Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremony

Significance of Japanese Tea Ceremony: Peace Through a Cup of Tea

Most JICA trainees and other visitors to Japan would have had the opportunity to participate in a Tea Ceremony. To take part in a Tea Ceremony is considered a privilege and Japanese hosts often go out of their way to organize a tea ceremony for their guests. But the foreigners, with little understanding of the actual significance of Tea Ceremony, often end up complaining about the ordeal of sitting on the floor in traditional Japanese style and following endless etiquette.

Understood in the right perspective, participating in a Tea Ceremony can be a very enriching experience. Tea Ceremony is known as Sado which literally means ‘the Way of the Tea’. It can be a lifelong pursuit for those aspiring to master the art, but in
very simple terms, the main aim of Tea Ceremony is to, for a moment, forget all disturbing thoughts, and cherish the encounter between hosts and guests in a relaxed, calm, peaceful and tranquil atmosphere over a cup of tea.

The ceremony itself consists of a traditional ritual in which powdered green tea called matcha is ceremonially prepared by a skilled practitioner and served to a small group of guests in a tranquil setting. The Great Tea Master of the sixteenth century, Sen Rikyu, identified the spirit of Tea Ceremony with four basic principles of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility.

The austere setting of the tea room, the prescribed method of handling utensils and preparing the tea, the tea master’s manners and the guests’ etiquette are all set to enhance these four basic principles, as Okakura Tenshin mentions in “the Book of Tea”:
“Not a color to disturb the tone of the room, not a sound to mar the rhythm of things, not a gesture to obtrude on the harmony, not a word to break the unity of the surroundings, all movements to be performed simply and naturally – such were the aims of the tea ceremony.”

Tea is a very special beverage that has gained universal appeal. Tea originated in China long time ago and was introduced into Japan by Buddhist monks in the ninth century. It was not until the seventeenth century that tea drinking spread in Europe. There are many kinds of tea, but they all come from mainly two varieties of the same tea plant, Camellia sinensis and Camellia assamica.

Coming back to the Tea Ceremony, one of its key objectives is to value human encounters. Each encounter is unique and must be cherished. In the words of Tea Master Soshitsu Sen XV, “Encounters are extremely vital for human beings. Particularly, encounters through a bowl of tea enable us to communicate heart-to-heart with people who are new to us, in the same way that we can with old acquaintances, by means of our showing each other empathy and consideration.”

However, for the more serious practitioners, Tea Ceremony is also a way to discipline oneself and acquire fresh perspectives on life such as nurturing the ability to face hardships with composure.

Last year at the local Toast Master’s club, I listened to a Japanese man, who in his speech talked about how his late aunt, a Tea Ceremony enthusiast, requested her attendants to conduct Tea Ceremony by her bedside in the hospital, and how it helped her to face her agonizing fight against cancer with serenity until her last breath.

Tea Master Soshitsu Sen XV has made spreading the message of peace through Tea Ceremony his life’s mission. He says, “I have toured the world for more than fifty years with the goal ‘Peace through sharing a bowl of tea.’ This peace can be spread by offering a bowl of tea to another.”

Now that we have understood a little bit about the significance of the Tea Ceremony, we may be able to enjoy it better if we have a chance to participate in it in future. But meanwhile, even when we drink tea at home, would it not be nice to enjoy it in the spirit of harmony, respect, purity and tranquility? Tea Ceremony is a message of love and peace. Let us understand this message and spread it further.

Written by Tshering Cigay Dorji in 2007, when he was studying in Tokushima University, Japan, for his Masters degree in Engineering.

This article first appeared in the JICA Alumni Association of Bhutan’s Annual Magazine in 2007.

Friday, July 01, 2011

Will Elected Political Dynasties Emerge in Bhutan?

