Private school’s proactive efforts to preserve the national language ‘Dzongkha’

…𝒊𝒏𝒏𝒐𝒗𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆 𝒊𝒏𝒊𝒕𝒊𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒔 𝒇𝒐𝒔𝒕𝒆𝒓 𝒄𝒖𝒍𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒂𝒍 𝒑𝒓𝒊𝒅𝒆 𝒂𝒏𝒅 𝒑𝒓𝒆𝒔𝒆𝒓𝒗𝒆 𝒍𝒊𝒏𝒈𝒖𝒊𝒔𝒕𝒊𝒄 𝒅𝒊𝒗𝒆𝒓𝒔𝒊𝒕𝒚 𝒇𝒐𝒓 𝒇𝒖𝒕𝒖𝒓𝒆 𝒈𝒆𝒏𝒆𝒓𝒂𝒕𝒊𝒐𝒏𝒔

Sonam Deki

In a bid to promote the utilization and safeguarding of the national language, Druk School in Thimphu, have initiated the practice of observing a dedicated Dzongkha speaking day. This initiative, unique to the Druk School among the various educational institutions in the country, aims to instill a sense of pride in Bhutan’s cultural heritage while reinforcing the significance of Dzongkha. By designating a specific day for speaking the national language, the schools aspire to nurture students’ connection to their roots, fostering a deeper understanding of traditions and enhancing communication skills. This endeavor is expected to have a positive impact on the entire school community, contributing to the preservation of Bhutan’s linguistic and cultural diversity.

In the previous year, the school conducted a survey named ‘Parent Opinion Survey 2022’ to analyze the current situation, with over 80% of parents participating. 32.8% of respondents confirmed that their children’s interest in Dzongkha was below average. 29.7% of respondents agreed that they only converse with their children in English at home.

Phuntsho Tashi, the Principal of Druk School said, “Concerns regarding the declining quality of Dzongkha were brought up for discussion in the school’s review meeting. Based on my personal experience with children in the school, I observed that Dzongkha is hardly spoken, especially among lower primary students. Some children openly express their dislike for speaking Dzongkha, particularly when reminded during Dzongkha class”.

After sharing the survey findings with the Parent Teacher Association (PTA) members at the end of 2022, the school received positive feedback from parents. As a result, the Druk School decided to implement several initiatives for the year such as Dzongkha Speaking Day every Tuesday; Dzongkha Reading, Strengthening Dzongkha Foundation, Making Dzongkha Fun and Dzongkha Drama were some of the activities for the day.

The Principal said, “Our goal is to encourage children to converse in Dzongkha to preserve our roots, which are rapidly fading away. By fostering a sense of cultural connection and helping children perform better in Dzongkha, we aim to prevent the loss of their language proficiency. While it is not easy to make children speak Dzongkha, especially when some teachers themselves do not speak the language fluently, we have noticed positive changes due to the aforementioned initiatives and related efforts.”

He further added, “Currently, we have received positive feedback from parents, particularly during the 25th PTA meeting held in May 2023. However, one concern raised was that some children are teased by their peers when they speak Dzongkha. This issue is being addressed by communicating with both teachers and students during the morning assembly. Our future plans will depend on feedback received from parents and the outcomes of review meetings. While the specific strategies may change, our primary focus on improving the Dzongkha language will remain intact.”

Sonam Dorji, a Dzongkha teacher expressed his support for the new initiative, stating, “The introduction of Dzongkha speaking day is a positive step towards preserving our language. It provides an opportunity for students to engage in conversations, storytelling, and other activities exclusively in Dzongkha, allowing them to deepen their connection with our cultural roots.”

He added, “In our country, there is a widespread interest in English. I believe this is primarily attributed to the limited job opportunities available for those proficient in Dzongkha. Additionally, the responsibility lies with parents as well, as they predominantly focus on teaching English at home. Simply urging the youth to improve their Dzongkha skills is not enough; we must actively create an environment that encourages and promotes the use of Dzongkha. This particular initiative serves as one such effort. However, both teachers and students often find themselves grappling with the significant disparities in spelling between the curriculum and the DDC (Dzongkha Development Commission) dictionary, which adds to the complexity of teaching and learning the language.”

