Thursday, January 29, 2009

On “Quality of Education”

“Quality of Education” has been the topic of intense debate among educationalists, policy makers, teachers and general public for years now. The debate occurred in the scared halls of national assembly, educational conferences, online forums and day-to-day gossips. The general consensus is that the “quality of education” has deteriorated in recent years. Fortunately for policy makers and unfortunately for teachers, every little blames is put on teachers.

Firstly, we will have to agree on what “quality of education” really means. Is it how much materials have the students memorized? Is it how well the students can read, write and speak English or Dzongkha? Or is it about what percentage of students fails or passes the board examinations? Perhaps could it be the variety of talents that the student possesses? Or is it about how well prepared the students are in the job market? May be it’s a combination of all of the above qualities. We will have to come to a common consensus on what is “quality of education” to debate about it. If we consider above mentioned entities as “quality of education”, it is illogical to say that the “quality of education” has declined in recent years. While some of them might have been worse; some of those qualities are better off now than they were years ago.

The main objective of education is to question and search for the higher truth. Hence “quality of education” is how well prepared the students (youths) are to tackle the present and future challenges. The youths of today are faced with a completely different reality than our parents did years ago. Competition has drastically increased, expectations are high and demands for excellence in specialized fields are soaring ever more. On the other hand, apathetic parents and elders are still comparing and contrasting what they could do years ago to what the youths can do today in total disregard to the environment. Therefore it is totally unfair to claim that the “quality of education” that today’s youth are receiving is not as good as the ones received during “good” old times.

Our education system is still based on “Traditional Learning System” which basically does not allow creativity and innovation in the curriculum. Discussions and debates on topics of academic interest are nonexistent. Teachers read exactly what is written in the textbook and declares “syllabus covered” once they finish reading the book. Even creative writings like poems are taught only for the sake of literal meaning. Most of the examinations are “recall memory” test where the students are asked dates and names rather than the actual context of events and practical applications of theories. This teaching and learning system can never prepare our youths to face the challenges in an information age. These are signs of failing curriculum which in turn is the result of failed policies. In fact, our elder generations should have foreseen those changing trends and adapted our system to the changing world if they really did receive better education. Unfortunately, prudence happened to be a meager resource.

Some people argue that the quality of education cannot be any better or worse than quality of teacher. This argument underestimates the importance of “system” itself. If the system doesn’t facilitate in the creation of an academic environment where creativity and innovation is encouraged, good teachers will not serve any purpose. Students will have to be taught about the importance of independent thinking, so that the present trend of borrowing each others' notebook is seen as something unworthy. Teachers should try to act as a catalyst for students to participate in active discussions and exchange their budding ideas rather than being a source of idea. The distribution of teachers should be uniform. At present, some schools have three different teacher to teach some subjects (like a teacher each for organic, inorganic and physical chemistry) while some schools have no teachers at all. This is morally unfair since all students have to take the same exams. The development of infrastructures like libraries will have to be given utmost importance. At the very least, we need books and journals (if not Internet facilities) so that our young minds will be able to explore for ideas.

Just creating an interactive curriculum in classrooms will not have much impact on the society. What use will the knowledge gained in classrooms have if it can’t help the people who are in need? In order to make the new ideas practical, we will have to create a space where practical applications of theories can be made possible. Perhaps it will not be hard to come up with an annual “Innovation” festival where youths from different parts of country can build connections and collaborations. This festival can serve as a space where they can show their artistic and scientific talents. Let it serve as a space where they can show the fruits of their hard work. Let it serve as an environment where talents lying on the extremes of spectrum can be “fusioned”.

With the advancement of technology, our youths will face tougher competition and challenges. They will not be able to march along with the world without an environment in which creativity and innovation is encouraged. If we create a learning environment of dynamism and competition, our youths will be able to face the hard challenges of present and future without difficulty and our elders will not have to worry about the deteriorating “quality of education.”

[ Note: An edited version of this article has been published by BhutanObserver - a private news paper based in Thimphu, Bhutan. Click here read it.]

Monday, January 12, 2009

Hoch Scholarship Program and Bhutan

“The Hoch Scholarship program is a small private scholarship program which provides funding for up to two Bhutanese grantees, currently in the field of electrical and hydroelectric engineering at the undergraduate level, for a maximum of four years. Grantees are selected by the Royal Civil Service Commission of Bhutan. Grants are full grants and cover tuition, room and board, insurance, airfare and grantax services. It is funded by an individual philanthropist and his family”, says the Information on Institute of International Education (IIE)’s website. That is the only information on this scholarship program which educated a handful of Bhutanese students in the United States in engineering fields. I am sure all those students are contributing towards the nation building process.

