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The first 46 students in Haa, 1914
The first 46 students in Haa, 1914

The unsung heroes

Sterling teachers, who serve the Nation in an un-advertised way

Teachers’ Day in Bhutan is an occasion to pay our tribute to Their Majesties the Kings of Bhutan for their tireless effort in introducing and improving the education system of Bhutan. It is also an occasion to appreciate and honour the special contributions made by our teachers of past and present. Education is a golden key to unlock the untapped resources of human capital of Bhutan and usher in economic prosperity, social progress and individual empowerment.

First Western Education

Gongsar Ugyen Wangchuck unfurled the Western education system along with the continued monastic education. In 1914, forty-six boys were sent to SUMI in India for western education. They may have studied in Haa in 1914 for a few months under teachers like Ugyen Chirring and Dawa Namgya Targyen. By 1918, Kiran Kumar Sarkar, R.S. Karthak, S. Sitling, H. Pradhan and Joseph Stein taught in the school at Haa.

Bumthang School

The first mobile court school was established at Lami Goenpa in Bumthang. The SUMI report affirms that “Ugyen Chhiring later opened another school at Pumthong and worked at the Durbar School.” The ‘Annual Report on the relations between the British Government and Bhutan’ (1915-16) stated:

“a school has been opened at Bumthang (in Bhutan), the residence of His Highness the Maharaja, where English is taught to Bhutanese boys besides their mother language, which is Tibetan. Having only recently been opened, this school is at present attended by eighteen students…”

The Bumthang School in Tashiling was instituted under the first trained teacher, Lopen Tashi in 1932 for the Crown Prince Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. Lopen Dago taught in Haa, Lopen Adi opened Paro and Lopen Kharpa started schools in Trashigang. Many students from the Bumthang School were appointed as teachers to start schools in Thimphu, Wangdiphodrang, Paro, etc. in 1951. Lopen Tshewang Norbu, Lopen Sherub, Lopen Bjay and so on started schools in Mongar, Yurung and others. Acknowledging their tireless contribution, His Majesty said:

“If there is one word that will stand out above all other words when we describe our country’s amazing journey of modernization over the last few decades – it is Education. Our institutions, our leaders of today – all of us, including me – are the proud products of the Bhutanese education system.”

The Indian Teachers

As the Chairman of the National Organising Committee for the Golden Jubilee celebrations this year, I cannot but reflect on my own perceptions of and experiences with India. I was a beneficiary of the Indian teachers, who traversed into mountainous Bhutan for weeks since 1961. Thereafter, many came from Kerala in 1962. Madam Sangay Doma from Kalimpong was my teacher in Trashigang School in 1962. Without electricity, tap water, or modern toilets they endured hardships to teach young Bhutanese.  Mr. G. P. Kurup who came to Bhutan in 1960’s recounted one of his earliest experiences. He mentioned:

“I remember my first day in Bhutan. I was posted to Tongsa School. In 1962, Tongsa was 10 days from Geylegphug. With my horseman and his loaded ponies, I walked all the way…..He dumped my luggage in a classroom of the dilapidated old school building, collected his fare and went away driving his horses. I stood looking at the disappearing horses and mule tracks that connected me to the external world. There was not a single human being around… I woke up hearing somebody knocking at the door… A small boy and a girl with a kettle full of suja and bangchu full of red rice and ema datchi stood there……Leaving the kettle and bangchu with me, the children left with their bamboo torch. I had to fight back my tears of happiness. I changed my mind. I will work for these children. I will give whatever I have to make them better persons… What those children did was the real culture of Bhutan. Since then I have had innumerable experiences of this nature. These experiences enriched my life, changed my life and made me what I am today. I learned more than what I taught.”

Our teachers followed the wonderful example of Guru Padma Sambhava or Lopen Pema Jugni from India. He was the first Guru or Lopen Chhenpo-the great teacher. Therefore, His Majesty extolled their services:

“I am also here because India has played a vital role in the field of education in Bhutan. Numerous Indian teachers have for decades taught in our schools and thousands of young Bhutanese have availed quality learning in academic establishments all over India. Such contributions remain invaluable to our friendship.”

In obedience to His Majesty The King, forty-three senior retired Indian teachers, who served in Bhutan were invited as guests of honour to celebrate Teachers’ Day. It was on May 2 coinciding with the Birth Anniversary of His Late Majesty the Third Druk Gyalpo Jigme Dorji Wangchuck. The Royal Media recorded:

“43 teachers from India, who taught in Bhutan in the 1960’s were specially invited from India as guests of honour, as this year also marks the 50th anniversary of Bhutan-India Friendship.

“His Majesty The King and Her Majesty The Gyaltsuen graced the Teachers’ Day celebrations at Changlimithang and interacted with more than 1,500 teachers who were especially honoured by the Ministry of Education for their valuable contributions to the education system in Bhutan.”

One amongst the forty-three retired Indian teachers who joined Bhutanese Teachers’ Day celebration 2018 was 83-year-old KP Nayar, who returned to Bhutan after 26 years. The socio-economic development within little more than two and half decades amazed him. More than the development, he was elevated morally by the gestures from the people of Bhutan. In an interview with Kuensel, he said:

“We believe that mother, father and teachers are god. I think His Majesty The King also believes in similar views. That is a great thing. Who cares if we don’t have enough today? I am really happy that the students and people here still remember me and my work.”

Conclusion

Education has done well through the unsung and buried heroes – sterling teachers, who serve the Nation in an un-advertised way. We want our teachers to inspire the children of today and citizens of tomorrow, and pledge to impart quality education in obedience to the Royal command of our King:

“Leadership, excellence, dynamism and enterprise, and a strong education system, infrastructure or bureaucracy – these are all national wealth that will serve Bhutan forever, irrespective of the challenges that lie ahead of us.”

Contributed by

Justice Sonam Tobgye

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