Sunday, March 30, 2014

My School is an iSchool

My school got lucky one more time along with five other schools in the country. We were selected as the pilot schools for iSchool project. I am personally not involved in the project but my friend Kailash Rai is doing a great job in my school. Class IX A is chosen as iClass and there are going to have a wonderful 2014 academic year. The first question on your mind must be: What is iSchool Project about?
"The project uses the high speed internet network in conjunction with top of the line video conferencing technology to allow a few teachers to reach dozens of classrooms and hundreds of students, across Bhutan in real time. Teachers at the ‘master' classroom will teach and reach students in the ‘remote' classroom via video and will also be able to receive and answer normal questions from the students in any of the classrooms.The ‘remote' classrooms selected to participate in the pilot phase are not really that remote given the short time that was available to set up the project. However, in the future, the benefiting schools could well be extremely remote and yet benefit from the best teachers located in selected ‘master' classrooms located anywhere in Bhutan.Besides having access to top quality teachers on a live platform, the lessons will also be available for download for students who missed a lesson, and these lessons can be downloaded from any school.The iSchool idea is not intended to provide a single solution to cover every issue in the education sector. It is just one tool, that in conjunction with many other programs will help to cover every need in the sector.In addition to providing live video conferencing technology to reach many schools, technology such as the ‘smart' camera and associated software provides innumerable tools to the teacher to improve the delivery process. Smart whiteboards with an unlimited number of ‘screens' that can be switched on demand effectively provides an endless number of blackboards on which to present lessons. A document camera will enable the teacher to show real samples to help explain specific concepts to the students." -Pelkhil School Facebook

Lesson in Progress.
I am so impressed by the fiber-optically connected internet speed, which is capable of streaming live video from five school at a time (see in pic) along with high quality audio. Besides that whatever the teacher writes on the smart-board in the master school is directly broadcast on our white board through our projector, and for a person who loves technology this is heavenly.  

It was formally launched yesterday March 29,2014 by Prime Minister Tshering Tobgay from Pelkhil School and the five pilot schools took part in the event virtually. Lynchoen interacted with students and teachers of five schools. Even Education minister joined us from Phuntsholing. The Launch was a big success.
Prime Minister interacting with the Five Schools.
I wish the project all the best and hope every stakeholder will put their heart in this project to take it where it's intended to reach. 

Thursday, March 27, 2014

Rural Heritage Museum in My School

Much of what I had seen in my village as a boy has disappeared over the years. The rural heritage gave way to modern conveniences so easily within these three decades. Even during my days in school we had children who grew up away from their roots and had no idea of the life in countryside. Now we can only imagine how ignorant this generation of children will be about our roots.

Sometimes I wish we could preserve a village, freeze it in time, untouched by the forces of change, to be a standing history of our ancestors. But our hard past could hardly withstand the luxury of modern life. We have changed faster than we feared. Even yesterday is too far away. No village will agree to this idea.

A few year down the line we won't be able to distinguish a Bhutanese home from a western home, we can't do it already in the urban homes. Soon our original heritage will become a piece of memory dying with the last generation or a few pages of some books written by foreign writers.

I am going do a little something to leave behind what I have in my memory in a form of a School Museum in Bajothang. All thanks to my friend Ugyen Tshering for the inspiration. I have begun a new Club called 'School Museum Club' with 22 culturally rich children. We are going to create a house of rural history in our school. We have the perfect building in the center of the campus, which carries lots of history with it to house our idea.

This will be the Museum (Click on the pic to read about it)

In few months we would have renovated the interior of the house to make it look like a typical village home and furnish it with the artifacts that we are collecting now. Our search for exhibits are devided into four categories- Kitchen, Store, Personal, and Outdoor. Four teams are on it.
Our Basic list of Exhibits (Understandable to ourselves)
We are researching and creating picture catalogue of our target collection, but some excited children already came with some interesting items. I can already see it happening. I have called my mother to help me extend my list and to gather old stuffs from my village. She is already on it just like some parents of my club members.


Collection begins...
The whole project will be executed with no fund at all. There are few things that might cost money in doing this, rest will be about passion. The house makeover might cost few thousands, for which I have word from a friend. If you wish to support us please donate old artifacts. 

I will tell you when everything is done, then bring your children over to show them our rural heritage.



Tunnel Ghost Busted

I had some friends over for dinner last weekend. What was supposed to be a relaxing Sunday dinner suddenly turned cold with fear. A friend, senior tunnel engineer, was flipping through his phone pictures when he suddenly spotted a picture of his worksite with ghost in the background, a whitish girl on the tunnel wall. His face turned white and mood subdued when he showed the picture to us.
I couldn't believe it. But the fear on my friend's face and the intensity with which he refused to accept any of my scientific explanations of possible manipulation of the picture soon gave me goosebumps. His phone doesn't have internet connection to download the picture from elsewhere and he was confident that it was the picture of his worksite and he took the shot himself.
He grew restless and paranoid. He sweared he will never enter the tunnel again. He recalled how his camera didn't work when he took picture of himself. He took out his phone from time to time and looked at the creepy picture, and worse made us look at it. After a while I could look at this picture no more. It was as if the girl would look at me anytime. I even asked him if there's some dirty bloody secret inside his tunnel that's now coming out in the form of spirit.