I have been lucky enough to receive this same scholarship and study here in the United States. I am sure that the extraordinary experiences (be it in academic or non-academic fields) I gain here will help me in contributing back to the nation which made me the person I am today. I am from a poor family and I neither have aunts or uncles who have the power and wealth to make a difference in me. If I am to thank anyone, I will have to thank my parents for bringing me up and enrolling me in school even when they lived hand to mouth, and the Royal government for the enlightened initiative of free education policy. Thank you.

I think I have the responsibility to know what Hoch Scholarship is. After all, it’s this scholarship which brought me to a land which I can only watch on Television; and attend a university which I can only dream of attending.

In order to understand Hoch Scholarship, we need to understand the Helvetas - Bhutan relationship. In 1948, Her Majesty the Queen Mother, Ashi Kesang Choden Wangchuk and Ms. Lisina Hoch attended the same school in London (House of Citizenship). Ms. Lisina was the daughter of a Swiss industrialist and trader, Mr. Fritz Von Schulthess. In 1949, Mr. Schulthess’ family visited the family of Ashi Kesang at Bhutan House in Kalimpong. After Ashi Kesang married His Late Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuk, the royal family of Bhutan and Mr. Schulthess’ family developed close ties. It is from this relationship that Helvetas had its existence in Bhutan.

[The photo to the left is Ms. Lisina Hoch. Photo Courtesy of Helvetas - Bhutan. ]

The Hoch Scholarship is a private scholarship funded by Mr. Late Frank Hoch and Ms. Lisina Hoch’s family. Ms. Lisina is also the Vice President of Bhutan Foundation with its headquarter in Washington, DC. Since the initial intent of the scholarship is to train Bhutanese engineers in electrical or hydro-electrical engineering, I guess I can say it started after government took initiative to develop power projects (most probably Chukha) in the 1970’s. I have no hard evidence to back my unofficial claim. Before I came here I did met a alumni of Hoch Scholarship who is in his mid/late forties, so I think it is quite safe to say it started in 1970’s or before (assuming he is not the first person to get the scholarship). I do strongly believe that RCSC will have the record and will be in a good position to say about it. I will try to find it later!

Sunday, January 4, 2009

Into the Thunder Dragon

I finished my assignments and submitted them. I had nothing to do, so i surfed the web for some documentaries on Bhutan. I found a documentary which is about a Canadian and an American unicyclist traveling in Bhutan using unicycle. They travelled from Paro to Ura, Bumthang in a bus and trekked the Rudungla Pass between Ura and Trashi Yangtse. On their journey, they gave some fascinating geographical, historical and cultural information in first person. This is one of the best documentary I have seen on Bhutan. It's simple, deep and very informative and educative. Even thought I am Bhutanese, I have never seen those passes myself, It's a time well spent. For those people who are interested in watching the documentary, I have embedded the video below:

Saturday, January 3, 2009

Innocence is Bliss

Thanks to the technological developments! I hardly go to movie theater to watch movies now. We can just buy DVDs or even better, we just need to order them online through several movie renting sites like Netflix. It is much cheaper than going to theater. But sometimes, you feel that you are happy that you made the choice of doing something which is more difficult, more expensive, or more challenging. My friends asked me to go for movie with them. I resisted at first but finally submitted to their persuasion. We drove to the theater which is about five minutes drive from our apartment. I tried to persuade them to watch “Body of Lies” but they insisted on “The Boy in the Stripped Pyjamas”. Finally we settled on voting and I lost the deal.

“The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas” is a British-American drama film produced in 2008. It is based on a fictional book by John Boyne. It circles around the adventure of a eight years old German boy during World War II. Bruno, a son of a German Nazi commander in a concentration camp suddenly has to move to a countryside from Berlin when his father gets promoted. On his very first day, Bruno looks from the window of his bedroom and spots several people in “stripped pyjamas”. He mistakes them for farmers and asks his mother if he can play with those farmer boys. But his mother figures out the truth and discourages Bruno from getting outside.

One day as Bruno is playing outside, he finds a way to get out through a window. Secretly, he goes there and becomes friend with a Jewish boy (Shmuel), who is of same age. He asks if Bruno have food in his house and if he likes soldiers. From that day, Bruno secretly steals food and goes to the camp to play with Shmuel. One day Shmuel tells Bruno that he didn't see his father for few days. They discovers that they can dig a hole under the fence so that they can bypass the fence. At the same time, Bruno's family tries to move out to a safe place for their children to grow. On the day his family were to move to a new town, Bruno escapes to the camp and tries to help Shmuel in finding his father. In the process, they are transferred to a gas chamber and killed.

"It's not fair. Me being stuck over here on my own. While you are over there, playing with friends all day long", says Bruno not realizing Shmuel is in a concentration camp. It is a beautiful story and I am glad I went to watch it. The trailer of the movie is given below:

Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Images

This photo of late His Majesty the 3rd Druk Gyalpo was taken by Frank and Lisina Hoch in 1955.

This photo is in upstate New York.