Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The discipline issue in Bhutan

Through out the year we have tried to be very positive and upbeat about our lives in Bhutan and generally that is not a struggle. It is a great place to live and travel and even work. However I do not feel I can end this first year, without airing my concerns about one very hot educational issue: discipline.

For me the greatest cause of concern at school has been discipline. Student behaviour problems are often discussed as having risen directly from them knowing their rights! And teachers routinely lament corporal punishment having been prohibited. I have been shocked, depressed and angered by the level of violence I have seen; not heard about from students but directly observed. 

In October an article by a training teacher who had recently completed teaching practice once again outlined the horrors of the so-called "positive discipline" method currently employed and proposed returning to corporal punishment as a viable and necessary way to improve students' behaviour. This so enraged me that I wrote an article and sent it to Kuensel, one of the local newspapers. To my delight it was published on October 31st only a few days after I had sent it. Kuensel actually gave it the title, not me, by the way. Many of you may have already read it but it can be found at the link below if you are interested. 

kuenselonline » Blog Archive » Positive discipline is enlightened punishment

It was gratifying to see the number of BCFers who contacted me after its publication to express their support for my views.

After the final exams for class XI and class IX, I once again put pen to paper and the article below is the result. 

Reflections on "negative discipline." Does rhetoric give way to practice at some point?

In 2011, in Bhutan, I have seen boys pushed roughly into the metal cabinet in the staff work area by an enraged male teacher and then repeatedly thumped by other male teachers, for using foul language to a female colleague, in her class.

I have witnessed a boy being viciously elbowed in the back several times by a grown man and person of authority, for being absent for morning study.

I have watched a whole class of grade 11 students be marched from their classroom and made to stand in the blazing sun on a summer's day for being unable to solve a mathematical problem.

I have been astonished that boys can be made to stand in the public quadrangle of the school from whatever time it was, that they arrived late for the morning study session, which starts at 6am, and then been left to stand there until 10am, therefore missing breakfast and the first 2 classes, only to be lectured and have clumps of their hair cut out as a further punishment.

I have observed a class XII boy dragged into the staff work area by the front of his gho and shouted at and slapped, until in tears and begging for forgiveness, he was allowed to leave. This was for defying and challenging a teacher at a time when he is under extreme pressure with a hospitalized father and during the pre-exam period.

With regularity I have looked on as boys and girls have been required to "frog jump" submissively across the quadrangle for as many times as the teacher deems fit, for various misdemeanors.

Each time a little more of the faith I had that educational change was happening, vanished.  
Who is responsible for ensuring positive discipline replaces the violence?

Each time I asked myself how this can be, in an era where child friendly education, children's rights, educational reform and Buddhist doctrine dominate the official jargon? Is anyone doing anything more than just paying lip service?

Each time I ask myself can I really 'make a difference'? The only answer I have, is focus on the students or leave!!!!! 

I simply couldn't let 2011end without airing my grievances, especially as I know that we will soon be off and there will be no postings for a while as we will not be in Bhutan.

Monday, December 12, 2011

black necked cranes

It came to light last week that the endangered black necked cranes had made their annual migration flight to Bhutan and were in Trashiyangste and Phobjikha. Since we are a mere 3-hour drive from Trashi Yangste and the post exam schedule has so far consisted of arriving at school and doing whatever small tasks are left for 30 minutes or so and then sitting in the sun or simply amusing ourselves until it is deemed appropriate to slip away, this news set us to thinking that we should make an effort to go and see the cranes.

We envisioned that this last week of school would be the best time but of course the few promotion meetings, farewell celebrations and staff meetings left for us to attend all fell in such a way that it was impossible to get 2 consecutive days to go. When Ian discovered this on Friday he set to getting the required paperwork for road permits and permission for park entrance into the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary immediately. At his principal's suggestion our best option would be Saturday and Sunday. I was sure that the formalities could not be completed in the 4 or 5 hours available that morning but to my amazement Ian got his paperwork sorted and his ever helpful principal called around to ensure that we would be allowed through the Chazam Immigration Post and permitted to enter the park. About mid morning he arrived at my school and I had already organised to acquire a copy of the school letter head. With his documents in hand and his principal's prior approval, I had the relatively easy task of duplicating using my school's letter head and getting my principal's signature. Just before lunch it was all done and we called the Drukyul Express taxi driver who was keen to take us and happy to depart at 7am the following morning.

I can honestly say that it is the most efficient processing for official documentation we have experienced in all our time here, simply because we produced it all, for ourselves nonetheless that seemed like a very good omen.

By 6.45 am the next morning we were walking up the hill to the main street to meet up with the taxi. The driver had already called and had assured us that he was ready to go and was washing his car. We were keen to get off early as he had also explained that the usual road block, just outside Trashigang on the road to Chazam Bridge, where the road is being widened, was likely and that getting through before 8 am was our best bet. The rat trap with an ensconced rat trapped inside it that he discreetly slid under the driver's seat was somewhat disconcerting, but I chose not to think about it.

