Jigme Losel Primary School is located in downtown Thimpu, a short walk from the main bus station. Its primary mission is to provide education for over 800 students from Thimpu, as well from different neighboring dzongkhags in Bhutan. The school is government funded, getting most of its funding from the education sector of the Royal Bhutan Government. Jigme Losel is most well known for its integration of GNH into the school’s course of study. Community service and meditation sessions are important parts of the curriculum, and the school is committed to the general well-being and happiness of its student body. Under the leadership of Choki Dukpa, headmaster since 2005, the school has done its best to care for the health of its students, something they believed to be totally necessary if a good education is to be assured. According to an article in the Bhutan Observer, when Dukpa discovered that a number of her students would go hungry during the day because their families could not afford to give them lunch, she rallied the entire school community to remedy the problem. Since this initiative and the implementation of a school lunch to those who need it, the student’s academic performance has improved.
In addition, Jigme Losel takes environmental awareness very seriously. Students are educated on environmental sustainability and it is a central component to the students’ learning. Every time I visit the school I am still a bit surprised at how green it is. Garden beds are the first things you see when you walk in, and potted plants are outside every classroom. Students are responsible for the care of all these plants. Choki Dukpa wants all her students to be constantly reminded of nature. This viewpoint is one that Bhutan’s education minister, Thakur Singh Powdyel, would like to make the norm throughout the country. He and Choki Dukpa both agree that education is about values: teaching people to be human. Environmental awareness is a huge part of this process.
We are still rather new to Jigme Losel, and as such are still getting to know the place. We visit twice a week, on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 1-4. We are each given three periods of classes to teach. Working with our strengths, we are asked to come up with “lesson plans” for each class. It was a daunting prospect at first: suddenly being totally responsible for three classes of about thirty kids each. However, once you get past the intimidation factor it is actually very exciting to be able to personally interact with and teach the children. In my classes, I try to incorporate as much English Language and writing activities as possible while trying to make it a fun and enjoyable environment for my students. In the past, I have had my students write letters to me as well as create their own mini-play and perform it for the entire class. My fellow intern Alec is doing his best to get to know his students.He once asked them to draw a picture of where they would like to go and write why they would like to go there. He was pleasantly surprised when they insisted that he collect their work at the end of class. Looking at those drawings of far off places and reading what the students had to say about them was a joyful experience. Being a biology major, Choki Dukpa has asked him to focus on science in future lessons. He finds this an exciting prospect and has a lot of ideas swirling around in his head about what to do with his classes next. Head teacher Choki Dukpa oversees our involvement with the students, but is always open to our ideas. Starting next week, we are hoping to begin some observations of the classroom as well as co-teach with the headmaster.
I find the entire experience to be deeply rewarding. I am working to eventually become an educator and this is the first time in all my experiences of teaching that I have been able to plan whatever type of lesson I want to with a class of fifty students. It imposes no restrictions on the mind, which allows room for many opportune lesson plans and activities to come. Although this is the most rewarding aspect of the internship, I find it to be the most challenging. I am so used to a structured curriculum so it was a bit of an adjustment (and still is).
My first piece of advice to others would be something that I believe pertains to all aspects of life in Bhutan: try not to have many assumptions; you never really know what’s going to happen when you wake up in the morning. Bring this attitude with you to Jigme Losel. Come in with an open mind and an open heart. Keep in mind that those children look up to you, and that by undertaking this placement you accept a certain responsibility. This may be disconcerting at first, but don’t forget that you are not only there to educate children but to learn as well. Don’t stress over the little things, just be ready to take anything on and more importantly: have fun; be a kid again.
– Tianna Lall and Alec Jeanotte