The conduct of the national council elections and of some teachers encapsulates the week gone by. The former is over and claimed to be fairly smooth. The latter, not quite. 

This month, the country was in frenzy over the conduct of some teachers who had allegedly indulged in acts that shamed the education family and the country. Girl students were molested in Thimphu and two teachers from Haa allegedly threw a new born out of a hotel window in Phuentsholing.

Much of the discussions these incidents triggered dwelt on defending the teaching fraternity and on how the media reported. This is good but there is a bigger issue and a more important one that needs the society’s attention – school safety.  Making schools safe from physical and psychological stressors to ensure a safe learning and teaching environment is the priority. As a country that’s touted as one of the most peaceful, it can ill afford to have unsafe schools. The issue this time is about our children. Not the teachers or the media.

The education ministry has said that to equip them with skills to support students, all teachers would be given a course on counselling when the schools break for summer vacation this year. A study would also be commissioned to come up with a comprehensive safe school programme, one that would also identify loopholes in terms of making counselling services available to primary schools. The prime minister has asked security clearance procedures to be tightened and to hand down the heaviest punishment against those who commit crime against children.

These developments and initiatives taken to keep our children safe are good. The government must ensure that it materialises because when violence is part of an educational setting; all students are affected. Research has shown that children who feel unsafe at schools do not perform well in academics and are more at risk of getting involved in drugs and delinquency. At the recent education dialogue, teachers identified academic pressure on children as one of the stressors. This pressure was reportedly used against students in Gelephu and Bjemina who were allegedly molested. The teachers had threatened to fail them if they told anyone about the molestation. 

There is an urgent need for our policy makers and educationists and parents to revisit the compulsive need that we impose on children to excel in academics. It is time Bhutan starts a discourse on the purpose of education and sees it beyond the frames of academics.