Media and Democracy Literacy Reaching the Unreached
Bhutan’s fledgling democracy remains vulnerable as global social media introduces new values to unsuspecting Bhutanese society. The last two elections demonstrated how social media can shape perspectives, influence decisions, create divisiveness and spread misinformation. As we experience the pandemic, fake news, misinformation and malinformation have also been on the rise.
Responding to the need of the hour, BCMD has planned a series of workshops on Media and Democracy Literacy (MDL) for citizens from diverse backgrounds, including but not limited to parliamentarians, local leaders, teachers, and vulnerable and underserved groups such as taxi drivers, women in entertainment, and people with disabilities.
In the month of May and June, 42 female artists from RAPA and various Drayangs and 32 taxi drivers from Thimphu gathered to reflect on their news and social media consumption habits through two MDL workshops. “Before this, we never had the opportunity to learn how to protect ourselves online. We did not know privacy settings were even possible. It seems we used everything without realising how vulnerable we were.”, shared Gelay, a taxi driver from Thimphu city
Dechen, a participant from Thimphu, said: “Since I learnt about the concept of Digital Footprint today, I’ve been reflecting on what kind of footprint I’ve left behind. I realised that we need to be very careful about what we share online. Something posted by me can linger online long after I’ve forgotten about it and can impact somebody negatively. The abundance of information made available to someone through algorithms can worsen someone’s mental health. We need to learn to consume the information we see [critically]. I think everyone needs to be trained in media literacy irrespective of their age or educational qualification”.
These groups interact with a large number of people on a daily basis and are currently outside the radar of formal public institutions and deprived of capacity-building opportunities. The workshops gave them access to knowledge and skills on the role of citizens, media literacy and online safety.
On her experience in the workshop, Changlo, a participant, shared: “The three days I spent here were very enlightening and relevant for me as an artist and as a person. Many times, I’ve shared information I came across on the internet without even reading the full content, causing an unnecessary stir among people in my social circle, even among those far away in my village. What I learnt is that I’m supposed to check the credibility of anything I see or hear before sharing. Because one sentence I share can be interpreted in multiple ways by somebody else and then further shared with their own agenda.”
Past training participants say that they trust social media more than traditional media because social media provides a platform for citizens to author and access all kinds of information. During a critical time when misinformation is rife and countries struggle with disinformation, BCMD is equipping citizens, including vulnerable and underserved groups, with the skills to verify the news, stay safe online and use media as a tool for constructive feedback and discourse through a series of MDL training.
These activities were conducted with support from the United Nations Democracy Fund (UNDEF). BCMD will continue to provide MDL opportunities to diverse groups of the Bhutanese population in the coming months/years.
Orienting Elected Local Leaders to Asset-based Community Mapping & Media and Democracy Literacy
The five-day training on Community Mapping (CM) and Media and Democracy Literacy (MDL) was an eye-opening experience for the 18 participants - “one of the most rigorous workshops” according to Minjur, Hongtsho Tshogpa.
During the training, the local leaders and community representatives of the four Gewogs -- Chang, Mewang, Kawang and Dagala -- in Thimphu were engaged in group activities, role-plays, discussions and reflective sessions. The learning environment encouraged them to exchange their insights on their community and to reflect on how to utilise the learnings of the training to tackle community issues.
During the session on Media and Democracy Literacy, Cheki, a Teacher from Kuzuchen shared, “I am more informed about media literacy after attending this training, and I am in a better position now as an educator to share this with my colleagues and my students.” In addition to evaluating news, the participants also developed their social media guidelines and were enthusiastic to share this with their family and friends.
At the end of the CM training, the participants concurred that they have always approached planning from a “deficit mode” inadvertently creating a complacent mindset. In the words of Lemo, Gewog Administrative Officer of Kawang Gewog who has been an active learner: “We collect data on the community only when we receive instructions. Now I realise how important it is to continuously map communities and update the data. We have always asserted that we involve everybody in zomdues (community gatherings), but after the role play, I realised that we do not make concerted efforts to invite differing voices... From now on, I plan to include youths in our community in decision-making and take care of them. I also learned how to plan projects...I realised there are many missing pieces to our proposal.”
The series of training is supported by The Asia Foundation, which aims to strengthen the analytical and participatory planning skills of the participants and work towards developing existing Gewog consultation plans and the decision-making processes.
Together with Children - For Children’s Rights
Having been recognised in the region for BCMD’s approach towards youth engagement in revising the National Youth Policy (NYP) last year, BCMD collaborated with UNICEF to conduct consultations with the children of Bhutan. The objective is to produce a childrens’ report on the state of childrens’ rights in the country whilst educating children about their rights and empowering them to become active young contributors to a vibrant democracy.
