluated by asking students to fill out answers to a worksheet as they progress through an activity; by having them record, analyze, and submit data; or by having them take a quiz. Some activities are structured so that each student turns in a product, such as a report or a poster that can be individually graded
Group success: Group success can be evaluated according to how well the group accomplished its assigned task. Was the task completed? Were the results accurate? If not, were errors explained and accounted for? Criteria such as these provide a framework for group evaluation.
Cooperative skills: Cooperative skills are evaluated based on teacher’s observations of students’ behavior in their group. Evaluating students’ use of cooperative skills will motivate students to use them. Teachers should use a formal observation checklist as he/she monitors students at work and log the frequency with which group members exhibit cooperative skills or disruptive behavior.

It is my hope that this exposition will give teachers an insight into cooperative learning so that they could use it or try it out. And I must mention at the outset that cooperative learning, when tried for first time, may not seem to work as smoothly. Teachers and students may find awkward to be in cooperative learning atmosphere. But that’s obvious because anything new comes in with some uneasiness. Moreover, teachers and students have deep rooted believe in teacher centered learning which would make them perceive CL as alien. But the effect of it would come only with consistent usage. It would need sometime for teachers and students to get acquainted to it.

When asked if cooperative learning method would really work in Bhutanese classrooms, many fellow teachers were skeptical. They said that an alien teaching method wouldn’t work in Bhutanese classrooms. Even if it did, they said, would be time consuming and would not facilitate the coverage of syllabus. Some speculated that CL would only be suitable in LSS and PSS. They also opined that cooperative learning would bring chaos and disharmony in the classroom.

Well! Let me make few things clear. Cooperative learning has been used in diverse cultural and social setting around the world. It has been used in places affected by war, racism, segregation, religion conflict, etc. It has also been used in diverse socio-economic settings, in underdeveloped, developing and developed countries. It’s been used for teaching children of diverse age level, ranging from as young as kindergarten to adulthood. In any case, CL has been found to be an effective teaching method. It has been found to increase test scores, learning satisfaction, and understanding. Students were also found to be enjoying positive learning experiences. 

In Bhutan, cooperative learning has already been pilot tested in many schools. The Singaporean Govt. in collaboration with REC piloted cooperative learning in many schools called ‘Beacon schools’ and in many grade levels. The project found positive results. It was found to be effective in raising students’ test scores, learning satisfaction and level of understanding. Even one of my researches, a personal undertaking, revealed similar results. As for syllabus coverage, cooperative learning has also been found to be effective in covering wide range of content while not compromising the level of understanding. Certain cooperative learning structures like team Jigsaw, STAD, etc has been found to be effective in covering a wide range of content in a short timeframe.

Thus, I request teachers in Bhutan to use cooperative learning and start to be an agent of bringing a shift in teaching trend form teacher centered learning to child centered learning. Let us not be hidebound in our practice. Modern era calls for new approaches to teaching and learning and we must tune our actions to the tide of the modern wind.

Humphreys, B., Johnson, R.T., and Johnson, D.W. “Effects of Cooperative,
Competitive, and Individualistic Learning on Students' Achievement in Science Class.” Journal of Research in Science Teaching, 1982: 351-356.
Johnson, D., and Johnson, R. Learning Together and Alone, Cooperative, 
        Competitive and Individualistic Learning, Needham Heights, MA: 
        Prentice-Hall, 1994.
        Learning:Lesson Plans for Teachers. Edina, MN:  Interaction Book,     
Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, R.T. Leading the Cooperative School. Edina, MN:
Interaction, 1989. 
Johnson, D.W., and Johnson, R.T. “Social Skills for Successful Group Work.”         Educational Leadership, 47(4), 1990: 29-33.
Kagan, S. Cooperative Learning Resources for Teachers. San Juan Capistrano, 
        CA:Resources for Teacher, 1989. 
Royal Education Council and iDiscoveri Educaion, (2009). The Quality of 
        School Education in Bhutan: Reality and Opportunities. Bhutan.
Sherab, K. Bhutanese Teachers’ Pedagogical Orientation in the Primary 
        Classes (PP-VI): A Factor on Quality of Education. 11-30, 2009.
        Boston:Allyn and Bacon, 1995.
Vygotsky, L. S. Mind in society: The Development of Higher Psychological  
       Processes.Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1978. 