Bina K. Pulami, an English teacher, emphasized the significance of the environment and friends in language learning. “At Druk School, all the students are fluent in English and effortlessly engage in conversations. This inclusive environment greatly benefits new students with limited English proficiency, as they quickly grasp the language. However, the situation is different when it comes to Dzongkha, as there are fewer opportunities for communication due to a lack of friends who speak the language. To address this issue, this initiative provides a platform for these students to communicate and connect with others. Additionally, the prevalence of digital platforms, which children are exposed to from a young age, highlights the importance of incorporating more Dzongkha content into social media. By doing so, children would be more inclined to engage with the language. An example of the positive impact of such content is the popularity of Ap Bokto, a Bhutanese animated movie, among the youth. Therefore, creating similar content would likely yield positive outcomes” she said.

Dorji Wangchuk, a parent of a student expressed his enthusiasm for the initiative, saying, “I believe this will instill pride in our national language and foster a sense of belonging among our children. It is crucial to strike a balance between English proficiency and preserving our unique Bhutanese language.”

Sharing her concerns, Thinley Wangmo, a parent lamented, “I had completed only up to class 6, and my husband’s busy schedule leaves little time for us. Furthermore, neither of us engages in English conversations. However, I find it disconcerting that both of my children exclusively communicate in English. Even when attempting to converse in Dzongkha, they do so with unease and awkwardness. To my dismay, there have been instances where they unintentionally put our guests in uncomfortable positions by conversing in English, even when the guests are not fluent in the language.”

Tshering Phuntshok Jabla, an eighth-grade student, expressed, “Upon joining Druk School, I found English to be commonly used, but Dzongkha remained difficult. Nevertheless, the initiatives implemented here have provided us with opportunities to enhance our Dzongkha skills. During that day, all my friends and I make a conscious effort to communicate in Dzongkha. Consequently, I feel that my proficiency in Dzongkha has improved significantly from fourth to eighth grade, and I am now able to speak fluently.”

Sonam Tshering Lhaki, a student shared, “Every Tuesday, we dedicate our conversations and reading sessions to Dzongkha, and I have noticed a remarkable improvement in myself. Within the circle of friends, we make a conscious effort to communicate in Dzongkha, although occasionally we unintentionally slip into English. Thankfully, our friends kindly remind each other to switch back to Dzongkha. It’s heartening to witness the collective commitment to speaking and preserving our language.”

Tshering Choden, a student expressed, “From my perspective, speaking in Dzongkha comes more naturally to me, whereas writing in Dzongkha poses a greater challenge. In my previous schools, the emphasis was always on speaking English. However, here at our current school, we are encouraged to communicate in Dzongkha, which I believe is acceptable since I am comfortable with both languages. However, I have noticed that some of my friends find it difficult to adapt. They struggle to understand Dzongkha, which becomes evident even during Dzongkha exams. Therefore, I believe that this program greatly benefits us. Personally, I didn’t have much interest in reading Dzongkha before, but now I have developed a fondness for it. Whenever we buy books, my sister chooses a Dzongkha book while I opt for an English one, and afterward, we share and exchange our books.”

At the same time, Government schools are taking measures to preserve and promote the Dzongkha language. As part of their initiatives, they have introduced Dzongkha stories, biographies, and maxims into the textbooks, enabling students to learn and appreciate the language. Furthermore, a Dzongkha content repository has been established, alongside digital learning platforms, fostering a technologically enhanced learning environment. To ensure teachers are equipped with the necessary skills, they are being trained in digital pedagogy, paving the way for a digitized approach to education.

Tshering Doma, Policy and Planning Division, Ministry of Education and Skills Development said, “Highlighting the importance of Dzongkha, it has been made a compulsory subject from pre-primary to 12th grade, emphasizing its significance throughout the educational journey. To further promote the language, the Ministry has gone the extra mile by sending Dzongkha teachers to New York and New Delhi, enabling them to teach Dzongkha in these locations and spread awareness of the language beyond Bhutan’s borders.”

