Acute English teacher shortage in monastic schools

Education: Monastic schools in the country are grappling with a lack of trained teachers for many years now although English is a part of the dratshang’s curriculum.

According to dratshang officials, monastic schools across the country require about 70 to 80 English teachers. The dratshang is in dire need of English teachers in about 25 monastic schools currently but the immediate requirement is seven English teachers in schools where there are many monk students.

In the rest of the monastic schools, monks who have attended formal schools and know English teach the subject in absence of qualified teachers. Dratshang officials said that there are about 50 such monks across the country today who are paid a nominal salary for their service.

The annual education statistics estimates more than 5,000 nuns and monks in 388 monastic schools and three nunneries under the central monastic body.

An equal number of monks and nuns are also estimated to be enrolled in the private monastic schools that are not registered with the central monastic body.

English for monks

Zhung dratshang’s Tsula Lopon Samten Dorji said lack of trained English teachers in monastic schools is a major issue for the dratshang.

The Tsula Lopon said that it was fine for those monks who have passed the age of learning English. “But what about the young monks who are equally deserving of the same rights,” he said. “They are deprived of learning English although they are just like any other youth in the country.”

Tsula Lopon said that the dratshang has been requesting the education ministry for the same opportunity irrespective of where a youth is enrolled, he or she should be treated the same. “We are hopeful it would materialise this year,” he said.

Monks said that they should know English not just to communicate but also interpret Buddhism to foreigners who are increasingly becoming keen on learning Buddhism.

Dratshang Lhuentshog secretary Karma Penjore said that as English is part of the dratshang board of curriculum, monks have to sit for examinations as part of their curriculum.

“It is important that our monks learn English not only to interact with foreigners, but also to promote and showcase Bhutanese Buddhism and culture of the dratshang,” he said. “It is also important to reach out to Bhutanese youth, many of whom are not fluent in Dzongkha.”

Besides, Karma Penjore said it is also important for monks to be able to read and write in English so that they are able to translate. “Although the demand is huge, we had to prioritise and identified seven monastic schools where we require English teachers immediately,” he said. “Seven is also a reasonable number.”

After pursuing with the Royal Civil Service Commission (RCSC) and the education ministry, budget for seven English teachers were approved.

No takers

Last month, the education ministry announced vacancies for 290 Bachelor of Education (B.Ed) graduates on contract to ease the shortage of teachers. However, 13 slots still remained vacant including six slots for monastic schools. Only one applied for seven vacancies in monastic schools while the rest (six) went unfilled.

The seven contract teachers were to be employed for shedras and lobdras such as Tango and Richenling Thorim Shedras, Dechenphodrang Zherim Lobdra and Walakha Anin Thorim Shedra. For Thorim Shedras, secondary B.Ed graduates were to be sent while primary B.Ed were to be deployed in Zherim Lobdras.

Given such issues, Karma Penjore said institutionalisation was the only way to ensure quality, consistency and continuity of English teachers.

“Contract teachers help but it wont have a long-term impact in the improvement of English in the dratshang,” he said. “If it’s a three-year contract, what happens after that or during the contract if the person gets a better job offer?”

Karma Penjore said that the drasthang tried to institutionalise teaching of English through the appointment of regular teachers through the education ministry. However it failed to materialise.

Karma Penjore said just like teachers sent to various schools, if the teachers are deployed in monastic schools in the same manner, the teachers would serve in accordance with their term until their next posting.

“That’s the only way to strengthen and sustain teaching of English in dratshangs,” he said.

The concept of employing contract teachers in the monastic schools was a tried and tested practice. About four years ago, the dratshang lhuentshog with support from UNICEF recruited graduates on contract to teach English in monastic schools.

The government was supposed to fund the teachers after the one-year pilot project. However, given the budget constraint, UNICEF extended the project for another year. The result was not satisfactory with many graduates just using the platform as a transition.

Karma Penjore said if the education ministry sends regular teachers, they wont have a choice but to serve. “Contract teachers are young graduates who need to be trained firstly in methodology,” he said, adding although they may be good in English, they need to know the methodology, as teaching is difficult.

“I wish the dratshang would be treated as one place where education ministry would send regular teachers,” he added, while suggesting that RCSC increase the intake strength that would also include teachers for monastic schools to formalise the system.

Kinga Dema

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