Sunday, November 27, 2011

In Praise Of A Teacher

For the better part of last year and early this year, the topical discussions that refused to die down concerned those of the high profile teachers who refused to be moved out of Thimphu, deteriorating quality of education - supposedly as a result of poorly trained and qualified teachers, and the introduction of NAPE system/method of teaching in our schools. 

The Education Ministry brought out a rule that made it mandatory for a teacher posted in Thimphu for more than 20 years to be transferred out, without exception. Did the rule work? No idea, but I can bet you my last broken Chettrum that it most likely did not - given our penchant for breaking laws and opposing rules. Did the quality of education improve since? Most definitely NOT - most likely it has worsened even further. 

I think the government and the people are barking up the wrong tree - in blaming the teachers and the NAPE system. They need to get a fresh perspective on what really ails our education system. Have we assessed the quality of our students? Is it possible that the falling standards of our education could be directly linked to the deteriorating quality of our students? Is it possible that if we work at improving the quality of our students, we could see improvement in the quality of education as well as the graduates we churn out? 

However, my post is not really about the quality of education in Bhutan – but about a refreshingly “different” teacher I met in Langdurbi, Kheng Zhemgang during my tour of the Upper Kheng areas. His name is Yeshey Gyeltshen. His photo is posted below. 

Mr. Yeshey Gyeltshen tells me that he has been posted in Langdurbi Community Primary School since 2009. Before that he was posted for three years (2006 – 2008) in Panbang – another community school in the remote Lower Kheng area. When I met him in 2010, he had already spent 5 years of his teaching career (and all of his working life) in the remote areas of Kheng. His wife is a NFE teacher and he has a daughter who studies in Class II. 

He was enthusiastic, lively, cooperative and very, very helpful. He opened one of the dilapidated classrooms so that I and my assistants could sleep in it. In the evening I invited him and his family to dine with us. Although I was on the road for the past 16 days, I still had a few pieces of sikam in my zem that I wanted to share with him and his family, for his hospitality. 

Over dinner the teacher explained to me why he was so happy to be working in rural Kheng. He explained that being in rural areas, he and his wife could save whatever they earned by way of salary. There were no shops to go to; since there was no road, he had no need for a car and therefore, no need to spend money on fuel; there was no party or dance culture in the villages, so he didn’t have to spend on gifts and such. And, as a teacher, the villagers and the parents of the students brought him vegetables and eggs and cheese and butter from time to time - a customary Bhutanese culture of Changjey for the venerable Lopen. The only money he needed to spend was on rice, salt and oil. Rest he either cultivated in his kitchen garden or the villagers provided them free. As a result, he did not experience the financial pressures his peers in the urban centres did. 

At the end of the year, he confided to me that, even with their meager salaries, they easily saved close to Nu.90,000.00 between him and his wife. That money, he says, is enough for him to send home to help out his old parents. Further, with a glint in his eyes, he tells me that during the winter school workshops that he attends in the capital or Punakha or some such places, he finds that he is among the richest teachers in the group - because he finds that he is the only one who can treat the rest to lunches and dinners - because, although his colleagues drive cars, they barely have money enough to fuel them up. 

He told me that he will be willing and happy to work in the rural areas. There is only one condition that he sets and hopes that his Ministry will understand. That is, he says that after his daughter passes out from Class VI, he wants to be transferred to some urban centre so that his daughter has the opportunity to continue her studies in a proper school. 

Now, I dare say that Mr. Yeshey Gyeltshen is one school teacher who has his head screwed in on the right place.


  1. I adore children, enjoy explaining anything I know and I love creativity in all aspects. So how come I did not become a teacher. Hmmmmm

    Well I realized, I truly have all these traits only now.
    Why didn’t my mother notice these characteristics in me and try bringing my attention to these natural potentials. Why didn’t my teachers assess my qualities and weigh that I had it, to make it as a good teacher.

    Whoever I may want to blame, the fact of the matter is I am not a teacher and though I know that I have a choice, I am chicken shit to become one.

    Somewhere it is conditioned that to be a teacher here in Bhutan, you will need to sacrifice many things of comfort, not be recognized (forget about the authorities and the society, even the children you taught would have forgotten you) and the carrot that the teachers get at the end of the day is a pretty withered one.

    Am I conditioned to believe all of the above or does it just obviously hold true.

    Until the day I have the courage to be a teacher, I will keep hunting for positive stories like this one and probably I will get up one fine day to live my true calling.

  2. Dear coffee,

    Carpe diem!!

    Go forth and do what you love to do. Life is beautiful because it gives you the choice to die doing what you love doing. It does not take courage to live life the way you want to live it - it merely takes understanding that death must not come with the regret that you did not live life the way you wanted to.

