Saturday, March 30, 2013

State of our education

As a teacher it gives me an immaculate thrill to hear our hon’ble education minister’s response on how the ministry’s prudent actions have culminated in the improvement of quality of education in the country. While I am pleased and at one with most of the points, there are still some areas that seem a little too confusing. Perhaps, thousands of others, especially our teachers, have felt the same.

I agree that the state of education in our country is good, if not better. But the satire evokes when we consider whether every stake holder sings the same hymn. There are still many who rate the state of our education far below. We must not be depressed by the lower ratings nor should we be too excited by the higher ones. We must always look far ahead from where we are. We have the responsibility to take the state of education in our country to ever newer heights. 

Whatever the rating be, it couldn’t have come at a better time as it gives us a basis to take stock of things.

An important element that determines the quality of education is the policies. The quality of education will rise or fall depending upon how applicable our well charted education policies are. It doesn’t really matter whether the policies are borrowed or home-grown. What is important is whether the policies are congruent with the local needs and sensibilities.

For instance, the policy that requires every Bhutanese child to be properly educated appears attractive on papers. But, such noble policies seem to sink without a trace when it comes to formulating effective programmes to meet the end. Schools must be provided with the right reading materials carefully chosen to benefit the students. The choice of the medium of instruction shifting back and forth between English and Dzongkha in teaching Bhutanese History is a case to be considered. Resources are the main concern in our schools, especially those that are located in far-flung areas. Lack of resources has sufficiently added to the deteriorating quality of education in our country.

Teachers have a great role to play in maintaining the quality of education. I agree that the quality of education cannot be better than the quality of teachers. Therefore, we must only recruit those people who are convinced that education is their calling.

Our Sherig Lyonpo revealed that there are also those who have stumbled into teaching by chance. This questions the applicability of our education policies. Why is the number teachers who are truly dedicated marginal? What policies have we framed to attract the best people in the profession so that the quality of education is improved? What remarkable reforms have we seen in the recent past to uplift the morale of teachers?

It is pleasing to hear about the in-service teacher-education master plan at the Centenary Institute of Education in Yonphula, Trashigang. Such plan does have a familiar ring. We are training and educating many of our teachers both within and without the country. In-service trainings without doubt cost our coffers dear, but its effect on the education system remains open to discussion. Prerogatives must reach those people who are truly deserving of them. Offering trainings to teachers just for the sake of training them on bases that are most often unreliable is much akin to forcing a horse to drink.

The educational reforms like infusing GNH values by building green schools in the country is by far one of the most sagacious ideas But for such well-intended policies to bear fruits, teachers who are the main players must be properly remunerated. What good will the written policies bring if the teachers who implement in the field are not committed enough? Whose responsibility is it to ensure that the teachers are given the rewards they merit?

We must not make guinea pigs of our schools and students for testing new teaching methods borrowed from outside without considering our needs and preferences. What has been successful elsewhere may not necessarily work here. We need to rethink our education policies and design appropriate curriculum for our schools. And above all, we need to stop good teachers from leaving. Let us not let the quality of our education deteriorate. We have just observed Sherig Century in pride. Let us not end the journey of a hundred years in bitter tears.

Saturday, March 2, 2013

What demoralises our teachers?

Through the Lens of Confused Teacher

One course vacancy that remains vacant every year despite many eligible graduates is PGDE (Post Graduate Diploma in Education), because smart graduates understand the hard situation of teaching profession. Most clever graduates prefer to remain unemployed than join teaching. Even for class XII graduates, most of them keep B.Ed. (Bachelor in Education) as their last option. Understanding the prospect, they opt for some diploma course rather than B.Ed.

Still, our expectations seem to be very high. We want our teachers to be ideal – competent and committed. Quality education is our real concern, and we want our teachers to uphold it. Teachers should be role models so we cannot accept them making mistakes, both big and small. 

What we are overlooking always is the causes that totally demoralize our teachers to whom the quality education belongs to. There are many and mostly avoidable grounds that pull down the legs of our teachers.

It is time for us to know that despite many people looking down on the teaching profession, some intentionally join teaching even when many doors are open for them. Also, there are many self-financed students who are paying huge amounts of money to become what most people don’t want to be. But we seem to neglect them, unaware of such cases let alone recognizing and cheering them up. I think it is really demoralizing from the day one itself.

BCSE for teacher graduates was introduced in the recent years. But how many of us know about it? Not many, because RCSC seems to see teacher graduates as less important than other graduates. They conduct exams silently and declare results noiselessly without inviting the media for coverage. Likewise, the media too seems to feel teacher-related news to be trivial. It is quite depressing for the toppers of BCSE-B.Ed. graduates to go unseen and unrecognized. Even more upsetting is to see most overall toppers placed in some difficult places, meaning topping BCSE-B.Ed. is less important than topping in general graduates’ exams.

One common concern that all teachers share is TA/DA. It is quite common for teachers not to get TA/DA after tiring dedicated service. Some officials even explained to teachers that there is no TA/DA allocated for teachers. It is understood that the system does not want teacher movement during the academic session. But why are our teachers assigned works that require teacher movement in the first place? Why is it so that there is no money for genuine TA/DA for teachers when there is much money for table tour for other civil servants? Or else, doesn’t BCSR 2012 apply for teaching profession?

Teacher placement is another concern. Many DEOs seem to feel easy to place fresh teacher-graduates to difficult places. This, I think, will really dampen the enthusiasm of our fresh teachers. More than a personal concern, it is really hampering the quality education. During first few years of profession, rather than placing them in the schools where many senior competent teachers are present to guide them, they are placed in the schools where there is a single teacher or in schools where multi-grade teaching is required. In such a way, the system also contributes in deteriorating quality education, but the blame always goes to our teachers.

Some teachers share their concern of their bosses being harsh. For instance, some principals tell off the teachers openly in front of hundreds of students. Many teachers share their frustration via forums for their DEOs and ADEOs being very rude with them unnecessarily. One time, an official from the headquarters asked one of the teachers insultingly if he knows A for Apple, B for Ball when the conversation over the phone was unclear. The fact is that the poor teacher was calling from one of the far-flung places where phone network is not as good as it is in the town where the official lives. Just imagine the status of our teachers in the eyes of the officials working comfortably on a revolving chair.

The consequence of teachers being looked down upon can be huge. Even the public keep their eyes wide open upon our teachers. A simple mistake that the teachers make is much emphasized, never realizing all the goods done. For instance, today parents question teachers for manhandling their children even for good intention. It seems like people feel proud when they are able to take poor teachers before the higher authorities. Till now, nobody has asked if there are some alternative disciplinary tools that will shape their children. And our media seems to be interested in covering and underlining such negative stories.

Finally, if we are really worried about the deteriorating quality of education and adverse behaviour of our teachers, it is also high time for us to identify the cause. Identifying and understanding the cause itself is not enough. We need to find the solution. We need to attract the best of best people to the teaching profession. And to attract the best people, we need to improve the status of the teaching profession. I wish for the system that will motivate our teachers who are already serving in the field, and inspire the best of the best people to join the teaching profession.

First appeared in Bhutanobserver