During my school days, the kind of respect we had for our teachers never changed even when they lashed us mercilessly. We did not have value-education classes but we knew our boundaries well. We have been culturally groomed to believe that teachers are like our parents and that we must respect them as much as we respect our parents. We have been convinced that we would earn respect if we know how to show respect to our elders and treat them with love and dignity. But sadly, this trend seems to be taking a different turn today. Probably due to the excessive exposure to western cultures through social and mainstream media outlets that have emerged with the technological revolution of the modern era, the youth of Bhutan appear to be gradually drifting away from the unique social and cultural values of our country that define us as Bhutanese. This rapid decline of values among the Bhutanese youth has triggered important discussions in the government agencies in the recent times. Upon the Royal Command of His Majesty the King, the Ministry of Education has already started working with the Royal Education Council (REC) to explore effective ways of inculcating our own national values into the young generation. The first draft of the curriculum framework for teaching values developed by REC was presented during the special meeting convened on 19th June 2017.
The curriculum framework which is based on the core Buddhist values of Tha-Damtshi and Le-Jungdrey does not necessarily recommend the values to be taught as a separate discipline. It can be integrated into the regular curriculum and the daily activities in the schools. One of the most important methods highlighted in the framework is modelling which, I think, can truly make a difference. Children are great imitators and hence, they can easily learn from their role models. At home, they learn from how their parents behave and in the school, they can learn from the way their teachers interact with people around them. Teaching values does not become practical unless you practice what you preach. At home, we tell our children that it’s not good to take alcohol but we often send them to buy it for us. This is definitely not the way how values should be taught. My children say that some of their teachers in the school do not give a damn about them even when they greet them on the way. Now what kind of values can our children learn if the teachers themselves do not demonstrate what they teach? If all the parents and teachers can demonstrate values while interacting with people around them every day, we don’t even have to hire experts from abroad to teach us human values in the country. As His Majesty the King always says, Bhutan has enough values that strongly define our cultural and social life. Now we just have to figure out how to revitalize them and align them according to the social, economic and political demands of the 21st century.
In addition to the advent of western cultures and lifestyles, I think another significant culprit that killed our age-old values in today’s youth could be the influence of modern science that fosters rational thinking and demeans blind faith. In olden days, we feared God so much because we strongly believed in his supernatural powers. The Dzongkha textbook that said “If we don’t respect our teachers, we would be reborn as dogs for 500 lives or even if we are born as human beings, we will be born with disability” was enough to convince us that teachers truly deserve to be respected and honored for their selfless contributions. We never questioned what was written in the religious or academic textbooks. We were convinced that if we tell lies or deceive others, we would head straight to hell and that we would be boiled to death. We were also convinced that if we respect others and treat them with unconditional love and compassion, we would directly go to Heaven. Regardless of whether God truly exists or not, the god-fearing culture used to definitely play an important role in disciplining us and instilling in us basic human values that helped us define who we are when we grew up. But if we impose those beliefs on the present generation today, I am almost sure that they hardly hold any water.
Nevertheless, I believe that the new framework has considered various modern approaches to teaching values to children in the schools and two of the schools where it has been piloted have reported that it has been a success. The research study carried out by REC has managed to identify some gaps among the existing policies and guidelines regarding the value education programs in the schools in Bhutan. So the new curriculum framework is expected to fill up those gaps and streamline the methods of inculcating Bhutanese values into our children and youth across the country. Once the framework is finalized and implemented in all the schools in Bhutan, I am hopeful that the long-awaited dream of His Majesty the King and the Royal Government of Bhutan will soon be materialized. But what we should remember is that the kind of future our children are heading to largely depends on how we as parents and teachers guide them every day. We should never be tired of teaching and showing them values, be it at home or the school. We should never hesitate to expose them to our own cultural practices. After all, they are the future custodians of our culture and traditions after we are gone.