Wednesday, July 27, 2011

The system calls the final shots

Published in to Bhutanobserver (July 8, 2011)

The Bhutanese education system is commended for its growth and reach, but it is criticized for the perceived decline in quality of education. Appreciation and criticism notwithstanding, the system has undeniably undervalued the hard work and sacrifice made by hundreds of committed teachers across the country.

Everyone – the educated and laymen alike – assume that the decline in the quality of education has got to do with the quality of teachers. But the irony is that there is hardly any policy to boost the quality of teachers. The quality of teachers depends on the quality of the education system just as the quality of education depends on the quality of teachers. It finally boils down to the quality of the system.

Introducing an entry exam for teacher graduates is one of the prominent measures that the Ministry of Education has adopted to ensure that only competent and committed graduates join the teaching profession. Now it is evident that the level of effort that the trainee teachers put in their studies has amplified because they know that it is only their academic marks that will pull them up in the end. The people’s expectation is high now.

But, what does the recent move of introducing community-based teachers mean? If our goal is quality over number, I see no point in the initiative. Teaching in primary schools needs special training and skills because dealing with young children is much more difficult than dealing with more mature students. If everybody interested is allowed to join the teaching profession freely without examining their qualification and competency, it will only affect the current competency and professionalism of our teachers, which is already suffering.

I think that in order to rope in good people, an important thing we need to do is to improve the learning environment at the colleges of education. Most of the trainees are compelled to stay as day-scholars due to shortage of hostels. The cost of studying becomes almost as high as studying in some private colleges in India. Even the existing hostels are very old, demanding immediate renovation. Who would prefer teaching if this is the situation at the colleges of education?

The curricula in the colleges of education are the driving force which will enhance the learning outcome of the trainees. Unlike the current practice, more focus should be given to pedagogy and the content of teaching. We learn teaching skills and strategies for just a semester with mere six months of teaching practice, which I feel is inadequate. Teaching some of the modules that we can understand in a single reading needs rethinking – whether they are necessary. It consumes time that could be used for learning better modules.

More than anything, for the quality teacher, quality lecturers at the colleges of education is important. They should be highly qualified, competent and committed. Their teaching should be proficient and markings should be fair and transparent, because when the tutors exhibit mediocre kind of support and guidance, learners virtually lose trust in them. When the markings are obscure, it really discourages the learners to work hard.

If we want quality education, we need to find an alternative to many of the present initiatives.

I plead with the authorities concerned and the public to join hands to uphold the quality of education in Bhutan. Let us consider the status and motivation level of our teachers for every move that we take. Let’s not directly pin down the teachers who are helplessly trapped in the complicated circle of system. Rather, we will encourage them with our best wishes for their dedicated and determined service. Let us help reclaim the noble profession again.

By Sangay Phuntsho (Trainee at Paro College of Education)