Nelson Star

Nelson teacher off on learning adventure

L.V. Rogers French teacher Heather Robertson is heading to the Himalayas to teach in a high school in Bhutan.  - Kirsten Hildebrand photo
L.V. Rogers French teacher Heather Robertson is heading to the Himalayas to teach in a high school in Bhutan.
— image credit: Kirsten Hildebrand photo

Early this year, L.V. Rogers teacher Heather Robertson will travel to the Kingdom of Bhutan where she anticipates having a great adventure in learning.

The Bhutan Canada Foundation is sending Robertson to a high school in the remote Himalayan country. The foundation provides up to 20 teachers per school year to help further the education system of the developing nation.

Robertson has taught French Immersion at LVR for six years and before that taught at Mount Sentinel since 1989.

With her family needing her less, Robertson became interested in taking the time to explore on her own in search of new personal and professional successes.

“I do challenge myself and travel and do different things so I’ve always had a bit of adventure in my life. But this is huge — nothing like what I’ve done before,” she says.

As she prepares to embark this month, there are still many unknowns. Robertson will be just outside the village at a school where students board, the oldest high school in Bhutan. From what she understands, there is water and electricity at the school but some places don’t have such luxuries.

“I can’t really imagine what it’s truly going to be like,” says Robertson. “I am quite keen on wearing this big fancy woven national dress to school — little things like that are going to be fun.”

Either way, she’s looking forward to leaving some of the extravagance of the Westernized world and consumer pressures that go with it.

Having done a great deal of research, even reading blogs by other teachers who’ve taught in Bhutan, Robertson knows she will be greeted with kindness.

“From what I understand, the Bhutanese don’t think you are happy if you are alone so they invite you and the kids come by to talk to you so that you’ll be happy,” she says.

This ideal comes from the country’s strong Buddhist values. These values have also led to a unique way of measuring wealth — Gross National Happiness (GNH), a term coined by Bhutan’s fourth king.

When he opened up the country to modernization, GNH was developed in an attempt to find a more holistic way to measure quality of life than GDP. Sustainable development, cultural values, natural environment and good governance are considered the four pillars of GNH.

“They have these measures of how well they’re doing and they use those measures to make decisions,” explains Robertson. “So a company comes saying we know you have this kind of ore we’d like to mine. They measure based not on how much money they’re going to make but on how it will affect the whole country and the people.”

These pillars are strongly featured in Bhutan’s education system and Robertson will learn more about GNH in a two-week orientation prior to landing at her school. She’s inspired by these concepts and with her background in internationalization of education, is very curious about the concepts behind their learning system.

“The way they approach their life is very different. They live via a different paradigm than we do,” she says. “They believe and practice and meditate so that carries into their education.”

Students in Bhutan embrace the opportunity to learn, often travelling or living away from home to study once in high school.

“Wanting an education is something that happens for kids,” says Robertson. “One story I read tells of kids who have come to a town to go to high school. They’ve rented a tiny stone house where they live together and help each other out. They’re willing to travel to follow this opportunity.”

Excited about her own travel opportunity, the LVR teacher has been making presentations about her upcoming trip to classes at her school. And her enthusiasm has caught on.

“They’re quite interested,” says Robertson. “The students around the school are getting quite excited for me. I am getting them to write little paragraphs and send pictures and we’re taking little video clips. Hopefully, we can get one or two classes to connect on Skype.”

The international connection is an opportunity for her students here to see how people live in another remote part of the world, she says.

Robertson is taking along school supplies including highlighters, post-it notes, stickers, and notebooks for students who don’t normally use a lot of paper in the classroom.

“I found these notebooks with a little map of Canada on them for each student to write their reflections,” she says.

These supplies will be sent over-land because the amount allowed by plane is limited to 40 lbs because of the altitude.

“I think my shoes and computer together weigh that much,” jokes Robertson.

Although she will be paid a local wage, the six-day work week is considered to be volunteer. Having successfully raised $500 for the Foundation she will receive some financial assistance for her Drukair flight from Bangkok to Paro in Bhutan.

Robertson has already raised enough to pay for her flight and anything more will go toward projects in her school. Donations can be made through bhutancanada.org.

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