Monday, August 20, 2012

Return to the Heart: Some Reflections on the Role of Teachers…

Custodians of the noble sector, educators from around the globe, pilgrims all in search of happiness, welcome to the Jewel of the Himalayas otherwise called Bhutan. It is our wish that you are able to enjoy the twilight of our Spring as it merges with the sights and the sounds and the smells of Summer and carry home some delightful memories of your visit to our country.
We are deeply heartened that the International Society for Teacher Education decided to hold its 32nd Annual Seminar in Bhutan. This is by far the largest congregation of educators from across six continents, from Pole to Pole, from sea to mountain, galvanized by an idea we all share in common across time and space. You bring to my country the precious gifts of many cultures and civilizations in diverse fields of human endeavor articulated through the varied disciplines that you have inherited and advanced in the course of your work as educators.  
Brave men and women from many lands, I offer my tributes to each one of you for electing to do the most difficult and yet the most important job in the world – teach. Thank you for the lives that you have touched and the light that you have brought. You have made the world a different place, a better place right from the moment somebody learnt a new sound, recognized a sign, or distinguished a symbol thanks to you. Our world became that much more beautiful the moment the first one hundred of you reached out to your first one hundred pupils in one hundred different locations across the globe. Yes, this is what you do on a daily basis – radiate your light and illumine the world around. Yes, teachers do it.
And what time could be more appropriate than the centenary year of education in Bhutan to hold this seminar! Distinguished members of my audience would know that our first wave of monastic education issued forth as early as the 7th century AD and continues to this day. But the seeds of modern, secular education were sown in the early years of the last century. In 2012, therefore, we come full circle. It is a time to pay our tributes to our visionary leaders and policy-makers who had the wisdom and courage to recognize and engage the power of education in the transformation of our society.
It is a moment too to pay our tributes to generations of our teachers who have educated and prepared the present generation of leaders to man the diverse needs of a dynamic, forward-looking, progressive nation-state. As we celebrate Sherig Century, we celebrate the march of Bhutan over the past one hundred years since modern education began in the country. This is, therefore, a most propitious time to assemble by the bank of Pachhu and celebrate the success of the sector noble.
Do take a look at the theme of the seminar again! Teaching and learning can be influenced by diverse motives and varied justifications – from the most pedestrian and mercenary to the most ideal and the sublime. But what would be more rewarding and fulfilling than Educating for Gross National Happiness as the theme of this seminar proposes to do! And what greater opportunity for the noble sector to try and reclaim its nobility!
Initiated in the beginning of the 2010 academic session, the programme of Educating for Gross National Happiness is a call to rediscover and reassert the true function of education at a time when the normative power of education is rapidly giving way to the aggressive, utilitarian inducements of the market with little regard for the integrity of learning and the sanctity of the learner.
Educating for GNH is a powerful beam of the light that shone forth from the golden throne when His Majesty Jigme Singye Wangchuck declared that Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross Domestic Product some three and a half decades ago. This revolutionary alternative measure of a country’s progress has since become Bhutan’s unique path to holistic development.
Supported by the four pillars of equitable and balanced socio-economic development, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and promotion of good governance, the GNH architecture aims to achieve a balance between the needs of the body and the yearnings of the heart. GNH as a development goal is founded on the premise that:
·        the ultimate desire of all human beings, irrespective of time and place, is to achieve happiness;
·        the profound needs of human beings are not necessarily physical or material, but that there are other dimensions – social, environmental, cultural, spiritual, psychological, artistic, moral, that give meaning and purpose to life and that they need to be cultivated and nurtured;
·        there is no direct relationship between the level of material possession and the experience of personal well-being – they could in fact be antithetical to each other;
·        the conventional yardstick used to measure progress, called GDP or GNP, is too limited, reductive, and therefore not entirely reliable, as it leaves out many other important non-economic dimensions. We, therefore, need a more holistic and comprehensive instrument to assess the multiple levels of well-being of people and of societies. 
A thirsty world seems to yearn for a breath of fresh air to sustain our life and the life of our planet earth against the backdrop of unlimited human wants and sorely limited resources. This longing for an alternative way forward became manifest when in July 2011, the entire member-countries of the United Nations unanimously endorsed Bhutan’s proposal to make pursuit of happiness a goal of the UN family of nations. We have since moved on.
It is such a goal that education has the singular privilege of embracing and advancing – to help make our world a better place for our generation and for generations who will follow us.
When the International Society for Teacher Education convenes in a seminar like the one we are opening today, it falls upon us educators to examine afresh the meaning and purpose of education itself. On pain of sounding irreverent, I venture to submit that a lot that goes on in the world in the name of education has very little to do with education. This could largely explain why with all the progress the world has recorded in diverse fields, we are not free from ‘the tooth that nibbles at the soul’ as Emily Dickinson would say. When the demands of the competitive labour market take over the call for building faith and character, seats of learning are inevitably pressured into graduating scholars who become ‘personnel’ who will be defined by the language of corporations and classified by market metaphors.
