Strengthening inclusive education in Bhutan

Posted by | April 29, 2019 | Education | No Comments
Karma Jigyel and his son with a backdrop of a Bhutan valley

Armidale and Bhutan may be separated by thousands of kilometres, but soon-to-be UNE education PhD graduate, Karma Jigyel, doesn’t think they’re so different.

“Armidale is a very beautiful place which reminds of some places in Bhutan,” he says. “I’ve enjoyed the friendly multicultural environment provided by UNE and the Armidale community.”

Karma, who is a lecturer of Royal University of Bhutan’s Paro College of Education, knows very well that providing an understanding and nurturing environment is essential for people to reach their full potential. It’s what he’s passionate about in education.

“As an educator, I firmly believe in principles of inclusion particularly for children with disabilities,” Karma says.

Karma first made the trip to Armidale from Bhutan in 2005 to undertake further studies in education, and more recently to continue on with a PhD, in order to gain a better understanding of international best practices in inclusive education, and to take these learnings back to Bhutan.

While he’s passionate about teacher education – he’s lectured at Paro College of Education for 13 years, teaching mathematics, assessment, research methodology and other professional modules – his special interest in inclusive education is particularly personal.

“My motivation for pursuing a PhD in Inclusive Education is very special. I have a teenage son with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) who attends one of the schools that provide support to children with disabilities in Bhutan. It is his fifth year attending the current school.

“It was disheartening to see that the school couldn’t do much to support his needs because of resource constraints. There was only one trained teacher who could help my son, but during her absence in the school my son had to be kept home and it was frequent. Similarly, there was no support in terms of speech and behavioural development as there were no experts available.

“With these situations I felt that as a parent I needed to do something so that I could help my son and others alike in Bhutan.”

Returning to Bhutan in mid-2018, Karma set about implementing his doctoral study findings in multiple approaches to inclusive education. Advocacy for parents of children with special education needs, and improved teacher preparation are two of the recommendations from his study.

“I, along with some parents of children with disabilities, have formed a support group, Phensem. We have partnered with some private early childhood care and development centres and schools in supporting children with disabilities in these schools. We also provide counselling to parents who are in need of information and support through advocacy and awareness. We are starting small, focused on the city where we live, but in future will expand to other districts in Bhutan.

Under Karma’s leadership, Paro College of Education will introduce the first Master of Education (Inclusive Education) in spring 2020.

“This program will be the first of its kind in Bhutan. Most of the teachers currently supporting children with disabilities are not trained in this area. So this program is very important, and launching it is one of my main goals.”

Another thing Karma is looking forward to is being back in Armidale for his graduation on 4 May.

“I have always enjoyed my stay in Armidale and studying at UNE. I really enjoyed working with my supervisors in the UNE School of Education, Associate Professor Judy Miller, Associate Professor Jeanette Berman and Dr Sofia Mavropoulou, who have supported me immensely throughout my PhD journey.

“I’m looking forward to celebrating my graduation with my supervisors, the Bhutanese community and other friends.”

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