Schooling for Happiness: Bhutan's Big Dream


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"School for Happiness: Bhutan's Big Dream"

Kent Bicknell, Head of Sant Bani School

Saturday August 11, 1:00 - 2:15

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Schooling for Happiness: Bhutan's Big Dream

  1. 1. r e d e fining education The Global Schoolhouse S chooling for H appiness Bhutan’s Big Dream By Kent Bicknell56 I n d e p e n d e n t S c h o o l
  2. 2. “If a country has a big dream, the educationsystem of that country must support andadvance that dream.” — Thakur S. Powdyel, Bhutan’s Minister of EducationI n December 2009, I traveled to the Himalayan kingdom of Bhutan for a weeklong workshop, “Educating for Gross National Happiness.” At the invitation of the royal government, interna- tional participants joined with local teachers,principals, and students to discover ways that Bhuta-nese schools could better support the country’s com-mitment to Gross National Happiness (GNH). Sincethe 1970s, Bhutan has sought to measure its growththrough standards based on GNH rather than theGross National Product index that most other coun-tries rely on. Our task was to find ways in which theeducational system could enhance the material andspiritual health of current and future generations —and I was honored to represent U.S. independentschools in this undertaking.1 S p r i n g 2 0 1 2 57
  3. 3. r e d e fining education In the last leg of my journey, I left the haze of New Delhi, flew past Mount Everest, and swooped down into the Paro Valley of Bhutan, landing at what has to be one of the most beautiful and tranquil airports in the world, and the only one in the country. Through my familiarity with India, I expected I would “know” Bhutan (the square mile equivalent of New Hampshire and Vermont combined, with a popu- lation of 700,000), but I did not. The city of Paro seemed to have hardly any people; the air was sparkling; there was little traffic; nobody was rushing to and fro; and at night the sky was filled with stars. I had arrived in a land, I would learn, where time cycles through the seasons — 80 percent of the country still farms — and where a Buddhist perspective prevails, from the architec- Roy, and Zenobia Barlow and to work thing good, wholesome, positive, and ture of the airport to the Dzongs (for- side-by-side with Bhutanese counter- healthy.” He continued, “At the end tress monasteries) that double as seats parts, including Prime Minister Jigmi of the day, these different dimensions of government. In Bhutan, smoking is Y. Thinley, and the Bhutan Minister of greenery are the elements of a life: prohibited — everywhere! When His (Lyonpo) of Education Thakur S. Pow- natural or environmental greenery, Majesty the 4th Dragon King, Jigme dyel. The enthusiasm generated was intellectual greenery, academic green- Singye Wangchuck, informed his sub- such that, before we all dispersed, the ery, social, cultural, spiritual, aesthetic, jects in 1999 that television and the ministry of education announced plans and moral greenery — all these together make us who we are. If we are able to Always keep clean and green. Smile and let address these in the school system, it will be a more satisfying combination of smile. Strive for excellence. Take pride in being experiences for children so they may be more integrated as human beings. They Bhutanese. Act with humility. may be much happier and more reflec- tive, and so be more sensitive. Today Internet would be allowed in Bhutan, to host GNH workshops for all school the world lacks sensitivity — towards he also outlawed the use of plastic bags principals in the country. each other, towards the environment, because they are nonsustainable. I returned to Sant Bani School towards Mother Nature, towards all the Bhutan’s commitment to the well- (New Hampshire), where I have been elements that sustain our life.” being of its people is built on four head of school since 1973, but stayed in pillars: (1) economic development, sus- close contact with the minister of edu- Happiness in Action tainable over generations; (2) conserva- cation, Lyonpo Thakur. He informed Curious to see how the ideas in tion of the environment; (3) good gov- me that the follow-up sessions with the workshops were manifesting, I ernance that is transparent (the Fourth Bhutan’s principals were quite suc- returned to Bhutan in March 2011 as King introduced democracy and Bhu- cessful. They offered the principals a guest of the Ministry of Education. tanese now vote for a parliament); and a welcome time to reflect and trade Lyonpo Thakur had graciously paved (4) preservation of cultural values.2 We stories about what was (and was not) the way for me to visit a number of focused on these during the “Educating working. After sharing their own best schools in the capital city, Thimphu for GNH” workshop, and by the end of practices and hearing the ideas gener- (population just shy of 100,000). When the week we had mapped out a number ated in the December workshop, the I landed in Paro, Madame Phuntsho of ways to fold GNH principles into a principals pledged to create “Green Lham, a ministry official, worked K–12 curriculum (see sidebar on page Schools for Green Bhutan,” a promise closely with me to coordinate all aspects 59). It was exciting to be surrounded by subsequently adopted by all 20 dis- of my visit. She had arranged a brief environmental and educational lumi- tricts of the country. meeting with the minister late that first naries like Vandana Shiva, Mark Man- As Lyonpo Thakur explained to afternoon, as he had to travel outside call, Satish Kumar, David Orr, Bunker me, to be green encompasses “every- the city for the next five days.58 I n d e p e n d e n t S c h o o l
