A day in the life of a Bhutanese Student.
The day of a student in Bhutan starts very early. For Boarding students, the wake up bell goes off at 5:00 AM. As for students living with their parents, or day scholars as they are known here, wake up depends on the length of walk. Boarders then are expected to wash and have prayer before morning study at 6:00 AM. Some of my students, who live near the top of a local mountain, must leave for school around this time. Most day scholars arrive at the school for breakfast, which is at 7:00 AM. After breakfast students have about 20-40 minutes to accomplish some SUPW (Socially Useful Productive Work). SUPW consists of things like cleaning washrooms, sweeping sidewalks, watering flowers and dillydallying. I have heard it referred to as Some Useful Period Wasted. Then begins the 30-minute assembly. The assembly has it’s ups (meditation, prayer and singing) and downs (student speeches copied out of some book, lectures on behaviour and values from teachers). In short, students wake up at 5:00 AM to start class at 9:00 AM, that is if the morning speeches do not carry over into first period as they often do.
Our school has six 55 minute periods. Students have English, Dzongkha, Science, Math every day, history and geography three times a week and PE, Library, and IT once a week. PE also is taught in the classroom, regardless of weather, and the IT lab only has 10 computers. Lunch is always rice with a curry (usually pumpkin, but sometimes turnip) and dal. I actually really like the lunches. People who know me, know that it is hard for me to turn down a free meal… On Mondays, there is a remedial class in a subject on a rotating basis. Wednesdays are club day. The other school days are concluded with an evening prayer.
After school, boarding students have an hour of free time which is often full of relaxing and playing. Day students return home at this point, with the longest commute about 1.5-2 hours straight up hill. The 5:30 bell means an hour of evening study in the multipurpose hall. I am often frustrated with the ridiculous amount of copying that takes place during study sessions. It has led to a sever reduction in homework from my side. After study is dinner. This is followed by another hour of study in the dorms, which I am guess is not that productive. I look back at my 16 years of school, at not once did I ever come close to a need for 3 hours of study per day, nor did I have the focus and drive that 3 hours of study would require. I am of the opinion that this is the case here as well. With 6 hours of class, early mornings and the heaps of other work given to students, I cannot blame them for lacking effort during study periods.
Lights out is at 9:00 PM, giving students a bit more free time before bed. Young students are often asleep before this, because, like people, children eventually get tired. Mahh.
Remembering what I know about residential schools in Canada, this in many ways fits the bill. My school is not quite as strict as places like Nangkhor HSS, but many of the rules, format of lessons, position of teachers all comes from the British Protestant boarding school system brought across the world to do ‘a service’ to uneducated nations. While reading Harry Potter, I noticed that the teachers in Hogwarts are as committed to that system as we are here (that is why Harry and Ron always copied off of Hermione). In the case of Bhutan, it was Father Mackey, a Canadian (Does that make me his son), who actually began the first secular schools. The biggest difference between schools here and Canadian Residential schools here is that although English is the language of instruction, there is no attempt to destroy local languages, culture or ways of life and people here also traditionally shave their heads anyways. The current policy under discussion in the Bhutan Government is to create fewer and bigger centralized schools. The discussion eventually comes to who should take care of the students: civil servants or parents. I look forward to having my students sending letters so that can both Canadian and Bhutanese students can gain from a cultural exchange.
Before I get into trouble, how bout them Stanley Cup Playoffs, eh?