3/9 – Leaving Bhutan

Leaving Bhutan

Yesterday afternoon the students in Samtse developed media literacy integration plans for their future lives as teachers.  I expected this to be a difficult task for them, but they found places outside to meet in small groups based on what they would be teaching (primary, secondary English/history, secondary math/physics, etc.).  I gave them a few minutes to get started, and then roamed around from group to group, asking about their challenges and their plans.

By far the biggest concerns centered on lack of access to “media” – especially the internet – so I stressed again the importance of focusing on critical thinking about all types of media messages (books and other print-based material, images, statues, etc.) and communicating with images as well as words.  The other question I got several times had to do with how to use media literacy with students with special needs, especially those with learning problems.  They weren’t familiar with ADHD – perhaps that doesn’t exist in Bhutan?  I talked with individual groups and also to the full group at the very end about this issue – stressing that the focus on visual images often levels the playing field a bit for students who are not strong readers, and also reinforcing the inquiry-based interactive process that provides opportunities for all students to respond and to hear different perspectives.

How would you respond to the question about media literacy for students with special needs?

At the very end of the day, we all gathered outside to take pictures of me and the full group of students – it was a happy, and somewhat bittersweet, ending to their two days with “Mrs. Cyndy,” and many students came up to talk with me at the end.  I urged them to keep in touch with me, and posted my e-mail on the screen.  I’ve already heard from one student, and hope to hear from more during the coming months.

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Heading back to Thimphu today was much easier – I’m becoming acclimated to the mountain driving, and the anxiety over how the training would go has gone. This evening Mona hosted a dinner for me at a lovely hotel with several other administrators from DOIM, along with Namkha and Choki (who was the person who first contacted us about coming to Bhutan).  It was a wonderful time, with a lot of stories about how the Samtse training went; Namkha told me later that everyone was amazed at how much I talked!  She thought my enthusiasm was contagious but that perhaps I should talk a little less next time I come.  OK, lesson learned.

Much of our conversation centered around how to build on this work, and ways to bring Chris and I back to help with curriculum planning.  I am again struck by the advantage they have in Bhutan with strong support – even directives – from the very top of their government for the integration of media literacy throughout the entire country’s K-12 education system.  Will that ever be the case in the U.S.?  Or is our educational system fundamentally too decentralized?  If the U.S. has finally instituted a common core assessment in ELA and math, can we build a parallel approach to develop the scope and sequence for media literacy education?  What would it take for this to happen in my lifetime? Could Bhutan serve as a model for this in the U.S.?

In discussing this with my new Bhutanese friends and colleagues, I was surprised to learn that the U.S. does not have diplomatic relations with Bhutan – and that it isn’t because the U.S. doesn’t want relations with Bhutan, it’s that Bhutan isn’t sure it wants to have diplomatic relations with us.  What does this say about the U.S.?  And about the care and caution the Bhutan government and people are taking in opening up themselves to the outside world?  As they move into the 21st century, can they continue to preserve their traditions and unique perspectives on cultural values and GNH – or will increasing exposure to advertising, consumerism and other elements of Western and other Eastern cultures ultimately consume them?  And was there ever a time in the U.S. when we faced that same issue – and could have made another choice?

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