I believe that education is built on the principle of hope and of possibility – that despite the limitations of prevailing circumstances, things can be and will be better, indeed, they ought to be better. We need to rehabilitate education to its essentially creative, humanizing and progressive function so that it produces individuals who are at once useful and graceful. Beyond equipping young men and women with knowledge and skills to carve out a career for themselves, education ought to make them wise, sensitive and cooperating members of the society.
This is a tall order, but what use is education if it does not invoke the higher order impulses of young men and women and gives them a true sense of their place in the general scheme of things? We need a new ethic for education to restore the harmony of life that we seem to be losing.
Here in Bhutan, we hope to realize this goal by nurturing green schools encompassing the natural, intellectual, academic, social, cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, and moral dimensions of greenery within the overall ambit of Educating for GNH. The hope is that children and youth brought up in an environment characterized by these multiple green elements will imbibe and build the intended positive energy and release it to the larger society when they graduate and join it as its contributing members.
And who is more equipped and better positioned than the teacher to invest education with the honour and dignity that truly belongs to the noble sector! Dear fellow-educators from around the globe, you hold the key to the success and integrity of any educational programme. We may have sound policies, powerful programmes, state-of-the-art facilities and motivated students, but you occupy the centre-stage and bring alive the process and experience of learning.
In the course of my labour of love, I have discovered that deciding to be a teacher entails internalizing what I call the three sides of the Triangle Noble – an abiding love of children or pupils, a deep passion of learning, and a conviction about the importance of education as a powerful instrument to change lives, improve societies, and transform nations. Anybody who gets into teaching for any other reason will go so far but no further. Disillusionment and frustration will soon set in and one finds oneself in strange territory. Therefore, the moment of truth is essential: why do I want to be a teacher, in the first place?
 Teaching involves a compelling need for mutual illumination between the teacher and the discipline. Just as the teacher needs a subject to express his or her life and learning, the subject too needs a medium to communicate the power and the promise that lie at its heart. The more passionate and engaged the teacher, the better are the chances for the subject to find its utterance.  Maintaining this tension is the secret of success.
What is more? The teacher not only teaches a subject or the curriculum; the teacher is the field, the subject, the curriculum. Indeed, the teacher not only works in an institution; the teacher is the institution. Where the teacher is, that is the school, the college, the university. It is a monumental job – to be a teacher. It is at the same time the most beautiful and rewarding job in the world. You build nations as you build people.
Our field is knowledge, but knowledge itself is changing rapidly in the wake of relentless technological revolution. The wisdom of succeeding generations questions facts, discards ideas and demolishes theories. The traditional place of honour that the teacher enjoyed is under pressure as knowledge becomes available from diverse sources unlike in the past when the teacher was the sole purveyor of knowledge in the community. And then there are memory banks, e-learning and internet facilities that open up novel ways of acquiring knowledge and information.
There is then this layer of complexity in the work of a teacher – we teach what we know, but more importantly, we teach who we are! What we know is in the book, in the syllabus, on the net. Often, students can access these on their own and learn from them. Who we are is not in the book. It is us – our entire being, our public self as well as our private self, our values, beliefs, philosophy, convictions, behavior, outlook, attitude, what we consider to be important – everything in us and about us that makes us who we are. These we do not teach, but show in obvious ways as well as in ways subtle. But this is where we pass powerful and long-lasting messages to our pupils. Every move matters. That is the reason why teaching becomes so stressful and demanding. One has to measure up!  
This is Educating for Gross National Happiness. Here, the role of the teacher must meet the soul of education. In the true sense of the term, Educating for GNH is a return to the core purpose of education. It is not an order to do a different or difficult job. It is an invitation to look into the heart of our own role as educators. It is in effect a call to discover the soul behind our role.
My dear fellow-educators, you straddle many continents and countries as members of the International Society for Teacher Education. You have the power and privilege to turn the tide – by harmonizing the integrity of the sector noble with the needs of the society. Somebody has to take up this difficult mission of educating the world and you have had the courage to do this heroic job. You have to take it to the finish.
A day will come when we all be called upon to give an account of our own work as educators in much the same way as Everyman in the old morality play. It may not be in God’s tribunal then, but certainly in the tribunal of our own conscience! It might well be asked “What have you been educating for?”  If you can recall your moment of truth and say “I have dedicated my entire professional life to Educating for GNH”, you will be admitted to the kingdom of happiness!
 I wish you success with your life and your work as you light the world!
Tashi Delek!
Thakur S Powdyel.
 Notes for an address:
32nd Annual Seminar of the International Society for Teacher Education
Paro College of Education
May 20, 3012.

Compiled by Dawa
Paro College of Education

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