Will Elected Political Dynasties Emerge in Bhutan?
By Tshering Cigay Dorji (Ph.D)
Published in Drukpa, November 2010 Issue on Politics

Elected political dynasties are common in democracies around the world: the Kennedys and the Bushes of the USA, the Aquinos of the Phillipines, the Nehru-Gandhis of India, the Bhuttos of Pakistan, the Bandaranaikes of Sri Lanka, and the Koiralas of Nepal. Are such political dynasties a boon or a curse? What factors lead to the formation of political dynasties? Will elected political dynasties appear in democratic Bhutan too? tshering cigay dorji (Ph.D) explores these questions

Some argue that certain families are gifted with aptitude and talent for public offi ce and that their hold on power is not due to their relatives occupying positions of authority. But the popular feeling as portrayed by the media is that political dynasties are self-perpetuating and somewhat undemocratic.

A study on political dynasties in the US published by Ernesto Dal Bo and others in the Review of Economic Studies in 2009 concluded that political power in the United States is “selfperpetuating, and that the presence of political dynasties does not merely refl ect differences in ability across families.” They found that legislators who enjoy longer tenures are signifi – cantly more likely to have relatives entering Congress later. They also found that the Senate has a greater share of dynastic politicians than the House (13.5% versus 7.7%) and this difference persists (see Figure 1).

In Japan too, political dynasties are a common feature of the political landscape. As a student there from 2005 to 2010, I learnt that fi ve of the six prime ministers that held offi ce were from powerful political families.

Junichiro Koizumi, the 56th PM, was a third-generation politician. His father, Junya Koizumi, was director general of the Japan Defense Agency and a member of the Diet (Japanese Parliament). His grandfather, Koizumi Matajiro, was Minister of Posts and Telecommunications. The 57th PM, Shinzo Abe’s grandfather, Kan Abe, and father, Shintaro Abe, were both politicians. Abe’s mother, Yoko Kishi, is the daughter of Nobusuke Kishi, PM of Japan from 1957 to 1960. The 58th PM Yasuo Fukuda’s father, Takeo Fukuda, was PM from 1976 to 1978. The 59th PM, Taro Aso’s mother was former PM Shigeru Yoshida’s daughter, and his current wife is the third daughter of another former PM, Zenko Suzuki. During Aso’s premiership, it was also said that four of 18 Cabinet posts had gone to politicians with fathers or grandfathers who were PMs, and ten cabinet ministers were the children of former Liberal Democratic Party parliamentarians.

The 60th PM, Yukio Hatoyama’s paternal great-grandfather, Kazuo Hatoyama, was speaker of the House of Representatives of the Diet of Japan from 1896 to 1897 and his paternal grandfather, Ichiro Hatoyama, served as PM in addition to being a founder and the first President of the Liberal Democratic Party in 1956. His father, Iichiro Hatoyama, served as Foreign Minister.

As the above examples from the US and Japan show, political dynasties exist even in industrialized nations. However, there is some difference between the political dynasties that exist in countries where the rule of law and open competition are well established, and those countries where the rule of law is weaker. A column by Isagani Cruz in the Philippine daily, Inquirer, mentions that “certain families so controlled their constituents – by guns or gold or, in some cases, merit – as to be able to retain political power, to the exclusion of other candidates. By transferring elective positions among themselves, from one relative to another, often regardless of qualifications, they are able to prevent other citizens, including the more qualified ones, from enjoying equal access to opportunities for public service.”

Realizing this to be happening, the Republic of the Philippines has kept a provision for legislation to prohibit political dynasties in their constitution. Section 26 of Article II says, “The State shall guarantee equal access to opportunities for public service, and prohibit political dynasties as may be defined by law.” However, there have been no efforts made by Congress to legislate on this constitutional provision so far. The provision has remained a toothless tiger.

Last June, Senator Benigno Aquino III was elected to become the 15th President of Phillipines. Aquino is a fourth-generation politician. His great-grandfather, Servillano “Mianong” Aquino, served as a delegate to the Malolos Congress. His grandfather, Benigno Aquino Sr., held several legislative positions from 1919-44. And his parents were former President Corazon Aquino and former Senator Benigno “Ninoy” Aquino Jr. He replaced the 14th President, Gloria Macapagal-Arroyo, who is herself a daughter of the 9th President, Diosdado Macapagal.

