Empowering young minds to become social innovators
How the UPSHIFT programme is skilling young people to see problems as opportunities.
Pemagatshel: Included. Empowered. Motivated. Skilled. This is how adolescents and youth are feeling since their engagement with the UPSHIFT programme that began in May 2022.
“People think children don’t know much, but the UPSHIFT programme has made children like us be part of solutions in our communities,” says Rinchen Yoezer Wangmo, a 12-year-old student of remote Tshatshi Primary School in the far eastern district of Pemagatshel.
The grade five student’s experience of the UPSHIFT programme captures the experience of more than 5,000 adolescents and youth spread across Bhutan engaged in the programme through 64 schools and 10 youth centers.
Since the roll out of the Adolescent Skilling and Employability project through UPSHIFT in May by the Ministry of Education, UNICEF Bhutan and CSO partners – Youth Development Fund and Loden Foundation, young people have been finding innovative solutions to address among others, the issue of waste, water shortage, bullying, access to controlled substances such as alcohol and tobacco and improve young people’s reading habits in their communities. Some are using technology and coding skills to develop a learning and counselling platforms, some designing prototypes to clean clogged drains and dusty classrooms while others are collecting food waste from their schools to produce fertilizers and bio-gas to reduce dependence on firewood.
In one school, Tshatsi Primary school in remote Pemagatshel district, students are experimenting in producing fruit juices to replace alcohol in their communities. Through skits, the students showed their solutions to the problems alcohol was causing in their homes and to themselves.
“These children have experienced the problems caused by alcohol and their ideas revolved around this subject,” the school principal said.
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. It is designed to bridge the gap between education systems and work environment. The rollout in 64 schools across all 20 districts, has made their students interested in learning and understanding issues in their communities, observed teachers.
“The programme made us curious- to learn new things, to understand them and find solutions to problems we face in our homes and communities,” Ngawang Tenzin Sherpa, 13, of Kheni Lower Secondary School in Trashiyangtse district. “We got opportunities to use our IT skills and it improved our self-esteem because the team members trusted in one another.”
Through their engagement in UPSHIFT projects, young people like Dorji Yuden, 14, says that they learnt about teamwork, made new friends and came up with new ideas to old problems, problems they thought were for the adults to solve. “It would help us more if these skills were taught as part of our curriculum,” she says. “We learn as much by sharing ideas with friends."
In Tashitse HSS, a student, who also learnt coding on the Pi-Top computers that UNICEF and MoE distributed to youth centers across the country, said that he would apply the knowledge of Pi-Top and UPSHIFT to become a social entrepreneur. “I have seen the benefits of recycling waste and I am keen to start a business on this.”
Like many others, his classmate says that UPSHIFT has made her more confident – to share and negotiate her ideas with the team, to speak up and to present ideas to an audience. “I feel more confident while participating in school activities and in my ideas,” she says. Her team pitched for an outdoor recreational space for students to study better.
And in the far eastern border district of Samdrupjongkhar, students proposed using coding to develop an alarm in dog collars and using sensors to save energy. “As students, we are focused on studying and not much on learning other skills,” says Sangay Gyeltshen, 16. “UPSHIFT stresses on these other skills, which helps us both mentally and physically. We all have ideas and now when we see problems, we think of solutions.”
With school principals and teachers as engaged in the programme, the UPSHIFT programme is in the words of one of their students, Dechen Pelmo, 15, about what ifs and opportunities.
“UPSHIFT is the door. It doesn’t discriminate, boosts our thinking and gives us new perceptions on being a young person.”