Unlike other novices, 12-year-old Choni Tshoki carries a backpack filled with English, Science, Social Studies and Mathematics books and leaves the nunnery everyday for school. She is in class VI.
At a time when monastic and secular education is construed as separate forms of schooling in the country, 15 nuns from Karma Drubdey nunnery in Kuenga Rabten, Trongsa are proving otherwise.
Kuenga Rabten Primary School is probably one of the few schools in the country where students share the classroom, playground, teachers and friends with novice nuns.
The nunnery has chosen 15 novices to pursue their education in Kuenga Rabten Primary School. Making the nunnery proud, Karma Yangzom studying in class PP topped the mid term examination. “Others are equally capable,” a teacher said.
Dechen Drolma, 13, who is in class IV had studied until class II when she joined the nunnery. She returned to school two years ago. She stood tenth in her mid term exams. “I enjoy English and Social studies,” she said. She has four other nuns as her classmates.
Except in class five, the school has nuns in every standard, a teacher, Tshering Namgyel said.
Tenzin Drolma, 12, travelled from Laya to become a nun.
She never imagined that she would be provided with an opportunity to go to a modern school. “My sister is also a nun in the drubdey and she encouraged me to be a nun too,” she said.
Tshering Namgyel said that the nuns are doing well in school and are well disciplined. “They are good in Dzongkha because they are taught in the nunnery,” he said. “With consistent guidance over time, they are doing good in other subjects also.”
While the nuns also participate in sports like football and taekwondo, teachers said that the nunnery’s principal requested the school to not involve them in cultural activities like dancing. “It is also inconvenient for them because of their dress,” a teacher said.
Principal of Karma Drubdey, Anim Yeshey Choden said the nunnery discourages nuns from participating in cultural activities because people criticise nuns if they dance and sing.
She said that the intent to allow them to attend classes is to make the nuns read, write and understand science. “This is a must in today’s world. I have encouraged them to learn taekwondo for self defense,” she said. “We expect the school going nuns to share their knowledge with others.”
There are 176 nuns in the nunnery helping the school-going nuns with their pack lunch and studies.
By 3:30PM, Choni Tshomo and Zepa Choden of class VI pack their bags to head back to the nunnery. “We enjoy the class and life back at nunnery is even more satisfying,” Zepa Choden said.
Tshering Dorji | Trongsa