She added, “To promote the usage of Dzongkha in schools, we place great emphasis on encouraging students to communicate in both Dzongkha and English. In addition, we have taken the initiative to organize various literary competitions exclusively dedicated to the Dzongkha language. These competitions encompass a wide range of activities, including debates, speeches, dictation exercises, dramas, and ballad performances. By diversifying the avenues through which students can engage with Dzongkha, we aim to instill a sense of appreciation and proficiency in the language.”

“Recognizing the popularity of platforms such as YouTube, TikTok, and Facebook among the youth, we have also leveraged these mediums to enhance the learning experience. We have uploaded educational videos that focus on Dzongkha grammar and vocabulary, ensuring that students have convenient access to valuable language resources in formats that resonate with their interests and preferences. By embracing these contemporary communication channels, we strive to make the learning of Dzongkha more engaging, interactive, and accessible to the younger generation” she further added.

The Ministry wholeheartedly supports the promotion of Dzongkha by providing comprehensive assistance to schools. This includes ensuring that all Dzongkha textbooks, as well as necessary reference materials and documents, are readily available to schools free of cost. By facilitating access to these educational resources, the Ministry demonstrates its commitment to fostering a robust Dzongkha curriculum and encouraging the widespread adoption of the language in the educational landscape. This provision of essential materials equips educators and students with the tools they need to explore, understand, and nurture the richness of Dzongkha language and culture.

Ugyen Dorji, Chief Language Development Officer in the Dzongkha Development Commission (DDC) said, “It is commendable that private schools are taking initiatives to promote Dzongkha. Such efforts demonstrate their commitment to preserving and nurturing one’s culture and language. In government schools, there exists a cultural practice where students are required to speak Dzongkha for one day each week. In terms of the DDC, we have established dictionaries and grammar books as the main components for fostering better literature. To encourage students in Dzongkha, we have created animated content and comic books in the language. Furthermore, we provide Dzongkha-English pocket dictionaries to all schools. Additionally, all students can access these books on our websites, as we upload them there.”

He added, “One of the major challenges faced by people is related to spelling. Previously, there were only Chokey words, but now we are striving to review and transform them into Dzongkha words. Earlier, students and teachers used to get confused by the spelling of certain words because the DDC and Education Curriculum had different spellings. However, later it was agreed upon to solely use the DDC-approved spelling of words.”

“In the case of children who are exposed to English from a very young age, their language development largely depends on how their parents raise them. Often, parents exclusively teach their children English or predominantly communicate in English within the family. This is primarily due to the perceived future opportunities associated with English, as there aren’t as many prospects for learning Dzongkha. Moreover, solely learning Dzongkha is not sufficient for survival in today’s world. Even individuals with extensive knowledge of Dzongkha often do not receive significant recognition. These reasons contribute to children’s lack of interest in learning Dzongkha”, he further added.

Despite the challenges, the efforts made by Druk School and other educational institutions, along with the support of the Ministry of Education and the Dzongkha Development Commission, indicate a collective commitment to preserving and promoting the Dzongkha language. By implementing initiatives like Dzongkha speaking days, incorporating Dzongkha content into textbooks, providing digital resources, and organizing literary competitions, steps are being taken to create an environment that encourages the use and appreciation of Dzongkha.

Preserving the national language is not only crucial for maintaining Bhutan’s cultural identity but also for fostering a sense of pride, belonging, and connection among the younger generation. The ongoing efforts to strengthen Dzongkha skills will contribute to the overall preservation of Bhutan’s linguistic and cultural diversity, ensuring that future generations continue to value and uphold their heritage.

As Bhutan continues to navigate the evolving landscape of language and cultural preservation, the collaboration between schools, parents, the government, and language institutions remains essential. By working together and implementing innovative strategies, Bhutan can overcome the challenges and inspire a renewed appreciation for the beauty and significance of the national language- Dzongkha.

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