  4. 4. that His Majesty the 4th King, Jigme even if the class has more than 40 E ducating for Singye Wangchuck, had the vision for students. Bhutan. It is not enough simply to live Back in Madame Tshewang’s office, G ross N ational day-to-day, earning our daily bread. I noticed Zilukha’s mission, vision, H appiness There is more to life, more to societies, and core beliefs posted on the wall. I more to nations than simply surviv- asked her if each school developed its “Educating for GNH” recognizes that: ing as an economic animal. “At pres- own, and she assured me they did. ent,” Lyonpo Thakur added, “we have Zilukha’s core beliefs are: Always keep • Collaboration amongst diverse groups people who demand more; we have clean and green. Smile and let smile. is critical for building a sustainable made people much more degree- and Strive for excellence. Take pride in being future. diploma-conscious, but less character- Bhutanese. Act with humility. • Students should be key players in these conscious, less morality-conscious, Next stop was one of the elite high groups. less sensitive. And it is this kind of schools in the country, Yangchenphug insensitivity that brings no respect Higher Secondary School (YHSS). • Transparency in governance begins for the environment, no respect for Over tea, Principal Madame Pema with the active involvement of students each other, no respect for the earth, Wangdi and her administrative staff and families in the organization of the no respect for and appreciation of the presented a snapshot of YHSS, fol- school. good things of life…. We hope that edu- lowed by a tour. Given the exuberant • Sustainability needs to radiate out from cating for GNH will address the varied sense of the joy of learning combined the campus to the community at large to dimensions of our life.” with seriousness of purpose, I felt at ensure broad ecoliteracy. That evening I returned to my cozy home in this large government school room in the Wangchuk Hotel in down- (more than 1,000 students). I saw • A healthy community-service program town Thimphu, eager to visit the first labs, classrooms, the lovely library at strengthens all. school on my list. the heart of the school, a large audi- • Elders and indigenous peoples are Zilukha Lower Secondary School torium, and, on the top floor of the storehouses of a wisdom that must be (Pre-K–8) is terraced into a steep hill main building, a Buddhist temple with preserved. on the outskirts of Thimphu. The week a resident Rinpoche (revered monk). before my visit, a fire had burned the Rohit Adhikari, a recent graduate of • Education is about the heart and spirit, fields around the school, stopping just YHSS who had participated in the as well as the mind and body. shy of the buildings. The blackened 2009 workshop, joined me on the • Practices that teach us to pause and earth did nothing to darken the enthu- tour so I could have an insider’s view. reflect are a critical component of edu- siasm of opening days (the academic He informed me that the beloved cation, and these come in a variety of year in Bhutan begins in late Febru- Rinpoche had been in residence since forms, including the arts, contemplation, ary). I observed democracy in action as the school’s founding in 1965 — and journaling, and critical thinking. the 850 students eagerly used official all were sad that he was retiring at the government voting machines to elect end of the year. the coming year’s “team captains,” On March 8, I visited Lungtenzampa responsible for organizing much of Middle Secondary School. Principal The minister, noting that our time the social and co-curricular life of Madame Kinley Pem and I conversed atwas too short, kindly invited me to the school. While several hundred length while we toured the campus. Atcome for dinner that evening. I was students sat in the courtyard waiting one point, she left me alone with a 10ththrilled to visit his home in the min- to vote, an array of teachers, alumni, grade class, and we covered a varietyisters’ enclave, and to dine with the and students (including a third grader of topics. The students were open andminister, his wife, and my guide and with the voice of an angel) entertained engaging, and clearly had embraced afriend, Madame Karma Wangmo. the group with songs and stories. number of GNH values, from “greenOver tea, we had a lengthy discussion Principal Madame Tshewang Peldon schools for a green Bhutan,” to pride inabout education, particularly around invited me to address the students, their campus and program, to the valueinfusing GNH principles into schools. which I did briefly.3 As we toured the of walking to school, to the power ofLyonpo Thakur explained, “If a country terraced campus, Madame Tshewang saying “no” to any kind of bullying, teas-has a big dream, the education system was happy to point out that a facilities ing, or name-calling. My dialogue withof that country must support and upgrade had begun. At present, some this class suggested a culture that nur-advance that dream. And it is impor- of the lower grades have close to 60 tures students while encouraging themtant for nations to have big dreams. students per class, although below to find their own voices. Individual classJust as we as individuals must have fourth grade there are two teachers vegetable and flower gardens were justdreams, so also nations and societies per group. For fourth grade and above, that: individually designed and main-must have their dreams.” He noted there is only one teacher per group, tained by each class. Toward the end of S p r i n g 2 0 1 2 59
