The modern education in Bhutan has made what I am today. I have been yearning for the opportunity to pen down my feelings on the impact that modern education had on me. On this occasion, I must say that I couldn’t find a more apt opportunity to do it than now when the modern education system in our country is marking its hundredth year of existence. The observance of the Sherig Century by the Ministry of Education of which I have fortunately become a part has allowed me the chance to retrace my own educational journey.
In the decades after the 1960s when mass modern education first started, there has been tremendous emphasis on education in Bhutan. It was in early 1990s that the effect of this emphasis on education trickled down to my village and we were endowed with a small school. Considering all the basic facilities missing in our village among which were health and RNR extension offices, the Royal Government had wisely chosen the provision of a school as a priority. Establishment of the school was not the priority then for many people. Other development like roads and bridges which bear tangible result in short periods of time have always taken more priority than the more long term projects like education. But this was not the case in my village. When the government established the school, there was overwhelming response from our people even though it took almost two decades to see the impact of education. During that time, we were literally lifted from the farm. Now, our village can see many young folks like me who are educated and contribute in big and small ways in their own rights. We were by and large, the first generation to get modern education from our village.
We started our schooling from the hut that was constructed with labour contributions from our parents. The government on the other hand provided us with minimum basic facilities that were enough to keep the process of teaching and learning alive. While, our government was not in the position to provide us with fabulous curriculum and lavish resources, but it was nevertheless successful in engaging us by providing motivated and enthusiastic educators who were able to make up for the deficiencies in all the other spheres. It is very true that education can take place even under the tree if we have motivated learners and educators.
Today, I can clearly remember the moment when a couple from Kerala, India came to our school to teach. To many of us, they were first Indian nationals we had ever seen. Language then was the strongest barrier. I vividly remember how they instructed us to cut grasses. Very often, sign language was the means of communication between us. My teacher used to carry a sickle and literally demonstrated to let us cut grasses, for we were not able to understand English then, certainly not the English that they spoke. We used to speak in Dzongkha to them when we had to talk to them even though we knew they don’t understand. It was also our first to get a lady teacher. When she first came to our class, we said in habitual unison, ‘Good Morning Sir’. By then we thought all the teachers teaching subject other than Dzongkha were called Sir. The only exception to the ‘Sir’ rule was ‘Lopon’ applied to our Dzongkha language teacher. We took a couple of months to get used to the idea of referring to our lady teacher as ‘Madam’. Our journey began from there with our two Indian teachers who brought keys to unlocking our infantile minds which was then duly filled with treasure troves of wisdom by other teachers later.
While the goal of education is pretty broad, for me it has taught me to become a productive member of the society. At a more mundane level, it has given me the chance to live a more comfortable life than my parents. Education in many other countries is an expensive market product. However, in Bhutan we are fortunate to have free education which people from all walks of life can avail. My humble standing in the civil service today is a testimony to the far-reaching effect of free education in our society. If I had to pay for my education, I am sure that I will still have been toiling in my village today.
Being a beneficiary of our generous education system, I am today happy to be able to work for this system. Looking back, I am proud of the choice I have made in my life, helped in large measures by the wisdoms that I have been able to land. It is now my chance to give back what I have received. It is my singular fortune to be in a position to help our education system grow from strength to strength and help change more young people like me.