Friday, August 2, 2013

A fairy tale

(The following piece is written by Shanti Limbu, a twelfth grader student of Samtse Higher Secondary school. She has a deep passion for writing. In this article she writes about how she bumped into a friend in a library and how common goals can bring people together. The story or perhaps a personal anecdote centers around friendship and sacrifice. I sincerely thank her for graciously contributing this creative piece of writing for my blog.) 
 Shanti Limbu
Do you believe in fairy tales? I never did but I do now. I was unaware of the circumstances that were going to turn my world topsy-turvy. I always knew my life was not the life of Cinderella or Snow White and no prince Charming would come to rescue me. But somewhere deep inside my heart the hope never died. I got his e-mail again and every time I looked at it I was overwhelmed with the hope that a God mother would come into my life and shift the course of it.

“You are wasting my money in all those rubbish you are writing, switch off the light!”, aunt Sonam ordered as usual. I stopped writing before I was announced any punishment for it. I gave a quick scan through the piece I had written. Satisfied I took a deep breath, chanted some prayers and switched off the light. The darkness would have stopped me from jotting down my imagination but it always failed to interrupt the whirlpool of the amazing ideas circling around my mind. I always knew that I had long way to go and sturdy voyage to complete.  I was confident  that I would be a great writer  but  was also in no doubt that it will never come true as long as I was in the house where everything I had was not mine.

“Yuck! The breakfast is gross Pelden”, yelled my cousin sister Kelzang. It was nothing new, the usual morning salutation. Every morning I had to wake up at 4:00 a.m and prepare breakfast, pack lunch for my ungrateful sisters and receive so cunning comments. Every day I woke up with the expectation that they would appreciate me or at least spare me one day from their excruciating remarks. But every day was the same though I left no stones unturned and tried to make it up to them. And the fact remained the same, there was nothing I could do, so I ignored the compliment as usual and headed towards the school.

Going to school was the best thing happening in my life. I enjoyed every lesson and second that I spent at Samtse Higher Secondary School. The class X ‘A’ was my home as my class mates always gave me that warm welcoming feeling which I never got at the house where I stayed and the worst thing was that I  will never ever get. I always thought it was what destiny had decided for me and what I actually deserved but it was not, until that day I realized that destiny had something else reserved for me.

Everyone was gathered at the notice board when I reached at school. I made my way towards the board and was jubilant to see a way to get rid of the house which never became my home and a family who never considered me a part of it. There was it the essay writing competition organized by the Tashi Company for the inauguration of their new book store and the winning prize was the scholarship to study in Ugyen Academy (U.A). I was optimistic that I had the potential to win the competition so I started collecting as much articles as I could from the library and the deadline was only a week away.

“’You can win’ by Shiv Khera, it’s a great book and definitely of your use for the competition”, he handed me the book. I glanced at the book and then at him, we exchanged smiles and introduced each other. He asked me to recommend him some books and we too sooner than I expected became good friends. We used to come to the library in every recess and prepare for the competition. Yoezer was a year senior to me, a very bright student and of course had more knowledge than I had. But I had full confidence that I would give him a tough competition.  

There was only two days left for the submission of the essay. Yoezer wanted me to give my views on his essay but he somehow forgot to bring it to the school, so we went to his house to collect it.

