His Majesty the King graced the 3rd Convocation Ceremony of the Royal University of Bhutan, in Paro. His Majesty awarded degree certificates to the 1000 graduates of the Paro and Samtse Colleges of Education.
His Majesty the King’s Address to the Graduate Students:
It always makes me very happy to meet and spend time with you. And when we do get the opportunity, we all want it to be a happy time. However, we must also understand the difference between getting together as friends to talk and laugh and then getting together to work for our people and country. At this moment, with so many senior officials gathered together, we must say we are here for work.
I can say so many good things today about the success of our country, about the hard work of our people. We have done our work well, our policies have been good – everything we have done we have done with the interests of our people and country in mind – that is why we are here today as a unique and successful nation. But my saying these things will not change anything. It serves no purpose or bears no fruits. Praising what we have already done will not bring new rewards. It is better to see what our weaknesses are, where we have not done very well, where we need to do better.
My duty is to worry every single day about our people and country. And to voice these worries frankly so that we do not get carried away, get caught unaware, or become complacent. So bear with me as I speak to you about my concerns about our education system or standards. Those of you who work in the ministry of education or related agencies must not feel singled out.
I am a firm believer that if there is one word that will stand out above all other words when we describe our country’s amazing journey of modernization over the last few decades – it is Education. Our institutions, our leaders of today – all of us, including me – are the proud products of the Bhutanese education system.
Our education system built and nurtured with your hard work and dedication has served us well. But we must understand that the times have changed here in Bhutan and all around us in the world. We cannot face new challenges with the same tools. The private sector is adjusting itself to new challenges and opportunities; the bureaucracy is finding its place in a new system of governance; the entire country is adapting to new roles in our young democracy. Thus, every person and institution must evolve to meet the aspirations of our people and the changing needs of our nation.
Today I speak on behalf of our teachers and students – our teachers will always be committed and dedicated teachers – our students will always be diligent and loyal students – but it is the duty of parents, policy makers and the government to put the right tools in their hands – the right books, the right curriculum, the right direction. For this we must first ask ourselves where do we want to go as an economy, as a democracy, as a nation. In other words, what is the Vision for Bhutan? Then we must build an education system that nurtures people with the right skills, knowledge and training to fulfill this Vision. The sooner we realize this the better.
The word Vision is such a profound word and yet one that is so commonly mis-used. I feel that there is no better reason to use this word than to describe the importance of education. For if our Vision for the nation is not contained in the pages of the books that our young children hold, in the words of our teachers as they lead their classrooms, and in the education policies of our governments, then let it be said – we have no Vision.
We can dream of a strong bureaucracy of the highest standards but we must not forget that those standards must be set in school where our future bureaucrats are.
We can dream of world class IT parks, of being an international financial centre, of competing at international standards but we must not forget that we can have none of these if our schools and colleges do not bestow such talents and skills.
We can dream of a nation of environmental conservation, GNH, a strong economy, a vibrant democracy and yet none are possible or sustainable if we have not already toiled and sweated in the building of a strong education system.
Our nation’s future lies in an ever-shrinking world. Our government’s goals, and the 10th plan reflect this reality. If we take even a cursory glance at the immediate goals of our nation, we will see goals such as developing hydropower, mines, health, tourism, banking, Information Technology; roads, domestic and international airports; and so on. You hear terms like ‘knowledge based’, ‘niche’, ‘broadband’, ‘innovation’, ‘data centre’, ‘sustainable’ and so on. These goals and terms are perfectly normal and as I said, reflect the reality of the changing times.
But if changing realities bring new ambitions and goals, it must also bring new plans and preparation. Most importantly, we have to ask ourselves how do we build and nurture the people who will implement the plans and fulfill our goals? The answer lies in Education. But statistics show that while we pile dream upon dream like floors on a skyscraper, the foundation needs to be strengthened.
Let me make an extremely broad and elementary observation. In all the countries where progress has been strong in the areas we strive to develop, the strength of the education system has been in Math and Science. In fact in India, the favourite subject for most students is Mathematics. In Bhutan, Mathematics is one of our main weaknesses – most students do not like Math and the majority scores less than 50%. We have similar weaknesses in Science and amazingly, even English.
I have studied our own official statistics, which show these in great detail – you should look at them too- but for today, what we need to do is ask ourselves the question – “does our education system reflect our changing opportunities and challenges?” Contemplate this question.
Contemplate! For what a grave mistake it will be to stand proud as nation on the hard work of our forefathers, the successes of our past and on the admiration and respect of the outside world today. And fail to see that it will all disappear tomorrow, if we lose sight of the fundamental reasons for our success.
Contemplate! For what a grave mistake it will be to dream with great optimism of taking our nation from this successful democratic transition into a future of even greater success, without realizing that it is not us but our children who must secure that success for the nation.
I have said it time and time again, “a nation’s future will mirror the quality of her youth – a nation cannot fool herself into thinking of a bright future when she has not invested wisely in her children.”
We always repeat what HM the fourth King once said, “the future of our nation lies in the hands of our children.” We must know that His Majesty, my father, meant that quality of education for our young Bhutanese is of paramount importance. And that it is our duty as today’s parents, leaders and citizens to provide it. We must ensure that their young little hands grow to become strong and worthy of carrying our nation to greater heights.
I cannot go into details of the education sector – there are experts among us who can do this. All I know is, as simple as it sounds, that our hopes and aspirations as a nation must be reflected in what is taught to our future generations in the classroom. This is my view. I urge parents, policymakers and the general public to reflect on this. Keep in mind:
- That our culture, traditions and heritage are the foundation of our Nation and our People are our greatest asset.
- That we have a small population – but our people love the country – with the right tools we can achieve anything.
- That educating our People is the first step to fulfilling our aspirations as a nation.
- That it is not enough to provide free education – we must provide education of such quality that it will guarantee a distinguished place for our youth anywhere in the world.
- And that our window of opportunity is small – today the largest section of our population are Youth – how we address quality of education now will determine whether we will build strong young citizens who will ensure a long bright future for the nation – or fail and confine such a large number of our young children and their children to generations of hardship and struggle.
When the sun sets every evening, we go to sleep in the comfort that it will rise in the morning and things will be the same. Do not however let the light of education ever go out. For if it should become dark, even for a moment, we will find that generations of our children will suffer its effects and the light on a bright future for our nation will take decades to shine again.
Parents and teachers, I want you to know that as King my passion will always be to nurture our youth, day after day, year after year – for it is their skills, their labour and commitment to the country that will build our future. There is no other path – no other tool – for Bhutan’s future success. I end with the words – “Our nation’s Vision can only be fulfilled if the scope of our dreams and aspirations are matched by the reality of our commitment to nurturing our future citizens.”