Smooth sailing all the way through the road works and petrol station and well before our appointed time, we were standing at the immigration window hoping that the usually officious officer wasn't going to reject our documents on some technicality. Unusually he was very pleasant and even volunteered that while he couldn't actually rubber stamp our park permits, we should be fine. While we were listening to him hoping he would give us the nod, we heard a pretty authentic call of "G'day" from behind us and discovered the 2 BCF teachers from Wamrong, Maureen and John, in a vehicle also hoping to get through Chazam with their 2 recently arrived visiting guests. We all stood around chatting and catching up on the latest end of year goings on at our various schools and we were very happy to discover that 2 more BCFers were already at the hotel that we were planning to stay in, having arrived the previous night from a regional Tsechu. Despite not being our preferred date for this trip, it seemed to turning out extremely well and rewarding our flexibility and efficiency at getting it organised. Soon enough we were all on our way again. By far the most pleasant immigration experience we have had at that check point.

The drive to Trashi Yangste is the usual treacherous winding roads with steep drops into ravines threatening, and seeming more and more likely as the number of landslides and washed away sections of the road increases but it goes through several very different vegetation zones and at exactly the point when I was thinking it was about here that we saw langurs last time we were on this road, we spotted them again. One was close enough to almost touch sitting in a tree at the roadside and watching me as closely as I was watching him, as I quietly got my camera out. I got a couple of very back lit shots and we had the joy of watching them swing in loping, balletic movements from tree to tree to what they obviously considered a safe distance from dangers such as us.  

We made one brief stop before our final destination and this was when the rat was removed from under the driver's seat and allowed to scamper up the cliff face and into the undergrowth. "Catch and release" being the most compassionate form of Buddhist pest control.

In no time we were checked into the Karma Ling Hotel and had ascertained that Lisa, Scott and their guest JJ were indeed also staying there and were off hiking at that point in time. We happily organized to meet up for dinner and then headed off to track down the main attraction. Our driver had enquired if we had a ride to the Bumdeling Wildlife Sanctuary and he was happy to continue with us and even return the next day to collect us- all for an appropriate fee of course. This is more initiative than we usually experience and we willingly agreed to him driving us. He took off up the dirt track that is commonly called a farm road here and we were glad that we were in a Bolero 4-wheel drive not a minivan or a compact car that also operate as taxis.

Before we reached the park we saw a flock of cranes grazing in the recently harvested paddy fields but we continued on hopeful of seeing more. Even with their beaks firming planted in the ground foraging, they are majestic birds and it was a delight to see them in such a large flock.

Into the park and past the unmanned checkpoint we went. Just near the entrance there was an impromptu Kuru (Bhutanese darts) game being played and on the sand flats near the river another single bird was strutting about. We approached cautiously but it didn't seem intimidated and didn't take to the sky but we were not able to get very close. Next we spotted a pair in the fields not too faraway but all the locals our driver questioned claimed the largest flock was the group that we had already spotted on the way into the park, so around we turned.

I assumed that we would remain on the cliff top looking down at them but the driver had no hesitation in opening the gate, crossing in front of the house, that was obviously the landowner's quarters and clambering down the cliff face get a closer look, so we followed suit. We got close enough to distinguish the youngsters with the brown and beige markings and the females with no crowns from the red crowned males and watched in awe as they foraged in the paddies and preened and aired their wings. Randomly grouping and regrouping and seeming to me at least, to be copying each other’s behaviour. Their gait reminded me of the emus I have often observed in Australia loping and awkward but when Ian accidentally startled them they gracefully took flight and made the most amazing cawing sounds. 

We were close enough to hear the beating of their wings overhead and thrilled to see them circling and flying in formation. Even the driver had his mobile phone out and was taking photos. A magical experience and one I will long remember. 


Wednesday, December 7, 2011

TSECHU at last... A photo essay and republish!

For some unknown reason all the photos in this post completely disappeared almost a year after it was put up?? Only the title remained......

I will not attempt to recapture the mood again but I will throw up some of the photos that were originally included.

 The setting in the Dzong is almost as impressive as the performance itself.

The show begins spectacularly with the Black hat dance and with it the twirling dervishes also began.

Highlanders or Brokpas dressed in their finery performed between the scenes of the main show as did other troupes of women who can not participate in the dramatisation.

The audience was crammed into every nook and cranny and regularly spilled into the performing space. 

More whirling dervishes as the action gets into full flight.

Brokpas in the audience were as captivated by the masks and dancing as everyone else.

Day 2 began with the entire monk body assembled in front of the huge Thongdrel and we were up at dawn to enjoy the spectacle and receive the blessing.

The ceremonies were beyond our comprehension but the spectacle and reverence was obvious. 

Many dignitaries were in the "box" seats for this auspicious event and here the deputy governor wearing ceremonial sword paid respect to the monks and officiating lama.

The minstrels played and the dancing commenced as we came forward to be blessed by the throngdrel,

which was to be removed before the sunlight could touch it.

All hands were on deck for this and we even recognised faces among the bearers.

Once again the whirling black hats were centre stage in the morning.

These acrobatic but fearsome looking dancers were adorned with skeleton faces.

Once again the women performed in breaks in the action.

Lunch was carried through the crowd for those dignitaries watching from the upper rooms of the Dzong

His role is to escort one to hell if that is the destination decided upon!

He who was to be judged!

Those who did the judging.

Close up on the back of one of the amazing costumes.

The fools, jesters or clowns who interact with the audience and the performers and are non-stop bundles of energy for 3 whole days.

The masks from which the dances get their name.

 I just loved the elephant.

Evidence of wrong doing- hunting, fishing...

The huge effigy that the audience pressed in to be blessed by.

The demons who appeared in windows and doorways as well as in the performing space. They were loudly beating drums and blowing whistles attempting to distract those powerful gods.

Live musical accompaniment throughout.

Day 3 and the moral lessons to be learned.