  3. Mr Yeshey, Salute to you for recognizing the grappling issues! “Quality of education” has become an intriguing “hide and seek” game. All the moves our Ministry make is similar to R.K Narayan’s story about Malgudi Days. In his story,Lawley Road the Municipality of the town decides to rename the town’s streets and institutions to reflect nationhood(foreshadowing the way in which India’s largest cities were officially changed—from Madras to Chennai, for instance).For example a Market Square was renamed as “Hamara Hindusthan Park. This brought chaos. Mails went haywire. As more places were renamed, mayhem ensues, so that “the town became a wilderness with all its landmarks gone.” The chairman of the municipality seizes on a statue of one Sir Frederick Lawley, whom they believe had been “a combination of Attila, the Scourge of Europe, and Nadir Shah, with the craftiness of a Machiavelli.” At great cost and effort, the enormous, stubbornly solid statue is hacked away and ultimately removed with the aid of dynamite, only for the chairman to realize that Frederick Lawley had in fact been a virtuous governor who had advocated for India’s independence and died in the attempt to save villagers from drowning in a flood. In rest of the story the characters in there go chaotic trying to restore the statue to street-All Ado About Nothing!
    The story is not a reactionary allegory; rather, it is said to point, comically, to the way a political transition can alter not only a nation’s identity but also an individual’s sense of order. I see this story echoing across the globe. One can imagine the potential for similar confusion across the globe, whether in the process of striking down statues in the former Soviet Union or, more recently, in Iraq. And ours for sometimes has been with this child’s play of “Quality of Education”.
    YD,Curriculum has been reformed. Teachers transferred. What is the Ministry doing about Teacher’s Education? What about recruitment? They forgo quality for quantity. They expect teachers to retain their age old strategies for modern learners. Government has money to invite consultants for petty contracts and no fund to upgrade teacher’s knowledge. New curriculum lies like unfit glove in the schools closet. Even if they have the boat they don’t have oars. This Yeshey you encountered is one GNH fellow. But go out and converse with many you will have interesting stories. Stories of frustration, challenges passions and maize fields (Byond the Sky and the Earth – Jamie Zepa).
    I muse like the Gods do at humans efforts to defy death. I muse at how this ball of “Quality of Education” rolls from side to side, corner to corner yet never striking its post. The day it does I pray I still live to celebrate and do the done dance!
    Salute to those passionate teachers who teach the child and not the subject!

  4. YD, curriculum has been undergoing several transformation since NAPE days. Next was “Wholesome Education” curriculum became too packed (like a soaked sponge). Now there is this XSeed being experimented. REC has picked few schools and transforming them to being Beacon Schools. There is this “Life Skill” which teacher needs to identify from the text and practice. And overall all curriculums should be GNH infused! So much is done YD. I can’t wait to see our GNH students- an ideal GNH citizen!
    But do we study if our teachers are equipped with handling all those new stuffs? Somewhere something is missing and people better wake up before it is late.
    YD, thanks for that one word “wow” I seemed to have bite your tongue bit far this time.
    Keep writing. Your writing tickles.

    Good Day.

  5. Nice post Sir, I am a teacher and as a teacher I only wish I can also serve my country like Sir Yeshay(teacher). But like him I have a son and I also want something good for my kid, as parents we always want the best for our children. But when my son is old enough for college, me and my wife, have already decided that we will teach in a remote school.

    With regard to the quality of education I feel the Government or the Ministry has to attract good teacher material. At the moment teaching is the last option for most youth and most youth who become teachers are the ones who don't qualify for other higher studies. But this can change, I wonder what the McKenzie people had to say to the Government on this, nothing new I think.
    The best solution, I feel, would be to make the teaching profession one of the most sought after jobs and i think people know how that can happen.

    But honestly speaking I don't care about this question, what I care is that I do my best as a teacher.

    Thank you sir for your post, hope there will be more with regard to education.

  6. There are two professions that I admire - teachers and nurses as they require loads of dedication, commitment and compassion. Why do we have lackadaisical teachers and heartless nurses? Well, because many get into these professions through lack of choice.

    Anyways, this is a nice tribute to a teacher. I like the attitude of Yeshey Gyeltshen to always look at the positive side of a situation. This is the best path whether at work or a relationship. Anon.

  7. I know, you have been to Lingzhi as well. I hope you met the Lady Principal in Lingzhi Community Primary School. Perhaps, teachers in Thimphu should take her as the example and inspiration- if they are positive about leaving Thimphu for some years.
    And coming to the quality of education i can say one thing- It's not solely teachers who should be blamed for people like me who were deemed okay for teaching are the high school graduates with average marks. Who made that decision- I didn't do it atleast. I hope that makes sense to some extent.