ENCOURAGING A GENERATION OF FREE THINKERS
Our education system has evolved since the days students looked up to teachers as draconian demigods whose every word was their command. A teacher meting out punitive measures for minor mistakes is also a thing of the past. On a positive note, we can say that teachers these days have the opportunity to be flesh and blood, humane role-models if they choose to.
Over the past few years, some major reforms have swept over the system: ones to be noted being the central school system, which aims to reduce walking distance for students in far-flung rural pockets, bring teacher- student ratio to standard proportions while also spreading equity by integrating children from all backgrounds and classes of life onto a common platform.
Other reforms include teacher development, English proficiency development, and disseminating administrative and other duties to the rightful authorities while teachers carry out the sole mandate of teaching so that they are not crushed by additional responsibilities.
Another major reform initiated by the education ministry recently is the transformative pedagogy training of 10,000 teachers across the country whereby the “talk-down” system of teaching would now turn into a conducive learning environment for children with them discussing and contributing ideas instead of simply listening and taking down everything.
Going by these revelations, we should be happy that education in the country is encouraging a generation of youth who will not be spoon-fed or worse, forcefed, so that their voices are muffled.
Instead, we are hopefully directing a generation that could make a difference in the world, to be free thinkers. Thinkers who will come up with creative solutions to problems. Thinkers who will use both heart and head to make way out of a maze or puzzle. And dare we dream, thinkers who will resolve the next big challenge arising from climate change, who can sort out a dispute between two first world countries ready to fire missiles at each other, or one who can predict and analyze a country’s way out of an economic predicament.
In Bhutan, we need a breed that can come up with off-the-beaten track solutions to the rising menace of human-wildlife conflicts, empty households (gungtongs), dry irrigation channels, depleting natural resources, urban housing crunch, garbage disposal, non-communicable diseases, unhealthy lifestyles, alcoholism and so forth.
Are we asking for too much? Would the theory of relativity, speed of light, gravity, the elements of a cell, and a laser beam be discovered if we lacked free thinkers? Would the classics have been penned? Would Salvador Dali and Van Gogh created their masterpieces?
A child’s education is certainly one of the greatest investments, especially a good, even a wonderful education. It makes all the difference between a lost life and one of talent, hard work and productivity.
Education Minister Norbu Wangchuk, at a recent talk at the Journalists Association of Bhutan, said that to encourage Bhutanese children to be free thinkers, we should give free bounds to the three Cs: creativity, collaboration, and communication.
While the scenario looks encouraging, we cannot turn a blind eye to the fact that some of our youth are enduring hardships and exertion to avail the most basic education and amenities.
Think of remote schools where children have to walk for hours or cross swelling rivers to get to school and back, over-crowded hostels lacking proper drinking water and sanitation facilities, and outbreak of diseases due to lack of nutritious food or limited insulation against harsh weather conditions.
There are also children not so privileged: who have to work hard to balance house chores and school assignments, who cannot afford a proper pair of shoes or sneakers for the next sports meet, who sleep on jute mattresses covered by torn blankets.
Life was never easy. Getting a proper education is not easy. But our educationists must realize that posterity will thank them if we set up an education system that will help future citizens realize their innate potential as unique individuals.
At the end, our youth must grab every opportunity that comes their way where they can employ themselves to gain sound knowledge, unleash free thinking skills, and cultivate values and principles that build character.