Our nook of the woods has seen its fair share of political dynasties. Nepal’s late PM G.P. Koirala’s two other brothers were PMs too. In Sri Lanka, President Chandrika Kumaratunga was the daughter of two former PMs. Bangladeshi PM Sheikh Hasina is daughter of President Mujibur Rahman, and former PM Khaleda Zia, is widow of President Ziaur Rahman. India’s Nehru family now spans four generations. Late Pakistani PM Benazir Bhutto was the daughter of PM Zulfikar Ali Bhutto. After her assassination, her 22-year old son, Bilawal Zardari Bhutto was appointed chairman of the Pakistan People’s Party.

What factors lead to the emergence of political dynasties? It may be difficult to unravel the complex interplay of various causes and conditions, but three major factors given in an IPS article titled Political Dynasties Know No Boundaries seem to be convincing:

“First, access to the political system in most countries is costly in terms of money and only those who can afford the time, money, resources and have the requisite connections find an entry into what is often an exclusive if not closed club.

“Then there are those who are respected for rendering services to their country during crucial periods, such as an independence struggle — hence, their legitimacy is unquestioned and widely accepted.

“Finally, there are those whose leadership is etched in the popular imagination, and for people to identify with such a charismatic leader comes almost automatically.”

In this light, does it seem likely that elected political dynasties will crop up in Bhutan too? Will they arise also at the level of local governments, as in major municipalities in the Philippines where the lucrative position of mayor is held by political dynasties?

Bhutanese attach a lot of importance to ancestry when aspiring for high positions in public offi ce, though many people from humble backgrounds have risen to high positions in the civil service in the past. This is refl ected in sayings such as Pha zang gi bu, ghi zang gi shub (Son of a noble father, sheath of a fi ne sword) and Zhenm thog khar kayn, chhu yang jye gi jay (Put a commoner in high position and he will even measure water with a jye, a container for measuring grain). So it was not rare for political candidates to evoke their noble ancestry, real or imagined, during the 2008 elections. Going by this bent in the Bhutanese psyche, coupled with the cost of politicking, it seems likely that we too will have elected political dynasties in the future at the central and the local levels.

However, political dynasties are not inherently nocuous. Their hold on power may be justifi ed as long as it is gained through fair and open competition, and without using undue advantage of connections, as unlikely as that possibility seems.

The good news for us here in Bhutan is that political dynasties will not be able to misuse their power as much as their counterparts in other countries, thanks to the unique system of government enshrined in our constitution. Our beloved King provides the required check and balance, and looks after the welfare of the weak and the underprivileged. And no dynasty, however infl uential, can override the authority of the Druk Gyalpo.

How anonymous are you online?

They Don’t Know Me, Or Do They?
By Tshering Cigay Dorji (Ph.D)
Published in Drukpa, December 2010 Issue on Media

Today, many Bhutanese make various anonymous comments in online forums ranging from kuenselonline.com to bhutantimes. com. One of the things that may be on minds of many of these online posters is if their real identity be found out.

Tracking the real identity of an anonymous poster may not be straightforward but it is nonetheless possible. First of all, your computer is identified by a unique IP address. That IP address may not be visible to the forum readers, but it is recorded in the log file of the website you visit. This can be viewed by the administrators of the website.

So, the first possibility for tracking the anonymous poster is that the government or the aggrieved party could ask the website administrator to release the details of the IP address of the poster either directly or through a court order. Once the web administrator releases the IP address, the search can be narrowed down to a particular locality or organization. Once that is done, it would not be too difficult to pinpoint the person.

Now, if it so happens that the website administrators refuse to divulge the IP addresses, another way to find out the poster’s whereabouts is to lure him to click on a particular link by sending him a private message. There are sites on the internet that provide such services. One such site is http:// shivampatel.net/trace/.

The anonymous posters have one more weapon in their arsenal, proxy servers – a server that retrieves web pages for you, providing only its own identity to the sites it visits. That means if you connect to bhutantimes. com using a proxy server and make a post, the bhutantimes.com website would record the IP address of the proxy server and not your real IP address. Hence, even the administrators of bhutantimes.com would not be able to identify your real IP address. But, the proxy server would still record the details of your IP address. So, if the proxy server releases your IP address, you could again be tracked.

