As a gesture of shedding some hope and fueling the energy to revitalize our education system I would like to share my personal opinion on the purpose of education, the current status of our education system and the way forward. I will also provide some practical suggestions for teachers, community members, parents and policy makers. The motivation for writing this article is solely influenced by ‘my duty of care’ as a novice academia in the field of training educators. The substance of this article is largely informed by my personal experiences, therefore, certain claims may not sit well if scrutinized with scholarly lens.
Paro College of Education (PCE) is aspiring to develop home grown teachers who are deeply grounded in the new age best practices, literature, science and traditional Bhutanese values. This venture was set in motion for almost two decades now. However, there is still a long way in transforming this aspiration into the Bhutanese classrooms. On a positive note, arguably PCE is successful in producing teachers who are ‘safe classroom facilitators’ and this is a huge milestone for the Bhutanese education system. Majority of PCE graduates may not embody the key flavors of authentic new age teacher but they surely know ‘what will NOT work or what they should not do in the Bhutanese classroom’, and this is a perfect ground we needed for the new wave as it was one of the fundamental challenges of the Bhutanese education system. And there are host of other prominent challenges such as curriculum, resources, policy and societal expectations too.
A simple fact that majority of trainee teachers are forever glued to some of the essential solvable problems is yet another indicator of how distressed our education system is today. This also provokes skepticism on the general world view and the modus operandi of the trainee teachers. A typical example is financial problem; this problem exists right from the very first day of their campus life, and they will move out after four years without even acknowledging the presence of this issue. Except for a handful, the students do not seem to have the ability to explore for avenues to solve this problem. Options like, working as a part-time employee, growing their own vegetable, campus based cookie shops, tutoring students in the community appear irrelevant to them and worst they will not encourage others to venture in such initiatives too. This same group of students will go out in the field oblivious of the fact that they are in the grip of such problems and they join the pool of teachers already inflicted by this basic human problem i.e, finance. It is not surprising to see many of our teachers plunging into any scheme determined by monetary benefits. The same problem aggravates forcing many teachers to leave the system in the hope of better income sadly to realize that this problem proliferates forever. Likewise, the same trend is spilled over in solving other essential life problems like poor communication skills, anger issue or low self esteem. And the irony is our teachers are expected to groom citizens to solve countless problems that the nation is encountering today. Therefore, rather than silver lining and denying the drawback of our education system lets own our mistakes, learn from it and move forward.
Education is a fundamental tool for individuals to explore, enhance and exercise the basic innate human potentials to solve problems at the individual, family, community and global level. The term ‘problem’ in the context of the purpose of education can be understood as ‘a distortion in the harmonious flow of conventional order of system that can be otherwise addressed with intervention’. These problems are so overarching that they manifest at all the levels of human existence. The problems that an education system should address can be as simple as lack of time management, and it can be as deep as human existential issue itself. However, the current statues quo of our education system is largely deviated from the primary functions of problem solving to the extent that the remedy itself fermented into a major element of the problem.
Half of the national issue today would have been prevented have we had an education system guided by ‘utility philosophy’, a believe system which is deeply rooted in practical aspect of the purpose of education. Our education system would have generated problem solvers, NOT job seekers, and primary producers NOT a host of consumers. The fact that education reform was pronounced as a primary national mandate in the recent Royal Kasho only validates the gravity of this paradox. The major issues in the current education system can be dissected in myriads of elements: curriculum, teachers, policy, resources, community etc. but none of this overweight the distortion in fundamental paradigm of the overarching goal of education, i.e. problem solving. The education system in Bhutanese society has become so altered that attending school has become a mere societal culture and people do not worry about what is happening within the education system. The younger generations are engaged by the school system for good number of their formative age only to come out more confused, agitated, and lost. To add to the wound inflicted by the education system the elderly blame the younger generation for their incompetency, attitude and behaviour. And in this way everyone of us are playing our roles in fueling this vicious cycle. It only means that the basic trust in the education system is not just dented but fully damaged.
