Empowering adolescents to become changemakers
A team of 64 teachers and 10 youth centre staff are rolling out the UPSHIFT programme across Bhutan.
Thimphu, July 2022: For Phub Lham, a young teacher at Sonamthang Central School in the remote community of Phangbang, Zhemgang, in central Bhutan, UPSHIFT is a platform that would help her students open up and speak out.
Learning in rural and remote Bhutan, said Phub Lham, tend to focus on textbook contents and hardly on other activities. “Compared to schools in urban areas, students in remote areas have low competency skills and comparatively low self-esteem,” she said. “However, with UPSHIFT, I believe that students will learn to think out of the box and make good use of the resources available around them.”
With the hope to equip their students with life skills and empower them to become social innovators, Phub Lham joined a team of 51 teachers and youth centre staff from 11 districts to learn about the UPSHIFT programme that the Ministry of Education organized in Thimphu in July.
UPSHIFT is a youth social innovation and social entrepreneurship programme that supports adolescents and young people to identify problems in their communities and design solutions to tackle those problems. This programme is part of the Adolescent Skills and Employability (ASE) project, that the Ministry of Education and CSO partners are implementing across Bhutan to reach at least 10,000 adolescents with support from UNICEF.
Trained focal persons like Phub Lham are now rolling out social innovation projects in their schools and communities.
One of them is Phuntsho Choden, the youth center manager in Samdrupjongkhar district. She is among the first cohort of participants from eastern Bhutan to attend the orientation on UPSHIFT.
She said 11 out of school youth and nine students between 13 – 24 years attended the UPSHIFT programme at their youth centre.
“The youth were initially hesitant to speak up but by the end of the programme, they confidently pitched their ideas,” Phuntsho said. “Among others, the participants came up with an idea to make kerosene out of waste in Samdrupjongkhar.”
Mani Dem, a teacher at Kothaka Primary School in the western district of Wangdue said she looks forward to applying the UPSHIFT programme in her school.
“When teachers from remote schools are also involved, our students can benefit in many ways. Students can now identify their problems and come up with solutions.”
From children dropping out of school and teenage pregnancy to safe disposal of sanitary napkins and enhancing the reading habit, the focal persons identified several issues in their communities that could be addressed with innovation and collective efforts.
Nim Dorji, a teacher at Gedu Higher Secondary School in the southern district of Chukha, said that unlike existing programmes, UPSHIFT focuses on the process as well as the product. “People often talk about innovations, but never about the skills involved to innovate,” he said.
"It is a collection of information, perspective, and data from different stakeholders involved. Our schools have different programmes but they either focus on the process or the product.”
Another teacher, Pema Tshering, from Gaupay Lower Secondary school in the western district of Paro said he referred the UPSHIFT modules before coming for the orientation and applied the tools while teaching his students. “This was a new strategy, and it was quite engaging compared to the old teaching strategy,” he said.
As focal persons grasped the value of UPSHIFT programme and its new learning paradigm, facilitators like Karma Jamtsho from Loden foundation, one of the CSO partners ASE said he is confident that UPSHIFT will help students develop their cognitive skills and enhance their critical thinking, which could lead to change in their communities.
“I am hopeful that the focal persons would be able to roll out this programme well and few social innovative ideas may come up from our students,” he said.
Phub Lham is as hopeful. “UPSHIFT will help my students feel needed and valued in the society.”
By Sonam Wangmo, Intern
To equip adolescents and young people with life skills that would empower them to seize opportunities, confront challenges access meaningful employment, the Adolescent Skills and Employability (ASE) Bhutan Project was launched on May 20, 2022 in Thimphu.
Led by the Ministry of Education in partnership with Bhutan Youth Development Fund, Loden Foundation and UNICEF, the ASE project will equip at least 10,000 young people with 21st Century skills by December 2022.
The project will be rolled out through 64 schools and 10 youth centers across the country by focal persons using two programmatic approach– UPSHIFT and UNISOLVE, initiatives of UNICEF’s Office of Innovation.