Another point of concern for anonymous posters is the ISP logs, the records maintained about your online activity by your local Internet Service Provider. Some ISPs record the details of different websites visited by an internet user. Even the anonymous proxy servers cannot circumvent this. One way suggested to overcome this is to use a DNS server other than the one given by your ISP, provided that the ISP allows it.

The trackers have another analytical tool in their hand these days. Many people make public comments and posts under their real identity in their personal blogs and Facebook pages. But they post anonymously on online forums like bhutantimes.com. Using sophisticated data mining tools, or even by simple analysis, it would not be very difficult to connect the anonymous posts to a real person. In recent years, there are also software tools for ‘authorship profiling’ which can identify an anonymous author by automatically analyzing the diction and syntax of anonymous posts and comparing with the sample texts written by suspected people.

In short, there is no such thing as ‘anonymity’ on the web. It just depends on what extent the trackers are willing to go in order to track you. If they are not so serious about pursuing you, you could escape anonymously. But if they are willing to go to any extent in uncovering your identity, there are enough footprints you have left online and tools in their hands to track you. All I can suggest for you to make it a little more difficult to be tracked is to use the anonymous proxy servers (use carefully as some free proxy servers may not be authentic), change your DNS servers if possible, change usernames often, and not write similar posts under your real name in personal blogs and Facebook pages.

The writer has a doctorate in computer engineering from Tokushima University, Japan

Every Rose Has Its Thorn

Every Rose Has Its Thorn
By Tshering Cigay Dorji
Published in Drukpa, December 2010 Issue on Media

Beware the hype of social networking, says Tshering Cigay Dorji, for behind the glitz lies a plethora of unsavory ill-effects and insidious design

Most of the internet-literate Bhutanese have now embraced Facebook, Twitter, blogs or online forums to interact with other people. These internetbased applications of social interaction constitute what is broadly termed as the ‘social media’.

In his e-book titled What is Social Media?, Antony Mayfield describes the following as basic forms of social media: (1) Social networks like Facebook and MySpace, (2) Blogs, (3) Wikis, (4) Podcasts, (5) Forums, (6) Content Communities like Flickr and Youtube, and (7) Microblogging like Twitter.

Why have the social media caught on the imagination of the people at such lightening speed? According to Mayfield, “A good way to think about social media is that all of this is actually just about being human beings. Sharing ideas, cooperating and collaborating to create art, thinking and commerce, vigorous debate and discourse, finding people who might be good friends, allies and lovers – it’s what our species has built several civilizations on. That’s why it is spreading so quickly, not because it’s great shiny, whizzy new technology, but because it lets us be ourselves – only more so.”

Notwithstanding all the hype, the convenience, the empowerment of the voiceless, and the attraction surrounding the social media, there are also some unsavory aspects that need to be understood before plunging ourselves headlong into the social media ocean.

Zero Privacy

Most of us have divulged too much private information about ourselves through the social media sites. Many of us even fail to update and manage the privacy settings provided by the sites leaving our private information searchable and viewable by anyone. For example, when I was studying abroad, an African colleague once bragged about his sexual adventures showing an email on his mobile phone which read, “Hi, I am drinking at a bar in your neighborhood tonight. Can I come and spend the night with you?” I couldn’t help notice the familiar family name of the sender. So, I entered the name into the ‘google’ search engine, which led me to her Facebook page and her identity as none other than the young daughter of an acquaintance.

However, making the privacy settings tight on your profile can only encapsulate your private data at the superficial level from public search engines and other users not connected to you. Not only are our private data completely accessible to the administrators of the social media sites, but we also leave enough digital footprints online for someone who is tech-savvy or hell-bent on tracking us to track us.

Nicholas Carr in his bestseller The Big Switch says, “Most of us assume that we are anonymous when we go about our business online. We treat the internet not only as a shopping mall and a library but as a personal diary and even a confessional. Through the sites we visit and searches we make, we disclose details not only about our job, hobbies, families, politics and health but also about our secrets, fantasies, obsessions, peccadilloes and even, in the most extreme cases, our crimes. But our sense of anonymity is largely an illusion. Detailed information about everything we do online is routinely gathered, stored in corporate or governmental databases, and connected to our real identities, either explicitly through our user names, our credit card numbers, and the IP addresses automatically assigned to our computers or implicitly through our searching and surfing histories.”