A total of 604 children from four regions of the country and 53 children from vulnerable sections of the population were engaged in order to produce the Bhutan children’s report for the Convention on the Rights of the Child (CRC). This report will supplement the alternative report produced by RENEW and Nazhoen Lamtoen, and the country’s report to provide the CRC committee in Geneva with a comprehensive picture of the child rights landscape in Bhutan during the upcoming periodic review.
The Children’s report highlights the most prominent issues of the day that children face in Bhutan which emerged during the consultations; the issues include access to e-learning, lack of importance for co-curricular programmes, quality of family and alternative care environment, and the intergenerational digital divide. A child from a shelter home shares this about his experience with e-learning:
“These days when we get classwork, the teachers send it on WeChat. The computers at school don’t work and we can't use our phones because when they break/stop working, there is no one to fix them. This is why we need phones and laptops. We cannot keep up with the notes they send us, we are always 5-6 pages behind.”
These findings are synthesised with data from the survey which covered all four regions of the country. Special attention was given to vulnerable children such as children with disabilities, children in shelter homes and children in monastic institutions so that their experiences are also captured in the report.
You can read the report here:
The Druk Journal and Suja Dzaw Conversation on Bhutan After the COVID-19 Crisis
BCMD is committed to building a community of local writers who are encouraged to think and debate on issues of national importance. In creating this community, we are also producing resources that are Bhutan-centric to encourage readers whilst also building a repository for the social sciences.
More than 400 copies of the latest issue -- Bhutan After the COVID-19 Crisis -- have been distributed across the nation to ministers, parliamentarians, government agencies, constitutional bodies, development agencies, colleges and secondary and high schools.
Following the publication, the Suja Dzaw Conversation was held on 12 July. The conversation had four speakers who contributed to this issue of TDJ discussing the themes of anticipating the social security, civil service, education, and health sectors. Dr Bjorn's praise for Bhutan's multi-sectoral approach in dealing with the pandemic comes at the right time as Bhutan marks the end of a successful weeklong nationwide campaign for the second dose of COVID-19. But he also cautions the nation to carefully assess the lifting of restrictions as the virus still poses a high risk in the Southern borders.
Rabsel highlighted the importance for the public sector to anticipate what the future would look like and then identify who the key drivers of change would be for that future. He also said that the development planning process should be made consultative not just within the government agencies but also with the private sector, civil society, academia and the citizens, and for the government to play the role of an enabler rather than sole implementer of services.
Chencho stated that the curriculum was too narrow and needed to be diversified to cater to the students' interests and also to explore the full potentials and capabilities of students. In sync with the global trend, she emphasised the importance of digitising education to transform pedagogies and to minimise future disruptions to education for emergencies.
On the topic of social protection, Leki reminded us that with a large youthful population, it was the perfect time for the government to think about how the country’s population is going to migrate through the different stages of life and what kind of intervention would be needed at what time. She acknowledged that the current social protection system is exclusive to those in the formal public sector.
The conversation was attended by 14 participants which included key stakeholders from the Ministry of Education, Royal Education Council, National Council, UN and the Media. To ensure wider reach, it is available on our YouTube channel and it was also aired on BBS, the national television.
Check out www.drukjournal.bt to stay updated on current and emerging issues covered by the Journal.
We would like to thank UNDP Bhutan and CISU for supporting this conversation.
“Learning about communication plans stuck with me because it's important for CSOs to communicate their strategy to others. Communication is crucial to help raise funds and garner attention from the general public. A strong communications plan would benefit Bhutan Transparency Initiative (BTI) a lot and for all other CSOs, a strong communications plan can help generate enough publicity and they will be able to raise [funds properly].” shares Jigme from BTI.
The two-day training on Effective Communications for 12 participants from 10 Civil Society Organisations (CSO) and the Bhutan Nuns Foundation provided the organisations with an opportunity to learn how to develop a communications plan and the importance of messaging. Understanding how to communicate effectively with their beneficiaries and developing social media guidelines for their organisation was a major learning curve for participants from the newly registered CSOs.
A total of 46 participants from various CSO’s and national society were trained by BCMD, Journalists’ Association of Bhutan and Media Media Foundation in 2020 and 2021 under the ‘Building the capacity of civil society organisations to be strategic users of media’ project supported by HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, Bhutan.
Growing Civil Society
The civil society fraternity has been instrumental in contributing to a healthy and vibrant democracy where citizens are able to contribute to policies and influence decisions that affect their own lives. Civil Society Organisations (CSO) are also an essential building block of development as they provide opportunities for people to volunteer, mentor, and advocate for change -- all of which strengthens the well-being of Bhutan. They also help society by empowering citizens and promoting change at the grassroots.
Therefore, BCMD has produced a short video to celebrate the growing civil society fraternity in the country and also to show how far we have come to be effective agents of change in Bhutan.