Few decades ago, general expectation of the Bhutanese community from the educated group would have revolved around seeking support in solving life related problems. A family sponsoring a child’s education would expect the school goer to solve the family problem, community problems and individual problems. It would be a normal scene to see villagers approaching the educated ones in solving village based issues like irrigation conflicts, drafting of agreements, and reading Buddhist scripture. And these expectations were certainly met by the educated groups groomed in traditional secular system of education. Fast forward to the era of modern education and this dynamic has gradually shifted towards serious mistrust between the general mass and educated ones partially due to the fact that modern day educated ones are deprived of almost all the elements required for solving problems. Fortunately, or unfortunately finance was an issue for almost every Bhutanese household, therefore, the only utility that a community acknowledges in the education system is production of an individual who will solve the problems through financial support. And it did not take long for the whole nation to realize that ‘financial support’ can be one of the means to address problems but not the necessary and sufficient ingredients to solve problems. Hence there is a need for a big shift in the education system today.
The good news is human being are by virtue designed to solve problems and progress at every stage of life span. Therefore, every learner should be given the opportunity to nurture their problem solving ability as long as there is no risk to self and others and respect for rule of law is ensured. This claim is validated by almost every new age educational psychology. In addition, the present education system offers immense opportunity to re-adjust, re-align and re-fuel the wheel towards achieving this aspiration.
How do we position in the role of education system in this dynamic? The answer is straight, education should facilitate the progression of the intrinsic human capacity of problem solving by ensuring safety and right conditions. Safety can be understood both in terms of physical and psychological safety. An individual should feel safe and secure as a pre-requisite to any problem solving situations. Unfortunately, many adolescence and adults are still struggling to acquire safety in life. And this demonstrates that acquiring safety can become huge problem for the individuals if this is not nurtured as a top priority of education system. Psychological concepts like attachment theory, psychosocial theory, and need hierarchy have been conveying the same message to educationist for almost a half a century now. Secondly enabling conditions can be discussed under the domain of physical classroom, pedagogy, curriculum and policy. The right conditions should be ensured following the age old Buddhist philosophy of ‘the middle way’. Neither too tight that the problem solving ability shrinks completely nor too loose that this ability is exaggerated to a full blow risky adventure. This again is in line with the basic human design asserted by concepts like discovery learning, guided learning, zone of proximal development, scaffolding, constructivism and collaborative learning.
When these two (safety and right condition) is ensured human beings will naturally accumulate two elements required for solving problems: 1) Skills 2) Resource Management. Krulik and Rudnick (1980) define problem solving as ‘the means by which an individual uses previously acquired knowledge, skills, and understanding to satisfy the demands of an unfamiliar situation. The student must synthesize what he or she has learned, and apply it to a new and different situation. (p. 4)’ And if this is the primary goal of education then the right kind of skills and resource management competency will translate this definition to the real life context. Skills can be understood as the technical aspect specific to solve any kind of problem, just as a cutlery is required to address the problem to cook a good dish. However, these skills are transferable from one problem to another. This also means almost every situation in both the classroom, and outside provides opportunity to teach skills that the learners will transfer to solve real life problems. Resource management is key to solving any problems since every problem would need a list of resources or resources becomes a problem in itself. Resource management can be as simple as managing the proportionate amount of different portions of food item fetched on a plate for a meal and it can be as complex as mapping out resources to solve a community problem like Covid Pandemic. Therefore, every opportunity to teach the resource management competency should be accounted as a prefect window for educating the learner.
Finally, I would like provide some specific suggestions for different stakeholders to play our role in ensuring ‘problem solving’ as a primary goal of our education system. These suggestions are reiteration of practices already advocated through prominent educational literatures like Piaget’s Cognitive Development Theory, Vygotsky Social Cultural Theory, Constructivism, Skinner’s Operant Conditioning, Bandura’s Social Learning Theory, Information Processing Theory, Brain Based Learning, and others.
• Solve your own problems first! Majority of our teachers have to deal with their problems ranging from emotional issue to financial stress. Foremost, see if you possess the right kind of skill, and explore the available resources. For instance, to solve financial issue, you need to build your financial literacy (skill) and explore available resources like capital investment, loan scheme and partnerships. Exploring the spiritual dimension can be a viable solution to your emotional problems.
• Role model: More than what you teach your personality matters to the learners, therefore embody ‘problem solving’ as a core element of your identity as a teacher. Try our resource mapping, resource sharing and problem solving skills as a primary objective of your lesson. For instance, rather than asking every student to bring a set of art tool, which you may use for just two pages on workbook, study the scope of need of the particular resource and predict the required quantity. This will offer you the chance to invest in acquiring other resources essential in the class, may be ask group of the student to buy a ruler, or nail cutter, or any important resources for the class. In this way, students will also learn to collaborate (skill) in sharing the resources.
