Volunteer teachers form group to help during COVID-19

Around 2,770 volunteer teachers from schools in Paro, Punakha, Phuentsholing, Thimphu, Wangduephodrang and other parts of Bhutan have formed a group called Teachers of Bhutan Volunteers (VTOB) to offer services to the king, country and the people amidst the pandemic scare.

The first online coordination meeting was held with more than 1,200 teachers on March 7, 2020. The team consists of District Education Officers (DEOs), Thromde Education Officers (TEOs), Principals, teachers and school staff from the various schools in the country.

The founder of VTOB a teacher from Lobesa Lower Secondary School, Sonam Norbu said, “The group will stand guided by personal integrity (tha damtshi) and karma (Lay Judrey) and if any negative cause arises we will dismiss the group immediately.”

VTOB’s logo consists of a bright Bhutan flag-themed letters with black background signifying Bhutan coming out of dark moments with strength, solidarity, unity, and with endless opportunity.

VTOB was formed following the closure of schools after the first Corona-virus (COVID-19) case was detected in the country on March 6.

The VTOB team urges the government to call them anytime for support. “We are ready to deliver our service,” said Sonam Norbu.

Sonam Norbu said that he got the idea of forming a voluntary team when he was sitting idle at home and the thought struck that teachers were eager to help as much as possible. “The formation of the group was to create awareness on the COVID-19 and to come up with the strategies to help the students for two weeks,” he added.

 So far, VTOB has donated Nu 1.24mn as a symbol of solidarity and a token of gratitude for the immense support for teachers by the government. “VTOB is beyond COVID-19,” he said.

On March 10, the Prime Minister directed VTOB to go ahead with the eLearning proposal for the children to learn from home during the school closure.

The volunteer members are interacting through social media applications, Telegram and Facebook. The messages are shared through parents’ and teachers’ groups in various social media applications.

Sonam Norbu said that the group has worked on students’ engagement during emergencies like providing online classes through Bhutan Broadcasting Services (BBS), YouTube and Google Classrooms. However, given access to the internet in remote schools, he said that teaching online is a challenge to the team and they are working on the teaching materials for children during the school closure. “MoE is collecting the data in terms of internet facilities and usage of phones in the remote areas and MoE making eLearning a priority.”

Lessons through BBS will be literacy subjects for class PP to VI and theme-based for class VII to XII, with grouping of classes PP-VI, VII-VIII, IX-X and XI-XII. Each lesson will be 25 minutes long and according to the timetable. “By March 19-31 VTOB has to be ready with the first set of lessons,” he added.

“We are always ready.”

Sonam Tashi from Thimphu