  5. 5. r e d e fining education my visit, Madame Kinley invited me to dotted the schoolyard, all nourished Sant Bani School. At the ELC, learn- partake of a delicious vegetarian lunch by compost generated at Jigme Losel. ing is an adventure in which students in her home, perched on a hill just Student-made posters encouraging the and teachers journey together. Class above the main buildings. As I walked value of recycling, healthy habits, the size is small (20 or less), and the evi- through her gardens amid a bevy of kind treatment of others, and celebrat- dence of collaboration is present in welcoming dogs, I sensed the trappings ing International Women’s Day were every nook of the student-art-covered of a traditional New England boarding omnipresent, as were individual reflec- walls. ELC is involved in the world- school. However, on the verandah I tions on topics such as “Why I come wide Design for Change movement5 turned and saw, high on a hill, the huge to school” and “Reading is a basic tool that encourages children to tackle and “The world is moved along, not only by the mighty shoves of its heroes, but also by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each honest worker.” statue of the Buddha that overlooks the in the living of a good life.” The school solve real-world issues. The approach sprawling city.4 prides itself on its Five R approach to is based on four steps in which the As I navigated through the recess waste management: Reduce, Replace, students are asked to feel, imagine, do, traffic patterns of the lively students at Refuse (take less), Recycle, Reuse. and share. ELC is a greenhouse for Jigme Losel Primary School, I paused As the hour for lunch approached, a student-led projects that have reached before a wooden sign planted in one number of parent volunteers helped far beyond their campus, including of the gardens. It contained a quote by arrange tables of colorful woven bas- the student-designed plan to gener- Helen Keller that gave new light to what kets, each containing healthy lunches ate zero waste through substituting I was witnessing: “I long to accomplish wrapped in eco-friendly material. indigenous treats for the prevailing great and noble tasks, but it is my chief The principal, Madame Choki packaged snacks in plastic wrappers. duty to accomplish humble tasks as Dukpa, was thrilled to share these Students first cleaned up their own though they were great and noble. The facets of the vibrant life of Jigme Losel campus, and then spread the word world is moved along, not only by the with me. through appearances on national TV mighty shoves of its heroes, but also Shortly after I arrived in Thim- and presentations that have reached by the aggregate of tiny pushes of each phu, I attended an education zomdue more than 80 other schools.6 As head honest worker.” (informal gathering), where a diverse of an independent school, a rarity in Here, in the midst of a govern- group of teachers, monks, officials, Bhutan, Madame Deki was excited to ment school serving 857 students principals, students, and an author attend all of the GNH-in-education in a non-affluent part of the Dragon engaged in an animated conversa- workshops and feels much support Kingdom’s major city, Thimphu, I saw tion about various topics across the from the ministry of education. many opportunities for “tiny pushes.” educational spectrum. There I met Two days before departing, I visited Here was a green school in action. Madame Deki Choden, Barnard Col- Motithang Higher Secondary School, Students used recycled plastic jugs lege graduate and founder of the one of the top high schools in the coun- for hand washing (“tippy-taps”), and Early Learning Center (ELC), who try in terms of scores on the national dustpans made from used contain- encouraged me to add her school to exams. There is no doubt that the ers. Compact class gardens, recently my itinerary. I am happy I did, as her soft-spoken principal, Madame Karma planted with flowers and vegetables, approach is so in synch with that of Zangmo, is a dynamic leader whom60 I n d e p e n d e n t S c h o o l
  6. 6. r e d e fining education any school would be thrilled to have. path never imagined in the educational green at home, the dangers of excess Rather than a whirlwind tour of the paradigm of Bhutan a decade ago. As dieting, reviews of Bhutanese bands, campus, she arranged for me to meet they began to find the power of the col- and a self-administered “stress test.” At with a handful of students and faculty. lective voice, their ideas were heard, and the end of our discussion, they said that The conversation was lively, as the stu- MHSS subsequently made alterations what we had shared was of such value dents and I bounced from topic to topic. in the schedule to allow for more flexible I should come back and address the They eagerly shared differences in the programming. With pride the students entire student body — all 1,255 of them. school since it began to focus on GNH gave me a copy of the new Motithang On my last full day in Bhutan, I did