Rest of the evening went in talking about all sorts of ghost stories. And when the dinner was done one of my guests, the youngest among us, couldn't go home. He is also an engineer but not in tunnel. He doesn't have a family yet and all his roommates were not home that night. He easily accepted my offer to sleep on my couch. (Talking about critical blogger Dawa Knight, lol)

Look Closely, you don't wanna miss the ghost!
Next Day: (I heard) The senior engineer friend freaked everybody outside the tunnel at his worksite. He approached his boss with the picture and it had the same effect on them as well. Their office gathered all IT experts to study the picture, and finally they could disintegrate the picture of the girl from the picture of the tunnel it was photoshopped to. They also managed to photoshop it onto the tunnel of other site and post it to them.

The question remains: It was a flawlessly done photoshop work, who did it? how it came to his phone? Why would anyone do it? The answer same from his wife who spent the next day investigating the same. She found out their kids have played with a camera app called Camera360 which has many options which includes Ghost Mode. Ha ha ha kids can scare the hell outta adults with technology.

Wednesday, March 19, 2014

The Night Hunters

'The Night Hunters' is a collection of short stories written by my friend Dasho Lingi Jamtsho. We are friends because of the book. It connected us. And because he is my friend I can be biased in my judgement of the book, so it's best you get a copy for yourself and read it.

It's selling at Nu.200. Please don't ask how many pages it carries because it's a story book, not a notebook to be priced by the number of pages. Just know that it's about two mobile vouchers and you get to keep a book. Seriously printing books is an expensive affair in Bhutan, besides there are many people who want cuts. There is no regard for the Authors and their creative works.

I have been selling 'The Night Hunters' in my school and some people might think I am into book business because I have been marketing many Bhutanese books in and around my school however there is nothing business about it, I have no intention of peeling off the skin from the writers' chests. I just love literature and I want my students to love it all the same.

The Author during a Visit to my school.
I am happy that "The Night Hunters" is receiving good reviews from within and outside Bhutan. Here in my school every teacher carries a copy each and most of them have finished reading, they came up with varying verbal reviews mostly pointing toward the simplicity of the stories and some talks about predictable suspenses. Their reviews are some ward influenced by the price and the nature of my marketing- for some it seemed like they were owning a book for the first time (joke intended).

I bought my copy even though I could easily get a signed copy from the author himself because there is its own charm in paying for something. I finished it and I am impressed by the fineness of the language as much as I could relate to the stories. The cover design and the print quality can easily put it at par with any international book. This is one book that will not put Bhutan down, though it's Maj. Lingi's first attempt at writing. I wish him all the best with his second book.

Sunday, March 16, 2014

Thank You For The Free Advice

Tonight I met a man at Karaoke Bar who gave me free advice. He sounded like a senior officer, which I found out he was. He approached me gently after I finished singing a duet with my wife and said, "I hope you don't mind me saying-"

I thought he didn't like my voice. My daughter wanted to sit on my lap, I adjusted her comfortably and extended my neck to let him finish. He continued, "I hope you don't mind me saying, you should not bring your daughter to such place. You know, it will impact her mentality. Please don't mind me saying this."
I replied even gently, " Not at all sir, in fact I thank you for your kindness. Any sensible person would say the same about it. I will try not to do that again."

If he could recollect it he said the same to me last year but I am such a bad father that I brought her again. Well I take my daughter along with my wife everywhere I go. They have been to all the places I have ever been to- workshop in Phuntsholing, meeting in Thimphu, Picnic in Gelephu, interview in Paro, lochay in Haa, outing by the river, hiking by the hills, hangout in Karaoke...

I am a young father and I don't want to waste any time away from my family, I have chosen my wife over any women I ever met with the promise that I will be with her and love her the best. Two of us decided to have our daughter out of our love and give her our everything. We are very excited parents, we are trying to give her everything. Yes we have read a lot about child raising but we have also seen the world of reality to agree to so many good things written in books. So we decided to raise our child in our own way to see if she goes wrong after all the love we gave. After all I haven't seen a perfectly raised child living a perfect life, I rather read so much about great people who had terrible childhood.

Let me be with her when I can- whenever, wherever!
Two of us are selfishly forcing our daughter to be with us every moment possible. We want to see her every moment, to hear every word she utters and to see every move she makes. If tomorrow something happens to us she should know we were with her when we could.

See,
I was a good son who loved his mother dearly but I went to hostel all my life. If I calculate I would have been with my mother for only five year in total including the hours we were asleep. Eight years ago I got married and I also got employed, then I belonged to my wife and my job. This will happen between our daughter and us. If everything goes well our daughter belongs to us for twenty years, and twenty years is too short to give her all the love we have. We want to give it every day.

