The education minister’s statement on Bhutanese cleaning lavatories in Australia offended many, both at home and abroad. As the recording of his speech to teachers somewhere in Wangdue went viral, netizens decried the minister’s statement calling their work the lowest end of jobs that require no skills.

Such reactions are understandable. It was provocative and reckless because they were the words of a cabinet minister, the education minister. The intent of why he said what he said and how much truth it holds, appears to matter little to the distressed Bhutanese diaspora in Australia. That the minister chose to cite the examples of Bhutanese working hard, be it cleaning toilets or homes, instead of Bhutanese filming women taking showers, is terrifying.

Belittling the work of Bhutanese abroad is telling of the minister’s if not the ministry’s or the government’s stand on dignity of labour. But then we must admit that the Bhutanese have remained hesitant in taking up manual jobs. We have become a society that depends on foreign workers to build our roads and houses, but one that fails to appreciate and respect such labour.

And our education system should share the blame for not inculcating the values of dignity of labour. The growing number of unemployed graduates and spiralling cases of drug abuse are stark reminders of a society that has become so obsessed with ‘white-collar jobs’ that it doesn’t see any dignity in jobs that are physically labourious. What one earns from these jobs to make a living and sustain a family together remains a non-issue. What seems to matter more is the symbolic image of affluence. Was this the purpose of education that our leaders envisioned?

The paradox of the government struggling to send Bhutanese overseas for employment and being unable to monitor its programme while it demeans those who have left on their own is hard to miss. One may argue that these are different issues. Those employed overseas, especially in the Middle Eastern countries, are fresh graduates compared with those working and living in Australia, many of who were former public servants. Some call it brain drain but the Prime Minister has said that the government was not too concerned when teachers left the profession for Australia or another job. But how disrespecting the work of former teachers in Australia would help retain those at home remains unclear.

Recent audit findings on employment programmes and cases of women being exploited as housemaids leave us worried that the government’s efforts to create employment opportunities come at a bigger cost.

Such is the state of our youth, our country’s future, our nation’s pulse. What does it tell us about the state of the nation, glorious reports besides?

In his state of the nation report, the Prime Minister asked if we are ideal citizens. Going by the recent events, we are compelled to ask if our ministers are ideal leaders?