Education personnel described the recent notification issued by the education ministry on the use of social media as barring their freedom of speech.

The notification issued on May 1 signed by the education secretary, stated that there have been a number of recent comments in social media forums about education issues made by educational personnel that were inappropriate in nature. It stated that the ministry considers such use of social media as a serious breach of education personnel’s responsibility for the care and protection of children under their jurisdiction and to promote a positive image of education.

The notification stated instances like public criticism of school policies, use of profane language and photos and videos of children without consent. “In some cases, such use of social media has led to disciplinary action and had negative consequences for education personnel’s careers,” the notification stated.

An education official reasoned that the notification was to ensure that the public and stakeholders receive accurate information from the relevant agency.

The planning division’s officiating chief Dochu in an email interview said that the notification serves more as a reminder to the education personnel although all civil servants are free to post anything on social media.

“A cautionary note was provided in the spirit of asking educational personnel to carefully consider what they post particularly if it may be harmful to individual or groups of children,” he said, adding this should be in line with the provisions of Bhutan Civil Service Rules and Regulations (BCSR) 2018.

The BCSR 2018 under Chapter 3 states that a civil service shall not criticise his agency and the government and shall neither publicly criticise the policies, programmes, and actions of the government and his own agency.

The notification also directs all dzongkhag and thromde education officers to inform school principals on the appropriate use of social media particularly in relation to criticism on education policy and programmes, use of profane language and posting of photos and images, which violates the privacy and protection of students.

“Although we don’t have hard evidence of such cases or number of disciplinary actions, this was a reminder that there is a law to follow before posting anything. This is to take care of our own people and to make sure they’re careful.”

Dochu said the ministry also plans to develop guidelines on the social media by educational personnel.

He said that the guidelines would consider educational personnel’s roles and responsibilities and the wellbeing, rights, and protection of children.

However, he said, the precise scope, target areas and implementation plan to the guidelines would be determined by the department of school education in consultation with relevant stakeholders.

Most teachers Kuensel spoke to say that the notification came as a surprise. It shows that the ministry can neither accept criticisms nor develop.

Although few said that this was a reminder, the notification could also mean a warning to stop teachers from sharing their views openly in social media.

“A civil servant can’t speak to media or reason against the government without permission from higher officials,” a teacher said. “This could be the reason why people go behind the mask and express their opinions on social media.”

Yangchen C Rinzin