Wednesday, October 28, 2009

When we have to learn to say NO

It all began in the ancient times when Socrates had to drink hemlock juice. At that time, it was a choice between violent and peaceful death.

The potency was such that it became a political weapon. The Boxer war is a witness to it. It is a historical fact.

While at one time it was an indulgence that the rich pampered themselves with, it somehow became a habit among the general mass. It removed the aches in the body and gave one a sense of general well-being.

That is when the problem began. Or rather the drug industry started sprouting up. Of course, we have heard of the Golden Triangle, somewhere between the then Burma, Thailand and other neighbouring countries, where war lords cultivated hashish to fund procurement of guns and ammunition.

The same thing happened in Afghanistan. As the war raged on, cultivation of poppies was one great agricultural activity that fetched easy money. Of course, every penny earned went in to buy weapons and ammunitions.

Despite the accepted norm among the drug dealers that one should not get high on ones’ supply, yet every one gets high. More than that, it is what floods the market that really causes mass damage.

Now with all the fancy drugs available in the form of pills, most of which actually are only supposed to be prescribed by registered doctors, every one has access to all forms of drugs. And the drugstores or the so-called medical shops are willing to sell them as long as there are buyers. Who bothers about the ethics, if any?

As far as we know, substance abuse in Bhutan was limited to chewing doma, which cost you your teeth and perhaps your taste -buds, but definitely not your sanity.

We were told that illegal drugs, hardcore drugs were not to be found in Bhutan. That the police may have a hard time keeping prescription drugs in check, yet illegal substances did enter the country.

The news reports show that we have greatly underestimated the problem, with heroin use being reported from all the major towns which have better connectivity.

Perhaps we are jaded by the amount of shocking news that our headlines scream every day, because it seems we do not care anymore, even though every issue that plagues us is worse that we originally thought.

BNCA’s report is overdue, but its better late than never. Now that we know the situation is bad, what is needed are extensive long and short term plans. Short term plans should include a crackdown on peddling, rehabilitation facilities for drug users, and massive anti-drug campaigning.

Long term plans would have to involve looking at the whole issue more holistically; recognising that drug abuse is also a problem that has social roots.

The problem goes deeper than some anti-social youth behaving badly. It comes from low self esteem, from hearts that are not healthy and whole.

Perhaps it is asking too much of the government to heal the hearts of the young people. But they need to do what they can. And while we look at the government for every solution, we must also look at our own families, at what our children are doing, why they are doing what they are doing. It is a solution we must all come to collectively.

Perhaps, it is our culture of drinking on social occasions that is the culprit. But why blame the culture. Our forefathers knew when to say no. All we have to do is say NO!

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Squabble in the media industry

So, the media personnel made it to the news column yesterday. We are supposed to write about others and not about ourselves.

But then it is a classic case of a fight between the management and the workers. At one time it used to be between the landlords and the peasants, in historical context.

Every one in the media circle knew that the trouble was brewing in Bhutan Times. It happens. While the management is more concerned about the money that comes in, the editorial people are more concerned about the stories to meet the deadline.

There has always been a tussle between the management and the editorial on how much should be spent on a particular story. The management goes by the greatest number of stories for the money spent, while the editorial people go by the value of a story.

We are told that the editorial felt the interference of the management. There are three versions to every story, that of the two parties, and then the truth. We are no one to judge who is right, but this is an issue that needs scrutiny.

In Bhutan, the laws are clear on the news being untainted by the polities of those who own the newspaper. While it is acceptable in some countries to push the political ideas and parties that they favour through their newspaper, this is illegal in Bhutan.

It is not clear if such issues plague the private papers in Bhutan, certainly this issue has never been brought up.

But nonetheless, it is an issue we need to make clear provisions for. While some think it is perfectly acceptable to use a newspaper that they own to push their own agenda, others deem it unethical. Those who do not see a problem say that after all, if the readers do not like the paper’s views, they will not read the paper, so it is the paper that loses out. Others who take the opposite view feel that the papers owe it to the readers to provide a ‘middle’ news. Facts, and no less than facts.