In July 2006, AOL had released a report containing keywords entered into its search engines by 657,000 subscribers over a three-month period. The data had been “anonymized” by replacing the names with numbers and removing other identifying information. Three New York Times journalists took a close look at a set of keywords entered by one subscriber known only as “4417749”, and tracked down the real person behind it who happened to be Thelma Arnold, a 62-year old widow living in Lilburn, Georgia.

“As online databases proliferate and analytical technologies advance, it becomes ever easier to use the ‘World Wide Computer’ to ‘mine’ personal information,” says Carr. The loss of privacy is the price we pay for the convenience of social media.

Technology of Control

Internet in general and the social media in particular has been hyped as technology of emancipation. It gives us a lot of freedom to express ourselves and find information on almost any topic imaginable. However, computer systems in general are not technologies of liberation but technologies of control. As the industrial revolution progressed, the ability to process ever-increasing information could not keep up with the ability to process matter and energy. This made it difficult for companies to manage and control their operations effectively. The computer was born out of this necessity.

It is true that the internet or social media put enormous power into the hands of an individual, but it puts even more power into the hands of companies, organizations, institutions and governments. All our online activities like tweeting, searching, commenting, blogging, chatting, clicking and browsing are recorded for analysis in some big databases around the world. Software programs can analyze these records and make out what motivates us, what we believe in, what we like, what we don’t like, what we would buy, how we would react to a certain stimuli, etc. In short, the people behind these software programs could know more about us than we know about ourselves. This could give them immense power to control us.

Governments have realized that the social media tools would not pose as much threat as initially feared. “While the Net offers people a new medium for discovering information and voicing opinions, it also provides bureaucrats with a powerful new tool for monitoring speech, identifying dissidents and disseminating propaganda. In a country like China, anyone who assumes that he can act anonymously on the Web opens himself to dangers far beyond embarrassment,” writes Carr.

Integrator or Divider?

An article titled Global Village or Cyber-Balkans? by Eric Brynjolfsson and Marshall Van Alstyne seriously questioned the na├»ve assumption that social media tools have integrating effects. Since there are “limits to how much information we can process and how many people we can communicate with,” we naturally tend to filter out information we don’t agree with and form online communities with like-minded people. Thus online communities could end up being less diverse and more polarized than communities in the real world. A study of the political blogosphere by Matthew Hindman found that the “vast majority of readers tend to stay within the bounds of either the liberal or the conservative sphere.”

Studies have shown that discussions among liked-minded people produce “ideological amplification.” That means people’s views become more extreme and more entrenched as they discuss issues with other people who hold the same or similar views. It is feared that the formation of online communities by like-minded individuals would “in the worst cases, plant the roots of extremism and even fanaticism and terrorism.”

Relationship Maker or Breaker?

According to The Telegraph, research by a British divorce center called Divorce-Online claims about 20 percent of all divorce documents include some type of reference to Facebook. But the statistic may not be confined to Britain alone. According to USA Today, “66 percent of the lawyers surveyed cited Facebook indiscretions as the source of online evidence, MySpace followed with 15 percent, followed by Twitter at five percent.”

Social networking sites like Facebook have made it very easy for reuniting with old friends and making new ones. This has also tempted individuals to flirt and cheat on their partners. It is especially true for people who have some problems in their marriage. “The popularity of the Friends Reunited website several years ago was also blamed for a surge in divorces as bored husbands and wives used it to contact old flames and first loves,” according to The Telegraph.

Time Waster

Engaging in social media activities could take up a lot of time and it could even make you addicted. Therefore, it is important to ask ourselves what it is that we want to achieve by participating in such sites. The time we spend on social media sites could be spent on more productive activities.

According to a study by The Oxygen Media Insights Group, “57 percent of the women polled said they communicate with people more online than they do face to face, and 39 percent called themselves Facebook addicts. Moreover 34% of those between 18 and 34 said that checking Facebook is the first thing they do in the morning – even before brushing their teeth or using the bathroom.”

