28 January 2011

Shadow of the Smoke

I was driving back to Wangdue, and I was alone. I was in a rush to cross Dochula pass before it gets dark. But the forest fire above Changjiji football ground made me stop for a while. I have never seen a forest fire from such close range; with the Wang chhu between me and the fire, I could feel the heat wave. There were hundreds of people from my side of the river bank and there were hundreds on the fire side but only the policemen, and some people in fire fighter's suit were battling the fire. 

Kuensel Image-probably taken from my side of the river.
The smoke from the fire rose high and its shadow fell over me and soon over Thimphu but as if it wasn't our problem we just looked on. For a moment, I wished I wasn't going to Wangdue. The fire soon destroyed a hut on its way across the hill despite the effort of three fire engines. And because fire engines couldn't climb the hill, fire soon escaped their range and ran up the hill. When I was watching, the fire was still climbing the small hill and if hundred men ran up the hill the fire could have been controlled. But one man was in rush to reach Wangdue and others had their own excuses. Men engaged in fighting the fire were greatly out numbered by men watching the fire show. 

The shadow of the smoke soon fell on Changjiji football ground and I was utterly shocked to see 22 strong men running after a ball and not at all bothered by the fire which was burning just above them. It wouldn't have made a difference even if they had stopped their game for a while but it sure showed what substance they were made of. I don't know who won the game or who scored the winning goal but our country lost 250 acres of forest before they finished their match. 

How easy it is, to sit and watch, or just go on playing a football match when it is just the shadow of the smoke that falls upon us!

25 January 2011

Getting Bhutan schools W.I.R.ED by Eisen Teo


MOST teachers in the landlocked Himalayan nation of Bhutan are computer-illiterate. Internet connections there are patchy at best, and only one in 10 students has a personal computer at home.
But a group of Bhutanese educators is determined to pull the country into the Internet age.
Ten teachers and five principals from five schools in Bhutan were in Singapore last month to tour the National Institute of Education and School of Science and Technology campuses, to learn how to use information technology (IT) in the classroom.
The five-day programme, from Feb 1 to 5, capped nine years of collaboration between the Singapore International Foundation (SIF) and Bhutan's Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Bhutan. Previously, SIF had organised about 30 volunteer trips to Bhutan, teaching IT and planning IT curricula at seven educational institutions.
The mountainous kingdom, bordered by India and China, lifted a ban on the Internet and television in 1999.
The latest phase of the collaboration, dubbed Bhutan W.I.R.ED (Weaving Infotech Resources with Education), hopes to take IT to a higher level: training teachers from the five partner schools so they can, in turn, train other teachers and students. SIF's goal for the country is 'sustainable development', said Ms Tam Peck Hoon, manager for international volunteerism.
Mr Passang Tshering, 26, embodies that value. He was one of the students in the pioneer batch who took an IT course planned by SIF volunteers eight years ago. Today, he is one of three teachers out of 28 at Bajothang Higher Secondary School, in central Bhutan, who are adept at IT. The school has 502 students, aged 13 to 20.
The father of one has his own blog, Facebook, YouTube and Twitter accounts. He set up a website for the school last year.
In Singapore last month, he was impressed by the school tours. 'We got a lot of ideas, such as giving out homework on Google Docs, and having class blogs.' He planned to share these ideas with his colleagues and students.
Ms Loh Kwai Yin, the head of department of information and communication technology at the School of Science and Technology, is pleased with the progress made by the Bhutanese.
She volunteered to plan IT curricula in Bhutan from July 2005 to June 2006. Compared with four years ago, many schools there now have Internet access and projectors to experiment with using IT to conduct classes, she said.
Mr Tshering's school is one of them. It has 10 second-hand laptops donated by SIF, wireless Internet access, and a projector. He has bigger dreams for his country. He wants IT to become part of the official school curriculum and hopes all schools can be connected to one another through the Internet. The aim is that a wired Bhutan will help make life easier for its people.
He said: 'People would rush to the capital to apply for jobs or file their taxes. Now they can do it online.'
SIF sent a Singaporean volunteer - teacher Germaine Cheong, 32 - to Bhutan on Feb 24 to work with the five partner schools until the end of the year.
Six workshops helmed by Singaporeans are also planned up to the end of next year to help the Bhutanese educators keep up with technological changes.
This article was first published in The Straits Times.



