1/31: 1st Day of the Training

Tuesday Jan 31 – the first day of Media Literacy training

The first day of training with 25 Bhutanese teachers, administrators and teacher trainers was powerful and exciting.  Honest and genuine concerns were raised about the most essential issues relating to the integration of media literacy and critical thinking into Bhutan.

In his introduction one of the participants told a story (I’m paraphrasing):  “Not to long ago a Bhutanese would pause at a flowing river to marvel at its beauty, the reflection of light, and the fish swimming below.  Today an Bhutanese with advanced Western education would more likely pause at the river to ponder how much money can we make from this.”  How will this work shape what future Bhutanese see that river?

Many of the participants commented that their greatest realization from today’s workshop was that media is not just TV, newspapers and the Internet but that books, maps, money and even Buddhist paintings were media.  For many it shifted that entire view of this work.

Today we began an important dialogue about the decoding of Buddhist paintings.  Concerns were raised that, if not done right, it could undermine traditional beliefs.  Conversely, if we do not include the rich traditional Bhutanese media (paintings, festivals, songs, etc.) in the process of close examination and reading, do we marginalize traditional culture?   If students become conscious of the values of these spiritual messages and hold them up against the values of consumer culture, are they more likely to make informed and thoughtful choices?  I suspect that a lack of critical reflection on these differences will benefit consumerism more than Buddhism.   Tomorrow a monk and Dzonga (Bhutan’s native language) teacher will give an traditional lesson on reading the messages in a Thangka painting.  On Friday he will lead a constructivist media decoding of the same document.  The group will then address the appropriateness of using this form on traditional religious media.

One young teacher approached me at break to suggest that critical thinking will encourage students to question their teachers and that teachers may respond by punishing students with low grades or worse.  She suggested that Bhutan’s schools may not be ready for this.  Another teachers chimed in that her students were already questioning and that it was too late to go back now even if we wanted to. And she did not want to.

With the encouragement of the educators I asked the participants to place themselves on a continuum in the room, one side reflecting the belief that the introduction of mew media to Bhutan was good, the other side that it was harmful, and in between mixed.  At lease 2/3 of the participants were against the wall agreeing that it was a good thing.  The lone educator on the other side said he was playing the devils advocate.  The rest were mixed or undecided.  While a common Ithaca perspective might suggest that they do not fully comprehend the pervasive and harmful nature of this intrusion into a thriving traditional culture, a number of the participants articulately argued that the media is playing fundamental role in development and democracy by facilitating public dialogue, checking the powers of government, and in bringing Bhutan out of the ignorance of isolation.  Where do stand on the continuum?

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