But every now and then when I take my daughter to Karaoke I had that fear of someone kindly coming over and telling me about how bad it is to bring my daughter there- someone who must have read some western books on parenting. This happened tonight. I know he is being very professional, sensible, and doing his social duty as an elder. And I know many of you reading this will find him on the right.

But if you were in that room looking around like I did you would find many couples without their children, many fathers with young girls, some mothers with other's husbands and many drunk youth- whom I supposed didn't go to karaoke with their parents when they were young- now tell me how wrong am I in bringing my wife and daughter to celebrate our weekend?

Dasho, Stop drinking, go home and be by your family. Weekend is for family because all week your were in office and your kids in school. By the way, that girl could be your daughter's age.
Ocean is deep and salty, but I took her there too.


Friday, March 07, 2014

Playing Police Where There is no Police

The Dochula Block saga begins again. The road widening works are back, they always wait for the rainy season. The mess from last season has not been taken care of yet and now new works have begun at three locations. Traffic remains closed for hours, there are police on the spot and of course roadside thukpa sellers. When traffic opens on regular intervals vehicles go wild from both directions. There is nobody to manage the flow.
So on a typical day, I was on my way to Thimphu. I waited an hour sandwiched between hundreds of vehicles. I finished reading all the tweets I missed in many days and completed several levels on Diamond Dash. When the floodgate of frustrated traffic opened I landed up after two trucks. We were moving like glacier. Soon a truck from other direction slipped and hit its body onto the nose of the first truck before me. Everybody came out and that's it, the traffic came to standstill.
It took quite sometime for me to dare put my new shoe into the red mud covering the road. I went to the accident spot only to find that the two drivers haven't even started talking. They were facing away from each other and talking with their groups of supporter- you know how people take sides. I looked at the damage, the dent was only about a punch size that could hardly be worth Nu.1000.
Look who is angry!
The driver of the damaged truck blames the other for not stopping and not keeping enough gap but it's clearly visible the there was no room for safe gap and that he had slipped despite stopping. There was rather space on his side and he could have moved a little away. I voiced that. I told them that there is no way any road safety official could reach us from either end and waiting there any longer will only build the traffic jam that could lead to bigger problems. So I decided that they share the cost. With Nu.500 we began clearing the jam. It was another hour before I could finally free myself from the snailing convoy. But damn, only to be stopped at the next block.
It took me six hours to reach Thimphu. What causes this problem? Does road widening have to be road blocking? Do we really have to stop traffic? Well I heard that thing about safety, but where is the safety in creating traffic jam along the unstable hill (remember the incident from last year? I nearly lost a friend. he lost his hi-lux though and nobody paid for it) Don't we have a smarter alternative? Though Bhutanese are generally lazy we still have better things to do than play mobile games at high altitude road block.

Wednesday, March 05, 2014

Computer Programming to Begin in Primary School

I had the honour of working with the best brains of Bhutan on two major ICT projects under Education. We worked on Bhutan's first Education ICT Master Plan, which we fondly called iSherig, from June to Nov 2013. This will Rationalize and streamline ICT activities, systems and projects under Education Sector. It's submitted to the ministry for endorsement and implementation. 

And last winter I joined a team of 26 IT faculty in Gelephu to design the ICT curriculum framework. It's the first implementation step of iSherig that DCRD is taking. We spent nearly a month working on the framework that is expected to be timely and timeless, but the big event was not covered by any media and therefore let me briefly share about it.

ICT Framework Designers. If it fails we are responsible!
I know it's boring to read about government workshops, but I promise you there are many exciting changes you must note. As of now ICT literacy in school is provided by Chigphen Rigphel Project, which covers every student from Class VII to XII. The project will end in 2015. IT is provided as elective subject in Class IX to XII. In IX and X students are taught Microsoft Applications, and in XI and XII students learn HTML and JavaScript.

In the new Framework:
ICT Literacy will begin in Class IV and end in Class X. Computer Applications as elective in class IX and X is done away with however Elective remains intact in XI and XII. 
The curriculum content is broadly divided into four strands:
  1. Computer Hardware and Applications
  2. Internet and Services
  3. Digital Citizenship
  4. Programming
These four strands will stretch throughout class levels, which means even Computer Programming will begin in class IV. Did I scare you? Well there are child friendly, graphical programming platform for young children, that will lay strong foundation for the future programmers. 
By Class VIII students would have finished studying what is currently taught in Class X. They will be designing web pages using HTML, PHP and CSS. They will be recording, editing and publishing audio and video contents on internet. By then every child is expected to own a blog and maintain it as their digital portfolio. 
As we let loose our children on the Internet there are various risks that could jeopardize all the good intention therefore one solid strand is put in place to take care of this aspect- digital citizenship. Under this children will be educated on legal and ethical behaviour in use of technology, how to remain secure and to respect others. 

It was just the framework, now what goes into the textbook will be decided this winter. If you want to share anything about the ICT curriculum please leave your feedback or advice in my comment box. 

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