Education: The canopy in the Yebilaptsa Middle Secondary School compound serves more than just providing shade. It is a place to settle differences.

Whenever students quarrel or have differences, the school’s UNESCO club coordinators take students there and settle arguments. It was named ‘peace house’ in 2010 when it was first built.

It was an idea of a teacher who registered the school as UNESCO Associated Schools (ASPnet) with the Bhutan National Commission for UNESCO by forming a club with a group of students.

The morning assembly speeches student’s deliver are often linked to the priorities of UNESCO, such as peace, poverty, hunger, HIV and AIDS, pollution, climate change, illiteracy, cultural identity, gender and child labour. Through diverse topics, students are educated for International understanding, which now has been extended in various activities in the hostel as well.

About 90 more schools around the country today have UNESCO clubs and they practice Educating for International Understanding (EIU) programme. Each club has a coordinator.

For about 30 new coordinators, Bhutan National Commission for UNESCO conducted a four-day capacity building workshop in Thimphu, which ended yesterday.

The workshop was conducted to teach coordinators to accept diversity, make environmentally conscious and culturally vibrant, so that they disseminated the knowledge to students.

So far, since 2005 when the first club was formed, about 150 coordinators have been given similar trainings.

Vice principal of Pakshikha Central School in Chukha, Udhim Subba, who is also facilitating the workshop said a lot of existing activities in school are similar to that of UNESCO ideals.

“We try to redesign them making it more suitable,” he said. “It is not something that is away from the existing education system.”

It is in line with goals of Bhutan education blueprint, Gross National Happiness philosophy and educating for GNH.
One of the participants, principal of Sherubling Higher Secondary School in Trongsa, Pem Dechen said that although there was a club in her school earlier, her understanding of the club’s activity was limited to just observing international days.

Having attended the workshop, she said, she learned how important the clubs are in teaching children values without teachers being bogged down with additional activities.

“A lot of already existing activities can be combined to take a particular programme to another level,” she said. “It is not to burden teacher but to do it consciously so that students remember it thought-out their lives.”

Education ministry’s officiating chief programme officer of Bhutan National Commission for UNESCO, Paimma Lhakden, said ASPnet identifies and diffuses examples of quality education in practice with emphasis on the four ASPnet themes of study: world concerns and the role of the UN system, education for sustainable development, peace and human rights and intercultural learning.

Schools are also encouraged to contribute to international understanding and peace and they place emphasis on UNESCO ideals and the four pillars of learning for the 21st Century: learning to know, learning to do, learning to be and learning to live together.

Paimma Lhakden said through UNESCO clubs, a lot of teachers are getting opportunities for out-country trainings. At least 2-3 teachers along with about 15 others civil servants get trained in capacity building and professional development annually.

“This is in-fact one of the rare platforms for teachers to avail training opportunities,” she said adding that more rural schools are encouraged to join as ASPnet.

Nirmala Pokhrel