Yangchen C Rinzin 

More than a year after a group of teachers, who called themselves Volunteer Teachers of Bhutan (VTOB), started tele-education to engage students after schools were closed following Covid-19 pandemic, it has turned into a foundation to supplement the mainstream education.

VTOB started as a voluntary teacher group on March 7 last year and delivered educational lessons through the national television so that students could continue their education.

It also developed video lessons, radio lessons and self-instructional materials to enhance online education during the pandemic with the support from the education ministry.

More than 400 teachers were engaged for the recordings. VTOB also had 4,000 teachers as members, who contributed to the idea virtually.

VTOB’s founder, Sonam Norbu, said that he resigned from teaching profession this year to take the programme forward. “It is a community-based organisation with the objective to work towards supporting and fulfilling Bhutan’s current education reform process.”

He also said the foundation was necessary to continue VTOB’s initiatives post school closure and the pandemic.

Today, it has about 2,000 teachers as volunteers and the foundation has eight core members including college graduates.

Sonam Norbu said that what Bhutanese lack most is consistency after initiating an initiative and he did not want that to happen with the VTOB.

“There are many bureaucratic systems that restrict enabling conditions for teachers to do something besides textbook teaching,” he said. “This has stopped teachers from being innovative and creative. So, we had to ensure that VTOB provides a platform for innovative ideas.”

The foundation aims to enhance educational engagements, complement, support and offer educational opportunities through creative, innovative, inclusive, and voluntary initiatives.

Sonam Norbu said the foundation was established to promote research culture amongst children and teachers to build professional learning communities.

He said that it will initiate programmes to supplement the efforts by the government, schools, and parents to enhance the quality of education.

“We want to leverage collaborative approaches with other organisations and donor agencies to specialise as behavioural insights agencies,” he said, adding it would also discuss and study the state of education.

Based on the study, it would also design and co-create solutions through collective efforts based on dialogue, research and action.

Sonam Norbu said that after VTOB’s success with support from the ministry and teachers, it started losing its importance slowly due external factors and restrictions from various agencies. “Teachers were backing off, but I didn’t want VTOB to die.”

He said many teachers sacrificed their time to make the voluntary programme a success. “There were restrictions to continue the group because we were civil servants and we are not supposed to do anything outside one’s job mandate.”

Sonam Norbu said that the only option to continue VTOB was to leave the profession and be out of the system that was stopping them from continuing the voluntary work.

“We’ve always wanted to clarify that VTOB was never established as an association or union to protest against the system,” he said. “All we wanted was to work innovatively beyond our 9-5pm job to help students learn beyond the textbooks.”

With several plans in the pipeline, the foundation also aims to encourage reading habits and conduct educational talks to discuss issues related to education and find solutions together.