• Networking: Work in partnership with the colleague teachers, community members and parents in enriching your students’ learning. For instance, seek help from a family members of the learners in resourcing some skills based activities (cooking, baking, flowering, weaving etc.) OR involve community in solving resource constraint in the class. Procuring a set of water filter in the class will be preferred choice of community investment over sponsoring an archery match for the teachers.
• Teach Acceptance: Some problems prescribed by curriculum can be beyond the potential of our learners, so will be many problems in life. When such situation arises do not breed the failure identity in the learners. Take it as an opportunity to teach ‘acceptance’, a wonderful solving to some problems in life.
• Reach out: You have a big community of practice sailing on the same boat. Record, report and re produce your practice through social media, online platform, researches and other form of artifacts.
• Cooperation: There is always something we can contribute towards enhancing role of our educational institutes. Localized learning can be promoted by integrating the educational institutes as a part of larger community. Also there are lots of community problem where our educational institutes can support too.
• Investment: We can make investment by the way of experience sharing, skill teaching and resources. Community should prioritize investment in the educational institute as a primary mandate of every one, for instance, a successful business should invest in piloting some educational projects.
• Community Practice: Community behaviour/habit can have a huge impact on learner’s education. Therefore, community should adopt healthy habits, routines, and effective problem approaches.
• Community Learning Centre: Ideally every community to develop a space where learners are taught basic skills community based problem solving and community based resource management.
• Purpose of Education: Your child is progressing well as long as his/her problem solving ability is intact. To assesse this, observe the attitude, behavior and thinking of your child towards solving issues at home, and also look at their awareness of family resources.
• First Teachers: If teachers are the second parents, accept the fact that parents are the first teachers. Home environment offers wealth of windows to teach problem solving. However, care givers should be aware of primary drivers at different phases of life cycle, for instance a child studying in primary grades will have high drive for activities that reward them with approval and praise. Likewise, a junior high school student is certain to help with household chores like cooking and dish washing. It only means right kind of experience should be facilitated at the right time window (critical period) otherwise we may miss the train.
• Family Practice: The family habits have a big role in nurturing the problem solving ability of the child. Different family will have different approach towards problem solving, families can be accommodating, ignoring or contesting in solving problems. Different modality of problem solving approaches has its own pros and cons, therefore, understand your own style, adapt and modify it accordingly. Likewise, the resource management habit of the family can be distinctly visible in the character of the child at the later stage, for e.g. a family dumping left over food is more likely to produce a child with similar kind of habit.
• Systemic Shift: Education system should be provided immunity from politics, bureaucracy and external influence for all times to come. A separate autonomous commission dedicated for education may provide the much required shield for the education system. Of course synergizing with other stakeholder should still remain as one of the primary priority.
• Do not re-invent the wheel: The present modality contains lots of strengths, lets look at the doughnut not the hole. The new wave need not necessarily have to be of the dichotomy of existence system. For instance, promoting intense critical thinking can convert our learners in nihilist or eternalist individuals. A group of obedient student offers prefect chance for the teacher to change the world system overnight.
• Skill based curriculum: The fundamentals of education should be based on the paradigm of problem solving through ‘skill enhancement’ and ‘resource management’. This can be easily integrated with recent developments around new normal curriculum, STEM, and textbook less approaches too.
• Professional Conduct: The system should set in motion an effective tool to weigh and streamline the accountability, transparency and professional integrity of every teacher. The system should exercise human resource pruning if deemed necessary.
In conclusion, I would like to confess that this kind of educational framework is already propagated through well known practices such as critical thinking pedagogy, brain based learning, constructivism, socio emotional learning and other popular brands. However, I attempted to contextualize and simplify these modalities by focusing on problem solving as a primary goal of Bhutanese education with ‘skill enhancement’ and ‘resource management’ as the key objectives of this goal. May this article stir the head, heart and conscience of Bhutanese intellects, scholars, teachers, policy makers and stakeholders and ignite the urgency to regard Education as a top priority to ensure harmonious existence of Bhutanese society.
Paro College of Education