In 2009, when I joined the civil service, my friends scolded me for my decision to join the Ministry of Education, especially as I had the choice to join other more “rewarding” agencies of the government. Rewarding in terms of foreign travel and training opportunities, not in terms of genuine contribution to the development of my country. I knew then and am convinced now that my choice was right as I work in and travel to the remote corners of my country, to assess the progress of education or as my Minister -who I accompanied- remarks ‘In search of our heroes and heroines’.
Who are our heroes and heroines? They aren’t the caped crusaders of our clueless urban youth’s comic books, they are our teachers who toil unappreciated in huts and bhagos in the most rural parts of our country, equally they may be working in concrete structure amidst the hustle and bustle in the towns. What we can say about our teachers is that they work diligently to educate our children, the future of Bhutan.
Last year I had the opportunity to visit –for the first time in my life- the highland villages of Merak and Sakten in the extreme east of my country, where I spotted first-hand for myself the heroes and heroines of Bhutan educating the youth of these villages. These children, just as any other children certainly have dreams and there are lots of hopes placed on their shoulders and their potential is written on their faces.
I have not the slightest doubt that children here are not exposed to the comforts of urban living amenities. For these regions are untouched by modern amenities and are the homelands of our indigenous people. Just as our urban children areknowledgeable in the use of modern gadgets and exposure, the children in Merak and Sakten are rich in indigenous knowledge. My visit to classes here and interaction with the kids cleared my skepticism about their academic knowledge. They are academically sound in the midst of limited resources.
But life here is very difficult. At the moment everything is intact. However, I am worried that over time, people might prefer the ease of urban life over their rustic life as has happened in countless other villages as the youth are increasingly exposed to urban -or Thimphu, as it is the only large town in Bhutan- life. I could sense the push factorin the village, the lack of communication and entertainment facilities. This could lead to some people choosing to become dish-washers in the hotels in towns.
This demands some timely intervention. We must improve the quality and relevance of education so that are youth are prepared to live meaningful and productive lives either in our towns or in our villages as they may choose. To do this we have to support our heroes and heroines in their battle to educate and prepare the future of our country.
If one wants to discover real civil servants working for the benefit of the nation tirelessly, without demanding rewards in return, one can find them in these remote hamlets, toiling in our small under-equipped schools. Truly, they are the servants of Bhutan.
My visit to Merak and Sakten was a tough journey, but it was only for a few days with the support of the schools, gewog (block) administration and Dzongkhag (district) administration –as the visit was lead by the Education Minister. But our heroes and heroines toil here, day in and day out, without the support and hospitality that my team received. But they must rejoice in the knowledge that they make more of a difference than their counterparts in Thimphu and other urban places.
The visit involved a trek that included unending succession of ascents and descents but it was deeply fulfilling and it was really an eye opener. The fatigue of the climb is now a distant thought, however the colourful reception at the summit by the beautiful people is etched in my memory. For me the visit was an experience of joy and I will always remember the heroes and heroines that I met along the way!!