What I write here is based on the news covered in one of the print media ‘ The Bhutanese’ about the consolidation of some courses, introduction of some new courses and discontinuation of some undergraduate programme, particularly in the country’s premier college – Sherubtse. As reflected in my book on ‘Sherubtse College – An Epitome of Higher Education’, I welcome the much-needed reforms in the higher education system. I also congratulate the RUB for increasing all undergraduate courses from three years to four years. However, as a former educator, I am deeply concerned about the proposed discontinuation of programmes in Humanities and the Arts offered by both Sherubtse College and Taktse College of Language and Culture Studies. In fact, the latter is being proposed to be closed down.
Although I am a retired public servant, I write this perspective purely out of my deep concern. As reflected in my books (‘Sherubtse’ and ‘Leadership’), I would like to reiterate that the purpose of education down the centuries has been twofold: ‘lead a life’ and ‘ make a living’. For modern education philosophers and management guru like Peter Drucker, these two purposes of education form the two sides of a coin similar to two types of truth in Buddhism – relative truth and ultimate truth. Until one attains enlightenment, one has to study, analyse and meditate on these truths simultaneously. Similarly, Science and the Humanities or the Arts form two sides of the coin of the higher education system in particular and of education in general.
I fully agree that our education offerings must be made more relevant and employable. But, the purpose of education goes beyond the jig-saw fitting of nuts and bolts. It is the purpose of education to produce better and more civilized citizens while the production of robots makes our lives and jobs easier. Further, the concept of relevance is complex. Skill in the use of a tool can be double-edged. It can be used productively and it can also be abused. For example, a knife can be used for a good purpose as well as for a bad purpose. Further, things are changing very fast, making the skills we learn today irrelevant tomorrow.
Thus, one of the purposes of higher education is to equip students with knowledge and skills and also intellectual capability (shey-rab) to adapt to the emerging needs of society. While both the courses in Sciences and Humanities are necessary, Humanities focuses more on the development of the character and personality of individuals. At the end of the day, education is aimed at providing students with necessary wisdom (shey-rab), which in Buddhism is the antidote to ignorance (ma-rig-pa), the main source of suffering in the samsara.
I also agree with the need for revising and developing courses keeping in mind the changes that are taking place in the country and beyond. The course in History can be made much more interesting – Yuval Noah Harari, a historian and author of Sapiens, Homo Deus, is a classical example. The course in World History and Bhutan’s History can be analytically and critically researched to aid a better understanding of the present world. Universal values or Buddhist values are usually taught through the teaching of History. Further, I am totally confused about the argument put forward by the RUB. Sherubtse and Taktse will not offer courses in English and Dzongkha due to the perceived unemployability of graduates in these subjects. But, students are encouraged to take up these courses in private colleges, which are affiliates of RUB. If they are not relevant in government colleges, how can they be relevant in private colleges? The graduates would compete in the same labour market and live in the same country. It is tantamount to relinquishing our responsibility.
In education, the change of course structures, doing away with courses and introduction of new courses have to be done based on a body of concrete evidence and followed by announcements for such policy changes and implementation three to four years in advance so that all stakeholders, particularly higher secondary schools, who feed the colleges will have time and space for adjustment. In other sectors, such sudden changes of policy may be implemented immediately, although not desirable they can absorb shocks because of relatively less impact.
In view of the above, it will be good for the RUB and its affiliate colleges to revisit the reforms and do it in a phased and smooth manner in the larger interest of the education system and the country. The RUB and relevant agencies should explore the development of Taktse into an enviable centre of Dzongkha Development and Studies and offer courses both at the Diploma and Degree levels in Applied Dzongkha Studies and Culture. This is in view of the fact that DDC has been merged with the Department of Culture.
Dasho Zangley Dukpa