principles in the classroom. Through HSS magazine by and for students, just that. I stood before the assembled the student council and other vehicles Teen Generation 2010, filled with their students and faculty, and spoke of they brought new ideas to faculty, a own writing. Topics included how to be how much we have in common; that education is a question of heart con- necting to heart as much as minds F or thirty years, California’s independent schools have being opened. I shared my long-time connection with the spiritual teachings turned to us for all their education law needs. Members of Asia, and mentioned that a famous American from the 1850s, Henry of the firm have first-hand experience and in-depth under- David Thoreau, was passionate about standing of the specific demands of independent schools the wisdom to be found in texts like The Bhagavad Gita and the words of and the legal challenges they face today. the Buddha, and that Mahatma Gan- dhi was then inspired by Thoreau. The  labor and employment  wage and hour students, each in uniform and sitting  contracts  leaves cross-legged on the ground, listened intently for half an hour. It was most  governance  litigation rewarding to watch ripples of laughter  student issues  business and facilities flow through the crowd as I shared humorous stories.7  handbooks  management training Humanizing Our Educational System As my second visit to Bhutan drew to a close, I savored Lyonpo Thakur’s invita- tion to come back and spend six months in schools all over the country. GNH has skeptics in Bhutan, particularly when it moves beyond broad concepts to address systemic issues. Were the schools I visited a fair sampling from which to draw general conclusions about the state of education in Bhutan? Probably not; but they bear witness to a strong effort to humanize a traditional education system. The dream is there, and the rest of the world ought to take note of these noble aspirations. Visit our booth at the annual conference Robert Kennedy shared a similar to learn more about our services. Los Angeles 310.981.2000 dream with us when he delivered his first major presidential campaign San Francisco speech in March 1968: 415.512.3000 Fresno For too long we seem to have surrendered 559.256.7800 personal excellence and community values San Diego in the mere accumulation of material things. L C W L C W 619.400.4955 Our Gross National Product is over $800 bil- lion dollars a year, but that GNP counts air62 I n d e p e n d e n t S c h o o l
  7. 7. pollution and cigarette advertising, and the destruction of the redwood and the loss of our 25 Years Serving Schools natural wonder in chaotic sprawl. It counts Over 70 Strategic PlanS napalm and nuclear warheads... and the tele- “We used Educational Directions and Stephen DiCicco to guide us in developing a comprehensive vision programs which glorify violence in order strategic plan in 2003-04 and, again, in 2010-11. He provided a marvelously flexible approach to sell toys to our children. It does not allow for that enabled us to design a process that was uniquely suited to our school. His knowledge of the issues and challenges independent schools face adds great value to his services.” the health of our children, the quality of their Larry Van Meter, Head, Moorestown Friends School, NJ education or the joy of their play. It does not HEAD OF SCHOOL SEARCHES • SENIOR ADMINISTRATIVE SEARCHES • STRATEGIC PLANNING include the beauty of our poetry or the strength BOARD WORKSHOPS • BOARD RETREATS of our marriages, the intelligence of our public THE HEAD’S LETTER • THE TRUSTEE’S LETTER • THE BLUE SHEET • THE GREEN SHEET debate or the integrity of our public officials. It Educational Directions Incorporated measures neither our wit nor our courage, nei- • PHOne: 800.647.2794. 401.683.3523 ther our wisdom nor our learning, neither our compassion nor our devotion to our country. It measures everything, in short, except that which makes life worthwhile. And it can tell us everything about America except why we are proud that we are Americans. It is not clear to me whether wehave had a “big dream” since PresidentKennedy challenged us to land on themoon. If America were to be guidedby RFK’s vision, how might our educa-tion system “promote and advance thatdream?” Perhaps some answers lie inthe large heart and mindful approachof the Dragon Kingdom of Bhutan.Kent Bicknell is the head of Sant Bani School (NewHampshire).Notes1. A primary organizer of the conference was Dr. Ron Colman of Nova Scotia’s Genuine Progress Index (GPI). For more information, see and Bhutan’s efforts to “preserve the culture” resulted in a number of challenges to its efforts to achieve GNH. As many have noted, acts intended to include people of Bhutanese origin led to the exclusion of many who had lived in the country for years (in some cases, generations). This two-decade-long problem is still in a state of flux, and is an enormously important topic beyond the scope of this article.3. All of the government schools are English medium, so I had no problem communicating with anyone in the country.4. This enormous statue of the Buddha is still under construction. It is new since 2009, and it can be seen from almost all parts of the city.5. Created by artist/designer Kiran Bir Sethi at the Riverside School in Ahmedabad, India, founded in 2001. See See watch?v=X4TDKYRaFOI.7. The full text of my address at Motithang HSS is available at S p r i n g 2 0 1 2 63