Of course, the existence of an editorial means that papers do take some stand on all issues. Bhutan sees occasional ‘fiery’ editorials that condemn this and praise that.

In the case of Bhutan Times, the management publicly said that it was they who suggested that the editorial not to use the paper to their own ends.

That sort of clash was always there in one form or the other. But the editor and reporters of Bhutan Times walking out just two days before the publication of their Sunday issue created a commotion among the readers and the management alike.

According to reports, the department of information and media and BICMA were also worried. After all it was an unprecedented move, something that never happened before.

The Bhutan Times people resigned to protect independent journalism in the country from interference from the management. The new managing director had a different thing to say. These allegations and counter allegations are expected.

One would not say that the employees have to play up to the management. Yet one has to have a sense of responsibility towards other co-workers from other sections. And most of all, one has to have respect for one’s clients. In this case, it means the readers.

The companies may go bust. Along with it our own reputation may also go down. Our clients may not trust us the next time round.

The squabbles are not uncommon. But these petty things must be settled internally.

The magic of fall

Autumn is a beautiful season. Much has been written about it. From the ancient times to the present, it has been a subject much written about.

New thoughts always pour in. One young woman wrote about how she felt about autumn because she was the child of autumn. She always had a connection with the season. We always have connection with what we like best.

Now, why do I always like autumn? It is one of my best seasons. How do I connect to it? I don’t even have the vaguest idea.

All I can say is that the sky is clear and golden leaves float down the street and they give a nice colour to the surrounding. When you really think of it, the season also gives a feeling of death around the corner, if winter is the Death.

So what reminds me of the beauty of autumn? What makes me revel in it? Perhaps, it is Wagner’s music from the Four Seasons. Or Keats Ode to Autumn. They are just romantic ramblings of a silly old romantic man.

But then I can’t help it. I am also in the autumn of my years. For some reason, I feel that this is the best time of my life. Yes, I haven’t achieved a lot of things that I wanted to, or lot of things that people keep store by. I am not worried. I have lived my life to the hilt. Winter is just a few years away (if not months).

If I had the strength, I would just like to zoom away on a powerful motor bike into the country and enjoy the warm sun, the blue sky and the green and gold countryside. I am still willing to brave the chilly evenings and mornings. When the sun rises, I would be what I had always been. I just need the warmth of the sun on my face to wake me up, unlike the farmer-soldier from the south of France who died in Wilfred Owen’s poem, Futility.

Perhaps, it is the strains from Lara’s theme from Dr Zhivago that reminds me of autumn. The Russian autumn was beautiful, at least in the movie.

Or is it the slow whisper of wind that imperceptibly moves through the wood and the soft sound that the falling leaves make on the forest floor?

But I am talking of my own autumn. I like to look into the clear blue sky and enjoy the warm sun. The harvest seems good down the valley and looks golden in the afternoon sun in contrast to the green conifer trees on the hill. The villagers are already down with their scythes to reap the harvest of the year.

They do it with love and care. For the harvest that they are reaping should see them through till the next one.

Hope is what keeps us going and keeps us looking forward to the next year.

How many such autumns I will see, I don’t know. But I would love to watch as many as possible so as I live.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

How do we integrate it into the curriculum?

The workshop to come out with a framework on media literacy in schools ended last week.

But the precursor to this one was held on 2-5 June 2009 under the name “developing strategic framework for media education and literacy programme in Bhutan”. The retreat at Kingacholing Resort, Wangdue Phodrang came out with broad guidelines and suggestions. That was what it should have come out with at that point in time, which it did.

It pointed the way to the right the right direction.

The Department of InfoComm and Media Authority spent a hefty sum in organising the workshop. The point about the second workshop was basically to come out with a curriculum to educate the children on the value of media and of course use it as a tool to learn, if the teachers find it relevant.

Who stands to benefit most? Every one, of course. For too long we were fond of using that catchy phrase about “developing a knowledge-based society” that is suppose to contribute to the process of democracy. It is an interesting idea. But how do we go about creating a knowledge-based society so that they can come to an informed decision-making process.

