Tuesday, December 22, 2009

How soon can we infuse GNH into the curricula?

(Note: This is something that happened somewhere around 13 December, I am uploading it only for information.)

With the workshop on Educating for Gross National Happiness that ended Saturday, the kingdom today stands at a remarkable crossroads in its history, in terms of its education policy.

Once the GNH principles and approaches are embedded in the structure of the country’s educational system and curricula, GNH will be a living reality in Bhutan. This is a decision that will influence the future of the country for generations to come.

And it should rightly be so. GNH, the country’s guiding philosophy since 1972 has sought to integrate sustainable and equitable economic development with environmental conservation, good governance, and preservation and promotion of the country’s ancient culture and profound traditions.

What does this mean in practice? First, sustainability principles, values, factual knowledge, and behavior would not only be taught in dedicated courses on environmental science, protection, and conservation, but they would also serve as examples in mathematics exercises, grammar texts, science experiments and more.

Noted educators like David Orr have critiqued conventional science texts for neglecting and underplaying human dependence on the natural world, and in some cases implicitly promoting environmentally destructive behaviors by implying the potential dominance of man and technology over nature.

A GNH curriculum would correct that present imbalance by focusing more on the interdependent nature of reality, including human interaction with natural forces.

It would also promote and teach respect for indigenous human cultures, languages, and knowledge. A few Bhutanese educators have been inspired to take students into the country’s old-growth forests to show and teach youth about the medicinal value and uses of local herbs and plant, which are in danger of being lost if not incorporated into formal educational curricula.

Of course, much discussion had taken place between our leaders and the educators before this concept of incorporating GNH into the education system ever came into being.

Our Education Minister himself has emphasized that genuine GNH curricula would go beyond mere conceptual and intellectual learning but attempt more effectively to integrate heart, mind, spirit, and behavior. In other words, such curricula would incorporate learning that draws not only on reasoning alone but also on experiential, artistic and feeling faculties, and that attempts to translate knowledge into action.

The first step in designing GNH curricula has already been taken. The assembly of a top international team of educators has contributed all they could for the system. Now the real task is to put all those points, depending on what fits where, breaking them down to subjects, topics and activities.

The workshop has provided the education ministry with a road map and a plan of action to begin the process of incorporating GNH values and principles into the school system by the beginning of 2010. Lyonpo Powdyel himself expressed confidence and optimism when he said that we know now what we should be doing in the next couple of weeks and months. And a national task force has been constituted to implement the plan.

Confidence and optimism is one thing, but it takes time to arrange things. Logistics take time. First and foremost would be to orient the principles to the new concept and approach.

The concept is beautiful, but how does one go about integrating it each subject. That calls for experts and cannot be left to the individual teachers, without proper guidelines.

Besides, incorporating the GNH principles and approaches to the syllabi involves a revision. Revising the text books on various subjects calls for time and lots of experts in a particular subject. This is particularly interesting when we realise that our school text books haven’t been revised for the last five years or so.

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