Youth related issues in Bhutan have been a major concern for some years now. But the more recent has been that of inhuman and extremely violent acts like stabbing. These acts are not once or twice but the media is reporting these cases every other day putting all of us into helpless dismay. Law enforcing agencies have become busy and are engaged ever more than before. They maintain that most of the perpetrators are school dropouts and unemployed youth.
Newspapers, public documents, reports, formal and informal deliberations tend to subscribe to family, education, and unemployment as the root causes of youth violence. While there are some truths in external and circumstantial causes not many seem to dwell on the cruel nature of human beings. All of us are the descendants of cave men who once lived on flesh and blood of animals. If every human being has Buddha nature and capacity for compassion, equally there are elements of animalism and cruelty. That is why there are atrocities around the world despite holy men preaching on spiritualism.
I find Nell’s 2006, article, “Cruelty’s rewards: The gratifications of perpetrators and spectators” rather apt. According to Nell cruelty occurs in three stages of predation, hunting and power coupled by aggression. Some of us watch National Geographic Channel and witness how lions, hyenas, tigers, wolves kill other animals, a clear demonstration of cruelty and dominant aggression.
The exposition of cruelty is to deliberately inflict physical or psychological pain on others and sometimes on the self. Malcolm Potts maintains the evolution of same-species killing or to attack its own kind is to expand their territory. In the same vein wars between nations, ethnic groups, beliefs are demonstrations of cruelty’s utility. Our youth stabbing each other is partly a depiction of this instinct. The good news, however, is that the environment has the potential to regulate natural cruelty and polish people into civilized beings.
I like to propose some six multi-party approaches to addressing the menace of youth violence in Bhutan. I also am aware that some of these suggestions have been made earlier in various forums formally or informally.
(1) Educational institutions
We learn that most of the culprits and perpetrators are dropouts, mostly from schools and some from colleges or training institutions. There are four possible reasons for dropouts: (a) fail in the exams and do not want to repeat anymore; (b) parents or family’s choice to keep at home; (c) expelled by school or educational institutions authorities on disciplinary grounds; and (d) students themselves staying away from schools either out of peer pressure or on some personal choice.
All these four causes and problems can be addressed through a multi-party approach and common understanding backed by legal instruments. Teaching learning atmosphere should be conducive so that there is no failure. In fact, there should be a ZERO failure policy up to Class X- which is the basic education. This already has a legal backing because it is proclaimed in our Constitution. Most of the Class X graduates are hardly 15 years old so they are too young to be employed. When a student has been declared failed it is the end of the decision for that year. But, we need to ask a series of professional and managerial questions on why a student has failed: (a) Has he/she failed because of inferior intellectual capacities of individual students? (b) Has he/she failed because of difficulty level of subject(s)? (c) Has he/she failed because of sheer carelessness? (d) Has he/she failed because of ineffective teaching and delivery on part of teachers? (e) Has he/she failed because of inadequate resources (books, stationeries, teaching learning materials, and teachers)? (f) Has he/she failed because of assessment and examinations system?
Our Continuous Assessment is supposed to address these questions. It is important to challenge ourselves by asking these questions: (i) How many schools and teachers get closer to a student know him/her, pay individual attention? (ii) What individualized plan is in place to help cope academically and other aspects of development? (iii) Have all means and strategies to help a student been exhausted in course of the year before the final verdict, “fail”, is declared?
We should also make sure that almost 100% of students in the education system should complete Class XII. This will address two important issues. One, all children would reach the employment age of 18 years; two, they grow physically, emotionally and intellectually and should become more responsible.
Any parent, relative or guardians keeping any dropout children at home without completing Class X or Class XII and without any gainful engagements should be made to face legal instruments. Much has been said on this but it appears to have remained in words or in paper. School and educational institutions should try to minimize the option of terminating students. It is understandable to resort to this decision when all other options are exhausted. However, an understanding among schools and institutions should be established to transfer students who are expelled on disciplinary grounds. If financial and economic constraint is the cause for dropping out all means should be explored to support the students in question.
It is time the Ministry of Education revised its student-teacher ratio. The current ratio of 1:32 is still too high. Although schools located in rural places may have 10-15 students or less in a class schools in urban places still suffer from overcrowded classes with over 50 students. The student-ratio should be revised to 1:25 but this should not be a general formula to work out teacher requisition in small and rural schools.
Teachers’ workload policy needs to be revisited as well. We see many teachers, especially in rural places teaching all 8 periods a day and all 42 periods a week leaving no space to breathe. It would be unfair to ask our teachers to function like machines, as even machines break down. Teachers should teach 3-4 periods a day and not more than 20 periods a week. This would mean the need for more teachers and this would have financial implications on the government.
The proposed revised teacher-student ratio and workload should serve some positive educational purposes: (a) teachers get quality time to reflect upon their teaching, do proper lesson planning and assessment of student works; (b) teachers get opportunity to spend quality time with their students during schools hours. A doable tutorial schedule should be worked out for giving attention to students (small group or individual). We should at the same time commend some schools which have initiated these services to students, but they are in isolated schools and in a sporadic manner. (c) Teachers get time to get down with professional development activities (additional reading, research, interaction, etc).
It is sad to read stories in papers that some students, especially in urban areas are reportedly involved in criminal cases (either after school hours or during weekends). This is an indication that students do not have constructive things to do. It depends on teachers on how the students are kept engaged academically and otherwise. By and large students dread their teachers and the academic tasks given to them. This comes with quality teaching, individual attention, meticulous assessment and critical feedback of home tasks, firm follow up (chasing students), assigning additional readings, making learning fun. With the existing structure and work load many of our teachers are not able to do these, largely because of time constraints. There is a need to think out of the box and bring changes by aiming high. One educationist says, “It is not that we aim too high and fail, but aim too low and succeed”.
…..to be continued
(The writer is Dr Singye Namgyel, Director of Sherubtse College)