However, social media sites could be useful if you are a politician with an agenda to reach out to the people, a researcher connecting with other researchers, a marketing officer or a salesman, or an individual with the need to keep in touch with friends and family separated by distance. The bottom line is that “to use social media effectively, just be sure that you aren’t putting more effort in than the result you’re getting” as the bestselling author of Getting Things Done, Ready for Anything, David Allen says.

Signing Out

It is important to realize the unsavory aspects of social media behind all the hype generated in recent years. No doubt, social media as tools could be useful in many ways in our lives. They empower the voiceless, and bring immediacy and transparency to journalism. But, at the same time, they take away our privacy, make some of us addicted, break marriages, and put immense power into the hands of corporate and government institutions.

The Smaller the Purse, the Harder they Fall

The Smaller the Purse, the Harder they Fall
By Tshering Cigay Dorji
Published in Drukpa, February 2011 Issue on Education.

Education is the key to solving social ills like poverty, inequality and injustice. Education is also the key to achieving many of our cherished goals as a society and as a nation. We do a great disservice to our nation when we deprive so many youths of equal access to this invaluable key in the higher grades. So says Tshering Cigay Dorji

Every year, only around 30% of Class XII and 40% of class X students qualify for government schools and colleges. The rest have to try to find a job or continue education in private schools or colleges in Bhutan or abroad. This year, the Class X and XII results declared recently shows that around 5,600 Class XII students and an equal number of Class X students fall in this unlucky category – quite a big number for our population. Those who come from better-off families can afford private education but students from economically disadvantaged families find themselves at a dead end.

This trend has been continuing for quite some time (See Table 1 and Table 2). But have we ever given a thought to how it will impact us in the long run? Although no study has been done on the backgrounds of class X and XII graduates who have been roaming the streets without a decent job, it is not difficult to deduce that they are mostly from poor families. A poor kid who gets an aggregate mark of 65% but doesn’t qualify for a government college might end up loafing about, while a rich kid who gets just 50% can study law or journalism in India.

The tuition fee for educating a child in Class XI in a private school is upwards of Nu 30,000 a year, excluding the cost of books, clothing and stationery. And the cost of educating a child in a college in India may be Nu 100,000 or more a year including fooding and lodging. The only private college within the country, Royal Thimphu College, charges Nu 97,000 a year for day-scholars, and up to Nu 140,400 for boarders. Most of our people, especially those who live in the villages, cannot afford to pay so much.

Finding a job is not easy either. Recently, Bhutan Telecom advertised 15 help desk operator posts that required a minimum qualification of Class X Pass plus call-centre training. Many applicants had to be turned down because they had no call-centre training but there were still 121 applicants who met the criteria for the 15 not-so-lucrative posts. This is the reality of the job market for Class X and XII graduates today.

With no job to make a living, nor money to study in a private school or college, many youths waste their golden years doing nothing productive. I have a neighbor, a single parent, who works as a cleaner with a daughter who has not been able to find a job since she passed Class X last year despite having attended a six-month computer course. There are many cases like this today.

No study has been done on the relationship between the academic performance of students and their economic background in Bhutan, but studies conducted in other countries suggest that students from economically better-off families generally perform better academically. From this and from the fact that around 70% of our people live in the villages where poverty is more prevalent, many of the 11,200 or so Class X and XII students who did not qualify for government schools and colleges this year must be from poor families. Higher education might have given them a chance to break out of the cycle of poverty, but now their hopes for a better life might remain just a hope.

Not so long ago, almost every Bhutanese student’s parent was a farmer and there was little difference between the rich and the poor. Also, every student who managed to reach Class X or XII either qualified for college, or got a job easily. Most of the senior officials in the civil service or corporations come from that generation. But today, the situation has changed completely.

With the rapid development of the country, some civil servants and enterprising people have become richer while the poor and some traditionally rich people have become poorer. Now, with the advantages enjoyed by the children from economically well-off families, coupled with the opportunities for higher education becoming slimmer by the year for poor children, the gap between the rich and poor may continue to widen from one generation after the other if no action is taken.

