Sixty years ago, Dasho Babu Tashi handpicked Tshewang Norbu, Sherub, and Dorji Wangchuk to run one of the first schools in eastern Bhutan, Yurung School in Pemagatshel. Tshewang Norbu, who is now 92, headed the school as the teacher-in-charge.
That was in April 1959. Academic session began with these three teachers and 138 students, all boys.
Hindi and Chokyed (classical Tibetan script) were the media of instruction in the school for the first five years. Lopon Tshewang Norbu from Chongshing and Lopon Sherub, 89, from Dewathang taught Hindi. Late Lopon Dorji Wangchuk from Tsebar Thongphu taught Chokyed.
English as a medium of instruction was introduced only in 1964.
As the alumni of Yurung School celebrated its diamond jubilee yesterday, coinciding with the Coronation Day of His Majesty The King, two founding teachers were honored with Ku-Sung-Thukten for their long life.
How the school started?
Trashigang School and Yurung School are considered as one of the oldest schools in the eastern region, followed by the establishment of Mongar School in May 1959.
These schools were the products of the vision of the First King Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck. His Majesty, in 1914, sent 46 Bhutanese to the Scottish Universities’ Mission Institution (SUMI) in Kalimpong, India, to study and later participate in shaping the nation’s future. Pemagatshel had the second highest number of candidates, including Babu Tashi (former chief justice Sonam Tobgye’s father), Babu Pema, Babu Mepala, Babu Lawang, Babu Dho Thinley, and Babu Karma Wangdi.
On the command of the Third King His Majesty Jigme Dorji Wangchuck to construct two schools in Zhongar, one in Mongar and other in Shumar drungkhag, the then Shumar Dungpa, Babu Tashi started to build Yurung Primary School in 1957. It took about two years to complete a two-storey building with six rooms.
In his message to the diamond jubilee magazine, the former Chief Justice Sonam Tobgye stated that he remembered his late father planning the school and enrolling scores of students.
“My late father recorded in his diary about the trials and tribulations to start the school,” he stated.
According to Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, the school started on the “bright morning” of April 12, 1959 at the auspicious of “Nyn-droe” as recorded in his father diary. The wailing children were herded into the school building, their emotional parents watched them tearfully.
“My father wrote in his diary: ‘Most of the parents of the chosen school children do not like to admit their children to school.’ Most probably due to the poverty for they are not in a position to make arrangement of food for their children. Poor fellows, when will their condition be better materially?’” the former chief justice stated.
Both Lopon Tshewang Norbu and Sherab attended the school’s golden jubilee celebration in 2009.
Memories to cherish
Recalling the old days, Lopon Tshewang Norbu said that in the first year, they took in about 200 boys but could not take any girls.
He said that due to lack of boarding facilities, boys from far-flung places from Dungsam Dewathang, Orong, Zobel, Shalli, Shumar, Mikuri, and Dungmin used to carry and stock ration for weeks and months. “Dormitories were makeshifts made up of locally improvised materials, constructed and put up near school building,” he said.
Lopon Tshewang Norbu, who served for 25 years as teacher and headmaster, studied in Scottish University Mission Institute (SUMI). He taught the children of Dasho Zhongarpa, the Monggar Dzongpon at Chungkhar, Pemagatshel, for two years and tutored the son of Shumar Drungpa, Lyonpo Sonam Tobgye, for two months before he taught at Yurung.
Lopon Sherub also recalls how he was sent as a teacher to Yurung School along with two other handpicked teachers by Dasho Babu Tashi. Each of them received five Rupees as soelra on March 4, 1959. He said that many challenges and problems were faced by the students, parents and the teachers.
“We started using different techniques to let the students stay in class by letting the parents to be seated with the kids and sometimes they were given sweets,” Lopon Sherub recalls. “With time the students were accustomed with the new school system.”
The teachers were paid a monthly salary of Nu 65, which had to be collected from Mongar Dzong every three to four months. “Dasho Babu Tashi being the Mongar Dzongpon, he used to collect our salary from Mongar Dzong. So we did not have to travel to collect our salary from Mongar Dzong instead it was collected from Nangkhor, which was Dasho’s residence at that time,” Lopon Sherub said.
However, Lopon Sherub had to resign in1961 as he had to go as an interpreter for the local labourers and Indian contractors who were constructing roads in Dewathang.
He studied Hindi in Pakizuli, Assam and then studied under the tutorage of Dasho Babu Tashi in Nangkor.
“For four years I was serving Dasho and his family where Dasho had given me a hand written book by Dasho himself to be studied,” Lopon Sherub recalls. “The book contained words in Hindi which had meanings in English and Tsangla which made easier for me to understand and learn.”
Sonam Tshewang was among the first group of students from their generation to study in formal education system. “The parents were not sure of the correct date of birth of their children so probably our teacher hypothetically entered our date of birth which is not our biological date of birth,” he recalls. “It was the first experience of such kind therefore there were lot of hue and cry amongst the parents themselves.”
He said that their first lesson began learning Hindi alphabets. The books were full of Indian pictures. “I am not sure whether there was proper syllabus and curriculum to be followed. We were provided Hindi and Tibetan books. Hindi easier than the Tibetan,” Sonam Tshewang, who is enjoying a retired life, said.
He said two young teachers, Sangay and Thinley from Tashigang joined Yurung School as Hindi teachers later. “They were fresh, energetic and strict teachers. There was no restriction like today in using cane in the classroom,” he said. “Psychologically, a happy teacher influences better than a strict teacher, but traditionally strict discipline was appreciated. We were to learn two foreign languages blindly at a time without any aims or ambition.”
“Lopon Tshewang Norbu and Lopon Sherub’s students from Yurung School have played an important role in nation building and I am confident that the successive generations will also play an important role individually and nationally with unwavering faith,” the former chief justice Sonam Tobgye said.
The diamond jubilee celebration saw the people of 11 gewogs bringing varieties of agriculture produces for display.