Yangchen C Rinzin 

The teacher raises her hands and exclaims: “Dear students, we’re going to study this today.”

Standing in front of a green screen inside a brightly lit room, she points to the right: “Yes, we’re going to learn about Phonetics.”

She goes on to explain what phonetics is and makes the sound of an apple by pointing in the air and asks the students to repeat after her. The room is silent. The teacher smiles and says: “Yes, good girls and boys, you got it right.”

She shrugs and asks the cameraman if she got it right.

Similarly, there are two more teachers in separate rooms shouting on top of their voices.

They are busy recording lessons for Bhutan e-learning, a tele-education programme which is aired every morning on Bhutan Broadcasting Service, as a means to engage students as schools remain closed owing to the Covid-19 pandemic. The air time is different for various classes up to Classes XII every day.

However, it is not as easy as it looks on the television.

More than 300 volunteer teachers for the Teachers of Bhutan Volunteers (V-TOB) are involved in various stages of the process to teach on television.

The teachers have to imitate in front of the camera and record the lesson, which is the biggest challenge.

Many teachers volunteered as presenters, but without the experience of acting, a teacher takes more than 30 minutes to complete a lesson.

Among them are mothers who leave their children at home to record lessons for every episode every day. But before they record the final footage, there is a chain of activities such as planning the lesson, developing teaching materials, content writing, reviewing it among peers, and then preparing the mock session in front of the camera.

The education ministry, Royal Education Council (REC)and V-TOB first approve the content, identify the presenter, then record in different studios, an official from REC is placed in each studio to ensure contents are correct, and then it goes to post-production. A review monitoring committee reviews the footage before it is telecast.

Film Association of Bhutan, iBest, Loden Foundation, and Royal Tutorial Project Studios record the lessons.

What started as a single man’s idea has now become a collective effort among teachers where teachers work round the clock. Some travel from other dzongkhags almost every day to Thimphu just to record their lessons.

About nine teachers from outside Thimphu have also volunteered and have camped in a classroom at Motithang Higher Secondary School in Thimphu.

Teachers said the biggest challenge is acting in front of the camera.

“We’re not used to teaching in such situations especially without students,” a teacher said.

Mathematics teacher Sangay Wangmo from Changangkha MSS said it is also difficult because these are general topics for three grades together.

“In the class, it’s easier since we can concentrate on one topic for one class. One must be trained to teach multi-grade but we’re not giving up.”

Another teacher, Tashi Choden from Gedu HSS said for the visual effect, teachers have to act without a clue which makes them edgy and prone to mistakes.

“It’s extremely difficult and we worry if we got the words and sentences right. I was so shy in front of the camera in the beginning but now we all are gaining confidence.”

Teachers also said that in the class they can move around, check on students. “Now, we just have to stare into the camera, and remain rooted in one place, which makes it difficult to concentrate.”

They also have to memorise the lessons without any script and sometimes go blank as soon as they come in front of the camera.

“I hope everyone will understand when they find  mistakes. But we want people to know that we’re trying our best,” Kencho Dorji, a Dzongkha teacher from Paro said.

For many, it does not end with the recording and broadcasting of lessons. What comes thereafter is what many dread. Their biggest fear is peoples’ reaction to the lessons after watching them. Teachers have been receiving both negative and positive feedback on social media.

“In the class, we’re aware of the environment of the class and what kinds of students are attending the class, so we teach according to that,” Karma Yangzom, a teacher said. “But on TV we don’t even know who is watching.”

Many teachers have also started asking their students to watch the lessons on TV and assign homework just to ensure they are engaged.  Students have also started recording the lessons and later send them to teachers to clarify their doubts.

While they are trying to ensure timely delivery of lessons for their students, they constantly worry about their children at home, most of whom are without anyone to guide.

The V-TOB will have to have at least 500 episodes and so far has completed about 230.

Sonam Norbu, a teacher from Lobesa MSS and a founder of V-TOB said that despite minor challenges, many teachers have volunteered. 

“This is a baby step towards Bhutan’s e-Learning in future,” he said. 

“We want to set an example that e-Learning should be embraced and not enforced.”