A survey commissioned by Japan’s Education, Science and Technology Ministry in 2009 revealed that the more parents earn, the higher their children’s academic test scores. A Japan Times editorial thus noted, “The disparity in academic performance between students of low- or highincome families… reveals a terrible rift in Japanese society, one that will likely increase if the social income gap continues to widen.”

However, the survey also found that activities like reading books, talking about the news or going to museums boosted student performance regardless of socioeconomic level.

Figures disclosed by the Higher Education Funding Council for England in January 2010 showed that 19% of young people from the most deprived neighborhoods went onto a degree course straight from school compared with 57% from more affluent areas. Further, a study published by the British Educational Research Association suggests that schools are finding it hard to break the stubborn link between a poor background and low academic achievement.

One of the good things about Bhutan has been that we don’t come across pitiful beggars or street children as in other developing countries. This gives us the courage to talk to others about Gross National Happiness with such authority. But such days may be numbered if we do not change the way we handle higher education in the country.

In his message on the National Education Day, Lyonchen Jigmi Y Thinley cautioned, “We can take legitimate pride in our achievements hitherto but the warrant of changing times places added demands on the system, requiring it to be more sensitive to the needs of a knowledge-based society that we desire to be. With the advent of democracy, the need for education is further aggravated as it is only through knowledge that citizens are able to participate meaningfully in the political process and make a difference to their life.”

According to Section 16 in Article IX of our Constitution, “The State shall provide free education to all children of school going age up to tenth standard and ensure that technical and professional education is made generally available and that higher education is equally accessible to all on the basis of merit.”

One of the strategies in Tertiary Education Policy of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2010 is to “provide open access to tertiary education based on merit, so that all Bhutanese students shall have access to tertiary education appropriate to their abilities, interests, and performance, regardless of their economic circumstances”. One of the measures listed is to “institute loans and scholarship schemes to expand the scope of participation in tertiary education”.

Hence, as far as policy is concerned, there doesn’t seem to be anything lacking. Yet today, many students do not have access to tertiary education despite doing well enough academically, because of their economic circumstances. There are a number of remedial steps we can undertake.

Firstly, educational loans at zero or low interest rates could be made available to deserving students as is prevalent in some countries. Presently, educational loans are commercial in nature with at least 9% interest, and are also not easily available without collateral.

Secondly, the present system of free education for Class XI and above could be changed so that students could be charged a progressive fee structure based on the income of their parents or guardian. That means, a poor student studying in a Class XI in a government school could be charged a nominal fee, while a rich student in the same class could be charged a higher fee. Such a progressive fee structure also exists in other countries. The government can use the money collected thus to build more schools.

Thirdly, the government could increase the intake of students into government schools and colleges. The present intake capacity of around 40% for Class XI, and 30% for college leaves many poor students out on the street. Moreover, the private high schools in Bhutan don’t have the capacity to absorb all aspiring students who haven’t qualified for government schooling.

Fourthly, scholarships based on kidu could be instituted. A limited number of scholarships like this are already being offered by Tarayana Foundation, the Prime Minister’s Office, Youth Development Fund and the Gyalpoi Zimpon’s Office. The number could be increased in view of the fact that there are many deserving candidates for this kind of scholarship.

These recommendations could be used to improve the current practice of admitting only a limited number of students in government higher secondary schools colleges although the Tertiary Education Policy of the Kingdom of Bhutan 2010 promises to give equal access to higher education “regardless of their economic circumstances”.

This not only threatens to widen the gap between the rich and the poor, but also deprives many of our youths of the opportunities to realize their full potential as a person and as a citizen of Bhutan. The current practice needs to be reviewed as soon as possible if we are to achieve our goal of becoming a knowledge-based GNH society, and preserve our long-cherished attributes of peace, stability and sovereignty in the the times to come.

16 Practical Suggestions to Tackle Thimphu’s Water Problem for the Immediate to Long-term

  Let me begin by making it clear that no individual or organisation should feel offended by this post, as it is only intended to start prac...