You can find the video here: https://youtu.be/sP25-yO27fw
Thank you to HELVETAS Swiss Intercooperation, Bhutan for funding this project.
In Conversation with Chencho
Listen to our Executive Director, Chencho, in conversation with Tshewang, the Executive Director of Bhutan Foundation as they discuss BCMD's Project Mi-Khung, a project aimed at enhancing civic consciousness in citizens and increasing their participation in a democratic approach to community development and decision-making.
Find the conversation here: https://fb.watch/6tiaA0filJ/
Learning to Map Communities
“Learning about community mapping encouraged me to look at my surroundings in a different light. I can identify dormant and active assets and am learning how to use them to solve existing issues” said Ugyen, an English studies student at Sherubtse College. Asset-based Community Mapping is a tool that puts community members at the forefront of community development.
For the Youth Summit East Programme, 14 participants were trained in asset-based community mapping over the course of 5 days at Sherubtse College. They actively participated in identifying assets and issues in two different areas - the Sherubtse College Campus, and the Kanglung lower & upper markets. In the first phase of the mapping process, participants identified dormant assets such as underutilised resources, which can be revived to reach their full potential, or disaster-prone areas that the community should be aware of. Sangay, a Media student, felt empowered to know a young person like him can be the main actor in community development.
In the following months, participants will continue to thoroughly map the above-mentioned areas using digital apps and ultimately share their findings with relevant local leaders and stakeholders such as the College and Dzongkhag administration to contribute to inclusive planning processes.
In addition to community mapping, the participants were also trained in peer facilitation for two days, where they learnt to communicate effectively and foster a safe learning space. “The skills I’ve learnt today would help me become a better teacher; someone who puts students first and gathers their diverse views and someone who fosters an interactive learning environment rather than a linear one”, said Prakash, a History student, who aspires to become a Teacher. The participants will use the skills learnt to peer-facilitate an upcoming Community Mapping workshop for their peers at Sherubtse College.
The project was funded by Bhutan Foundation & CISU.
Learning to Live Sustainably
The Youth Summit (YS) 2021: Food Security & Sustainable Living helped introduce important issues surrounding food security, sustainable fashion and mindful consumption of technology. For most of the 47 participants including peer facilitators, these concepts were entirely new; nevertheless, at the end of the Summit, they were able to relate it to their individual lives and become better citizens who consume these essentials more mindfully and sustainably.
"The topic on clothes... I didn't have an idea about that when I came here... After that session, I realised that I'm also responsible for the condition the workers are facing in Bangladesh… because I am demanding more. When the customer demands, the owners pressure their workers. Now I think I won't buy unnecessary clothes." Karma, participant at the Youth Summit
The YS 2021 comes at a much needed time as youths have been deprived of meaningful engagements and deep learnings that become possible only when there is a community of learners created. Creating such a space for youths at the Summit, they come to see each other as treasured reservoirs of experience and also the value of working together to draw out each other’s best selves.
“[Youth Summit] is testing how much I know, how much I can give and how much I can learn again. I can test out skills I’ve already learnt, refine it and improve it... This environment is a great way for me to put the skills I've learnt to use and also learn from others as well.” Jimmy, Peer Facilitator
Ultimately YS strives to awaken youth to social issues and realities so that these ideas grow along with them as they mature and become citizens who are aware and proactive in tackling challenges.
The YS 2021 was supported by Give2Asia.
Youths Begin Advocacy Training
The Youth Initiative Summer Camp has kicked off to equip the members with theoretical skill and knowledge in advocacy but also with public speaking and effective communication to be able to deliver the advocacy content with conviction and impact. Five themes have been taken up: Education, Mental Health, Social Media, Youth Participation and Unemployment. The members will strive to advocate the core issues within the five themes and be able to reach their target audience.
The campaign kicked off on 12 August 2021 marking the International Youth Day, in partnership with BBS. Through the campaign, the members will seek to offer a youth-centric approach towards issues that matter most in the present time. The members have adopted the campaign slogan #FutureIsNow as a response to the oft-cited ‘youths are the future’ rhetoric; the members believe that they are not simply the ‘future’ but they are ‘here’ in the present, and insists that as long as the ‘now’ is worked on, the ‘future’ will simply follow.
This project is supported by UNICEF.
Media Literacy for Paro Community Members
Local leaders, teachers and community members of Paro are currently engaged in a two-day media and democracy literacy training, which began on July 30th. The training begins with a discussion on democracy and the role of news and media in democracy and will cover evaluating sources so that responsible use of social media is encouraged.
Samten, working as a case management officer at Nazhoen Lamoten in Paro shares his expectation to learn about the responsible use of social media, so that he can educate and empower children and youth.
This training is a part of a series of interrelated activities of the Building Community Initiative supported byThe Asia Foundation. The project aims to enhance participatory planning skills and contribute to decentralisation and sustainable community development.