It was a medium sized house encircled by variety of flowers and a beautiful kitchen garden alongside a small canopy in front of the house. Everything looked so complete and welcoming that to my surprise I was getting keyed up to meet with the people inside the house. Then a small toddler came running towards Yoezer from the house. It was a bit unexpected that the kid jumped high to reach his arms and hug him. Everything happened so quickly that he couldn’t prepare himself for it and they both fell down hard on the ground but Yoezer someway managed to save the kid from getting hurt. “What do you think you are doing with my son ha?” a woman in her mid thirties came shouting from the house and snatched away the boy from Yoezer’s hands. “You killed your mother and now you are trying to bring that misfortune to my child? Stay away from my son!” she ended the warning by pointing an index finger towards him and rushed back to the house. Yoezer was hardly holding back his tears; he stood where he was for a moment trembling and headed in the opposite direction of the house leading to the path to my house. Petrified by the whole scene I couldn't move for a while and quickly followed him as soon as I was back to my sense.

“You know Pelden, winning the competition is my only way to a better life and I need to accomplish that by hook or by crook” he said to me with tears in his eyes and so much confidence in his voice that it kind of freaked me out as it was also my only way out to a better life. Then we walked quietly for some time and he narrated me the whole story of how his mother died as soon as he was born and his father started blaming him for the tragedy. The story did not end there, his father decided to remarry and very soon he was not any more his father but only a husband to his wife. Even I had the same story of how my parents died in a car accident and I landed up in my uncle’s house where I was not more than just a slave to my masters. But that was not important at the time because my parents never betrayed me. Both of us had the same destination, the same opportunity to reach it and I truly hoped that the deserving person would win.

I checked and rechecked and again corrected some grammatical mistakes, after reading about seven times I was certain that I would win because it was so authentic and the best piece I had ever written and perhaps I would ever write. It is said that it takes both rain and sunshine to form a rainbow but every day of my life was foggy so I had to create the rainbow myself, within me and I was sure that I was successful in creating one. The day I had desperately waited for finally arrived and I went straight to the staff-room to submit my essay. As everyone was asked to submit it together I looked for Yoezer but he was nowhere to be found. I asked Karma, his closest friend cum neighbor, for where he was about in the most important day of his life. We were frank enough for him to tell me the actual truth of his absence. He told me that Yoezer and his father had a huge fight after his step mother complained to his father of not completing the assigned work because he was busy writing. “This morning he told me, when I went to his house, that they had a long argument and his father finally ended it by tearing his essay, his dream and his only way to escape”. He took a deep breath in and after almost about half a minute released it ending the conversation by saying “Poor Yoezer, he always used to look for the chance to get rid of his family and when he finally found it”, he stopped for a moment to gather the courage to continue and said heavy heartedly, “anyway he wishes you the best.”. He went away with his gloomy face which was reflected out of the real concern he felt for his friend. It was really heartbreaking for me to know all that but anyway my strongest competitor was out of my way. I was enjoying the feeling of victory already.

Even after six months it brought smile on my face thinking that I actually thought that for a second. I looked at the message he sent me from U.A which said, “I never believed in fairy tales but you made me believe in it. You actually came into my life like those charming prince, charming princess in my case, and rescued me from the worthless life and made it worth living. Thank you for sacrificing the honor that you deserved. Sorry that I couldn't thank you personally. I had no courage to come in front of you and tell you to take back the honor that was yours or had the guts to thank you for giving me your rights. I can’t ask you to forgive me for my selfishness but definitely would like to thank you for making me realize that miracles do happen and fairy tales do exist. You truly came to my life as a god mother who filled my world with happiness with your magic wand.”

I distinctly remember how I wrote his name in my essay and submitted. I looked for him the whole week to tell him that his dream will come true but he never showed up. After that he had his common exam and I got busy with my boards. The winner was announced in the BBS during the vacation and I was really glad to hear his name. I was so proud of myself not only because I could trust myself to become a writer one day but also to know what I have done, changed somebody’s life.

My life is as same as it was before, the same school, the same house and the same routine. But I have changed, my beliefs have changed, the person who I was no longer exists, the one who always wanted to run away. I have evolved into a better person. I have started believing in fairy tales, may be because I have made someone believe in it. But I also have learned that sometimes we have to be the God mother and look for other Cinderellas rather than every time considering our self as one. We need to believe in miracles and one day God mother will definitely spin her magic wand and send a prince charming to rescue us.

Shanti Limbu