Teacher's Day is celebrated in Bhutan on the Birth Anniversary of the Third Druk Gyalpo. Why? Bhutan underwent the transition from medieval society to modern nation state during the reign of HM Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The conditions for such a transition were harsh given Bhutan's isolation. Yet, in that short time the Third Druk Gyalpo initiated and firmly set Bhutan on the path of global integration and socio-economic progress. His Majesty's greatest tool? Education.
Two remarkable events initiated by His Majesty formed the spark that lit the light for education. The first was identifying and bringing into Bhutan skilled and dedicated expatriate teachers. The second was the establishment of the teacher training institute in Samtse in 1968. Each and every Bhutanese today, has been directly or indirectly touched and affected by these two events, through the generations of teachers who have dedicatedly carried the torch of sherig-yonten from Lunana in Gasa, Bara in Samtse, Lauri in Samdrup Jongkhar, Merak- Sakteng in Trashigang to Lhamoi Zingkha in Dagana.
On this day, teachers will be felicitated in schools throughout Bhutan. This annual ritual, of thanking our teachers must not be limited to the day’s events, and should instead make us reflect on the immense contributions of a teacher. It should stir us into understanding their work environment, their challenges of meeting every parent’s expectations and the enormous sacrifices that they make. We must also ask what we want for our country, and how our education system must help us achieve it. How the education system and therefore, teachers, will play a key role in determining how the future of Bhutan will look. In this light, we must ask ourselves honestly, whether we are providing the right gifts to our teachers.
The quality of education has ruled every discussion on education in the last decade. Several studies and reports have been completed each with providing a list of well-intentioned recommendations. At the core of the discussion are the teachers and the two recurrent themes related to their profession. The first is “heavy work load for teachers” which has a crippling effect on teacher performance.
This is linked to two determinants, the student-teacher ratio (STR) and the number of hours/periods that a teacher teaches. While current policy recommends a ratio of 30:1 and national figures estimate a ratio of 20:1, the reality is that teachers teach more than this number in every class. There are wide variations across schools and within districts. Where demand for admission is high (e.g. in Thimphu), the class sizes have been increased, limiting space and making it difficult for the teachers to manage. While overall ratio maybe maintained, the actual burden is felt by teachers who are in the class every day. Similarly teachers are limited to 22 hours of teaching, however in reality teachers are working far more than that. Policy makers fail to observe the extra time (before and after school hours) spent by teachers in preparing lesson plans, assessing student work and participating in extracurricular activities. Most teachers sacrifice time with their family and children to ensure that other children benefit from their teaching.
The second recurrent theme revolves around “attracting the best and the brightest through incentives” such as entry grade, remuneration, housing, enabling work environment etc. Every report on education reform has this recommendation but in every case has remained a rhetoric confined to the pages of a report. There is universal acknowledgement that teachers lack incentives such as professional working environment (pursuing academics only, teaching subjects that they are trained in, reduced workload, adequate teaching-learning materials, opportunities for professional development, enhancing pedagogy etc.), appropriate remuneration (entry grade, salary, transparent promotion and career enhancement, reward and recognition etc.) and personal life (accommodation, time with family, attending domestic work etc.) Until and unless these issues are addressed and provided through policy implementation, the profession will fail to attract the best and the brightest.
Two major initiatives, “Educating for GNH” and “Education blueprint” by two successive governments, although laudable have failed to provide teachers with the environment that they deserve. As the main architects of building all other professions, we can only expect the best from our teachers. However to do that, teacher welfare must be on the top of the education agenda. It is very well to focus on curriculum, to introduce GNH in schools, to consolidate and establish central schools etc; however, without placing the teacher at the center of these reforms, the impact on educational outcomes will be limited