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Kencho Lhamo Q&A: Transforming literacy learning in Bhutan

Posted: 5 September 2022

Bhutan, Impact, Inclusion,

Each year, International Literacy Day is celebrated worldwide on 8 September. This year’s theme is ‘Transforming Literacy Learning Spaces’, providing an opportunity to rethink the fundamental importance of literacy learning spaces to build resilience and ensure quality, equitable and inclusive education for all.

To mark this special day, we met with Australia Awards alumna Kencho Lhamo, a schoolteacher at Bjishong Central School in Gasa, a remote district in Bhutan. Kencho completed a Master of Education (Advanced) at Edith Cowan University in 2021 with the support of an Australia Awards Scholarship. Since her return to Bhutan, she has taken a leadership role, serving as a Social Area Coordinator alongside fulfilling her teaching responsibilities at Bjishong Central School. She was also promoted to the position of Senior Teacher I (a role that provides professional leadership and supports master teachers) in July 2022. Our questions and Kencho’s answers are recorded below.

As a teacher, what changes have you seen in literacy learning spaces as the world recovers from the impact of COVID-19?

As the pandemic hit, educators worldwide had to redefine learning spaces to suit the needs of learners. In Bhutan, we saw a shift in the paradigm of literacy learning spaces as face-to-face teaching pivoted to online classes. Even now, as the world recovers from the impact of COVID-19, integration of digital technology in supporting teaching and learning is more prominent than face-to-face classroom learning. Teachers and parents equally feel the need for effective use of digital technology to enhance teaching and learning. As a result, the use of social media to disseminate crucial information for teaching and learning is noticeable even in the remote schools of Bhutan. Furthermore, to support online teaching, use of ICT has been enhanced in schools. Thus, literacy learning spaces have made gradual progress, unlike in the pre-COVID-19 period.

What are some initiatives/contributions that you have made to support inclusive, equal and quality education for your students?

As a primary academic head, I have initiated the concept of ‘learning celebrations’ in each term to showcase the learning of students, so that parents can take pride in the work of their children without comparisons. As a class teacher, I have also initiated an official group with parents and other teachers to disseminate crucial information about children’s wellbeing and learning. In addition, I have supported Early Childhood Facilitators in my school by providing professional development opportunities for them. As a Social Area Coordinator, one of my main roles is to look after the wellbeing of students and teachers. As such, I am leading in coordinating activities (such as quizzes, debates, reading and cultural activities) that contribute to the wellbeing and development of children. All the above activities contribute to providing quality, equal, inclusive and holistic education to my students.

What are some challenges you face as you work towards transforming literacy spaces to adapt to changing times?

The challenges I face are poor internet connectivity, lack of facilities and the mindset of some of the stakeholders. Poor internet connectivity is one of the major problems faced in my workplace. Although working online and reducing paperwork is encouraged in the school, poor internet connectivity hampers this. Moreover, there is a shortage of computers for students in the school, and few parents living in remote areas have access to smart phones. Another challenging factor is some stakeholders’ resistance to change. It takes time and energy to transform literacy learning spaces. Implementing change is difficult when people are not willing to adapt. However, it is encouraging to see gradual efforts being made by the teachers and parents.

How has your Australia Awards experience supported your career enhancement, specifically as you play an integral role in transforming literacy learning spaces?

My Australia Awards experiences have been the central pillar of my career enhancement in many areas, from classroom teaching to leadership. While in Australia, I experienced flexible learning at the university through online classes, podcasts, recorded lectures and face-to-face classes, depending on the evolving nature of the pandemic. These experiences made me rethink literacy learning spaces in my school. I have not limited learning spaces to within the four walls of the classroom but have extended them by integrating digital technology and communication with the parents. Moreover, students’ homes have also been turned into literacy learning spaces by providing necessary learning inputs to their parents.

How has Australia Awards contributed to your personal and professional growth?

Australia Awards has broadened my outlook. The experiences I gained through Australia Awards contributed to my views on education, specifically in early childhood education. As a primary school teacher, the knowledge and skills I gained from Australia have not only helped me in my daily teaching and learning practices but also helped me in making critical decisions. The degree I earned from the Australian university is serving as a benchmark to further my career advancement. Moreover, I have become a person who is more considerate, receptive and flexible, who can adapt to the changing nature of the 21st century. Overall, Australia Awards has shaped me into a better person and added colours in my life with rich experiences.

What do you hope to do in the future to emphasise the fundamental importance of literacy for all children?

Quality education that is inclusive and equal is a challenge without proper planning and execution according to the context of the school. Working as a primary teacher in a remote school provides me with opportunities and responsibilities that are challenging yet fulfilling. In future, I hope to enhance the literacy learning of children by building the capacity of primary teachers and Early Childhood Facilitators. In addition, I want to actively participate in decision-making while framing plans and policies that enhance the literacy of all children. Literacy learning is the fundamental right of all children and it must be emphasised through advocacy and working in partnership with all the relevant stakeholders. Thus, I intend to work in collaboration with the community and higher authorities for the enhancement of the literacy learning of all the children in our country and around the globe.

And lastly, what is your message for International Literacy Day?

As I write this message for International Literacy Day, I genuinely feel for the children around the globe who are excluded from literacy learning due to a lack of diverse and flexible literacy learning spaces. It is time for educators and policy-makers to redefine literacy learning spaces for our children to make education inclusive, equitable and excellent. Therefore, my simple message is to investigate the possibilities to create a conducive learning environment for children to learn literacy anywhere and at any time to bridge the gaps and bring hope for all the children around the globe. Educators must make use of teachable moments using available resources to enhance the literacy learning of our children and not just wait for a formal setting to learn literacy. Act now and empower our children through literacy learning because they are the future leaders. Happy International Literacy Day!