This apprehension, thankfully, did not last, as Passu started a month-long introduction to information technology (IT) in school that very year as part of his Grade 9 curriculum. From then on, IT was to open vistas for the 26-year-old in both his professional and personal life.
As an IT teacher at Bajothang High School, Passu is among a pioneering batch of educators who have undergone a three-year IT enabling programme started by the Singapore International Foundation (SIF). “I was lucky to be in the first batch to be trained in 2004,” he said. “It was a three-year training course divided into five (six-month long) phases that included basic training and application in education.”
Passu’s visit to Singapore from 1 to 5 February this year was part of the Bhutan W.I.R.ED (“Weaving Infotech Resources in Education”) project, cofunded by the Temasek Foundation and the SIF. This three-year collaboration with Bhutan’s Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Bhutan aims to help develop the capacity of Bhutan’s educational system in employing IT for learning and living in the 21st century.
“We don’t need to rely on textbooks and chalkboards; IT has changed how we teach.”
Passu told Singapore that he felt “fortunate” to start his IT exposure early and to have been able to further his proficiency when he trained to be an IT teacher. It’s the new wave, he said, and an essential way for Bhutan to progress. “We don’t need to rely on textbooks and chalkboards; IT has changed how we teach,” he explained. “With IT, it is more interactive. We can show instead of just tell. We can entertain as we educate, and students are more excited about learning.”
This appetite for learning is not limited to his students. Passu himself is on a dedicated and continued journey to grow his IT expertise. His five-day learning visit to Singapore was very useful, he said, as he learnt about new applications for IT in education, such as SharePoint, Google documents and Googlesites. He has also expanded his horizons in other ways. “It’s my first time flying by airplane, coming to Singapore, seeing tall buildings, and riding on the MRT!” he said with a grin.
His Singapore experience has inspired him, he said. “The Singapore education system, school and country as a whole seem to us like something from the future. On top of education and infocomm and technology training, we were overwhelmed by the transportation system, cleanliness, civic sense of the people, and the food. We even observed how we would walk down many streets and come back indoors and find not a fragment of dust. If Bhutan has to develop, Singapore could be our vision!”

24 January 2011

Talking about PaSsu in Singapore

I don't remember what I was doing on 5th Oct last year but back in Singapore it was Singapore International Foundation Dinner. Of course, I was not supposed to attend that dinner or was I invited but what makes it of interest to me is what Ms Euleen Goh, Chairman of SIF spoke that evening. It was a long speech though but three paragraphs were on a Bhutanese boy who feared computer once and went on to become an ICT teacher- which is me.

It came to my notice when my teacher Ms. Loh Kwai Yin, who is also in the story, posted it on her blog. She posted the whole speech. But I choose to show only those three paragraphs where I am mentioned, lol.

Original speech can be found in 

05 Oct 2010

SIF Appreciation Dinner 2010

Speech by Ms Euleen Goh, Chairman of SIF at Partner for Good - SIF Appreciation Dinner 2010 at the Grand Ballroom, Hotel Intercontinental

Thanks to you - our volunteers – such stories of success and new hope abound all over the region. In Bhutan, a teacher - Mr Passang Tshering - shares how the SIF's IT-in-Education project helped him get over the fear of computers. When he first sat in front of a computer, he was 16. What would normally be an exciting event for any other youngster, proved to be a frightening experience for this boy. Why the anxiety? Well, he believed then that the computer was so intelligent it could read his thoughts!

This same young man is now, at the age of 28, the head of the IT department at Bajothang High School in Bhutan. All because, PaSsu (as he is known to friends), was selected to be trained by IT teachers that the SIF sent from Singapore five years ago. Today, the former techno phobe teaches his students through web applications such as SharePoint, Google documents and wikis. He also has his own blog, and Facebook, Youtube and Twitter accounts.

PaSsu was invited to Singapore this February, as part of a study visit by Bhutanese teachers under the Bhutan wired project, co-sponsored by SIF and the Temasek Foundation. It gave him the opportunity to catch up with his SIF trainer from half a decade ago: Ms Loh Kwai Yin, now head of department of information and communication technology at Singapore's School of Science and Technology. Not that they hadn't been in touch all this while; both had kept in close contact through the internet and continue to share ideas and resources. 

From Singapore Magazine (http://singaporemagazine.sif.org.sg/2010/04/a-season-of-firsts/)

 I appeared in news papers, blogs and even speeches in Singapore. But what they don't know is  I have no good memories from the tour in Singapore, except meeting my teacher Ms. Loh. It was  a torture and I blame nobody except my own unpreparedness for the outside world. I went out as a Bhutanese and came back a sick man.

19 January 2011

Unhappy New Year

After watching the beautiful sunset of 2010 in Samtse I prayed for a happy new year. The chill of death was strong in the air, and I could feel the wave coming closer. I knew life was preparing me for something bad. I lost no body in the Nepal air crash, then the Lampuri bus took away a student of mine. While I watched the sunset I was happy I escaped the season of death before it could come any closer.

But when the whole world was exchanging New Year greetings, going out for dinner, picnicking afar, hugging and loving and seeing all the joy in the world, I was crying. I lost my asha on 2nd January 2011. I can never accept it. When I went down to Samtse, we had a dinner together and I didn’t have a slightest clue that the dinner was going to be our last together.

We knew each other quite late in life, but I knew him best. We met every weekend and dinned together as if to compensate for all the times we lost so far. He reached out to me like no one has ever done. He took me down our family timeline that I long wanted to know. In him I saw myself. He would take me on a long walk and talk on different subjects. He was the best family man I knew- a great husband and father. I was so happy to have known him and be a part of his family. But I didn't know he was in a rush- as if he knew he was going to die- to tell me the story of our family which I never knew. 

I don't know if I can ever overcome the loss but as I look back in time I see reasons to smile; having met him, getting to love him, having the chance to be a part of his proud family and even as he was dying he was connecting me with the part of my family I have never known. I am happy that he lived a king's life. It's our misfortune that we lost him so early in his life. God loved him more. I shall miss him everyday of my life.