If all the stakeholders do not participate in this process, then every one loses out in the process. That is something that we have always failed to understand.

We may claim that the whole process is supposed to benefit the society in general. This may ensure a new generation of young people, plagued with unemployment and other attendant ills, to think of something that will guide them along. The exposure to information and media help them to make choices and prepare them to make those choices.

At the school level, the children just want to know and learn to access different forms of media, which will contribute to their learning process. If children are made aware of the value of media, if not any one at least the media industry will have an increased readership.

Sadly, the participation from the media was rather low. Equally unsatisfactory was also the participation from the education ministry, particularly from groups who knows and how to pilot these new programmes. They are the experts. Media personnel can only contribute. So there is a need for understanding among all the people working towards what the ministry of information and communications is trying to do.

How do we integrate this new idea or are we going to start off with a new subject. As it is the schools curriculum and the teachers are overburdened, to say the least. The only way that this programme will see the light of the day is by integrating it in various relevant subjects. This is a matter that experts, who develop curriculum, know better and should handle it accordingly.

Another important thing is to know the funding process. Is the literacy programme going to end with just a series of meetings and seminars? Or will be continued into the future. For that we need fund.

During the workshop in Paro, some participants pointed our that a particular programme was implemented with such a great gusto, but when the funding came to an end, everything ended up there.

So if we are serious about this media literacy programme, every one on board should be serious and ask if it is relevant. The answer should come more from the education sector.

If so, how do we integrate it into the overall curriculum?

How do we improve the quality of education?

The teachers have been flogged at for too long for not ensuring the quality of education. They have been at the receiving end all along.

Yes, the parent felt that they were not doing a good job. The education ministry or the school department also felt that they were not doing anything good. Of course, it has often said, rather in a derogatory tone, that if you don’t find a job the best option is teaching.

In some way or the other, the nobility of the profession has been degraded with all these debates. And we have lost our sense of respect for the teachers. What is it that has really lead to it is one big question that needs an answer from the ministry that dispenses education and is responsible for a so-called literate society.

In the past, and in all our culture there was always this theory about the transmission of knowledge from the teacher to the pupil. In the Hindu tradition, there was this guru-chela parampara and in Buddhism too, we had the similar tradition. Every teacher passed it down to the next group or the students.

That was the time when writing materials were expensive and not readily available. Every thing had to be transmitted orally, with practical examples. Perhaps, it would do us good to know how Marpa the translator taught Milarepa, one of our great Karguep leaders.

For a sorcerer, it was not easy, according to Buddhist tradition, to attain that level where he can be ordained and be worthy of receiving the teaching. That’s what the master said. At this point in time we don’t want to dispute what the great masters said and their way of teaching.

They did it for what they thought was good for the posterity and for ensuring transmission of knowledge to the future. And they chose their pupils (chelas) accordingly. If they didn’t qualify for the lessons that they were supposed to receive, they were not accepted.

At the time of Socrates, or for that matter, the great Hindu sages or Buddhist lamas who dwelt in the Himalayas teaching the values of religion, we had no formal schools. Everything was oral. It came from the masters to the students.

In Bhutan we follow the same tradition. We still have a great respect for the teachers. Or we had.

When education went on what one may call mass production that is when we went into problem. There is nothing wrong in the concept itself. When every one is educated, the world as a whole is educated. That is good for the world.

But somewhere along the line about this great concept of educating the world, something went wrong.

For one thing, we never gave enough importance to teachers, particularly at the lower level. They slogged at remote places without enough incentives and they were not provided with the right trainings or opportunities to improve their skills.

So, demotivation set in. In some schools, even books failed to arrive in time, forget about the news of change in the curriculum. It was reported that some principals didn’t even realise that there was a change in the curriculum. This is what is called information gap.

Another thing is we have always treated our teachers in an ungenerous manner. More often than not, principals and vice principals have been nominated for workshops and trainings and the workers in a remote school is always neglected.

If teachers are not given the opportunity to upgrade themselves, then we should not complain about the quality.

Some one has to do something about it.