Bhutan is a small, mountainous country to the north of India, also bordering China, Nepal and Tibet. It has a population of less than 1 million and is the first nation to express its “wealth” as a measure of its citizen’s wellbeing rather than in the usual economic terms.
This fact in itself makes Bhutan worth further study, irrespective of its thoughtful and thought-provoking National Education Framework. Its insistence that Gross Domestic Happiness is the real measure of success for a country and its people is a fascinating concept that the likes of Nicolas Sarkosy felt a need to explore further when he was president of France. In the UK, David Cameron has also thought about the concept of happiness and quickly introduced a formulaic questionnaire to review levels of happiness in this country – still with a heavy emphasis on economic factors being the “real” source of happiness.
It’s important to understand this commitment to wellbeing because it is the fundamental value at the heart of all policy development in the country. The Bhutanese way is to consider what constitutes a good society and then develop the key policies in accordance with these clear aims and values.
This is why their core document on educational reform makes explicit reference to the values that the government, the monarchy and the citizens say are important to them, and it’s something that we need to explore further.
If education is integral to the shaping of a nation as well as the individual, then before we plan a new curriculum or an amendment to existing systems of education, we have to return to the fundamental question of purpose. In recent blogs we have asked a series of questions – What is the purpose of education? What is the point of schooling? What constitutes a good society?
Without a core aim, based on an agreed and accepted set of values, what exactly is our purpose?
In delving into the Bhutanese system in greater detail, we’re not asking for wholesale adherence to its ways. The culture and climate of the country is vastly different to our own – but that shouldn’t preclude us from looking at the process of developing a national education system, and it shouldn’t prevent us from considering the adoption of some of their values as our own.
In this post, we’re again quoting from the Bhutanese New Education Framework document which can be read in full here.
We need to embrace universally agreed values in order to truly consider what we want and need from a framework for education in this country, or in any country.
Unlike the UK, Bhutan has a written constitution. Within this, there are fundamental statements and guiding principles for education. It says “the state shall” . . .
Promote the services that will enable the successful pursuit of Gross National Happiness
Provide the right to work, vocational guidance and training
Provide education for the purpose of improving knowledge, values and skills of the entire population with education being directed towards the full development of the human personality
Provide free education to all children of school-going age
In addition to this, the country has a “National Vision” – economically prosperous, environmentally sustained, well governed and culturally vibrant. It talks of “creative and highly skilled citizens”. It makes statements about the socio-economic development and wellbeing of the community.
Already we can begin to see the difference between our countries. Having these sorts of statements, with a strong emphasis on culture and creativity, sets a tone for the nation. It gives the same value to these important aspects of life as economic growth and environmental sustainability.
The National Education Framework then outlines 12 goals and indicators for education in Bhutan (see page 5 and 6 of the document). Amongst these are the following statements.
“All school-age children (6-16) are enabled to complete quality basic education that is inclusive, learner-centred and gender equitable.”
“Ensure that all pupils are enabled to attain the standards established for the essential learnings of knowledge, skills, attitudes and values.”
“Curricular relevance is enhanced to promote holistic development of pupils and to make learning contents more relevant to the diverse needs of learners.”
Consider the words used here – “inclusive” “learner-centred” “attitudes” “values” “holistic development” “relevant” “diverse” “needs of the learner”.
Compare this with the description of the purpose of a National Curriculum as described in the consultation document for England:
“Ensure a new National Curriculum embodies rigour and high standards and creates coherence in what is taught in schools.”
“Ensure that all children are taught the essential knowledge in the key subject disciplines.”
“Allow teachers the freedom to . . . use their expertise to help all children realise their potential.”
But we’re not looking at an holistic potential here. The author of the English National Curriculum is only concerned about “knowledge” – not attitudes and values. We use words such as “coherence” (or conformity?) “disciplines” and “rigour”.
Both documents describe the fundamental aims and purposes of a National Curriculum.
Here is Bhutan’s statement on the purpose of a National Curriculum.
“To provide a framework that can aid current educational reform efforts. The curriculum framework is based upon certain guiding principles. These principles are derived from (a) philosophical orientation of learning in Bhutan, (b) psychology of human development and learning, (c) the socio cultural environment and (d)economic – political situation of Bhutan and the child itself as an individual entity. The principles keep the learner at the centre and affirm that curriculum adheres to all the principles described . . . focuses on the child as a learner, who constructs its own knowledge, that childhood is a period of growth and change and that the significant adults and the society form a scaffold that supports the growth and development of the child.”
Here is Mr Gove’s statement of purpose.
Every state-funded school must offer a curriculum which is balanced and broadly based and which:
promotes the spiritual, moral, cultural, mental and physical development of pupils at the school and of society, and
prepares pupils at the school for the opportunities, responsibilities and experiences of later life.
Please see our previous post on the National Curriculum about these particular statements, but consider the difference in the language used. The focus on the child and childhood is evidential in the Bhutanese statement. By comparison, the purpose of the English Curriculum talks about preparation for adult life without mentioning a thing about being a child – growing and developing.
With regard to the aims of the National Curriculum, here is Bhutan’s version.
“The entire foundation of the school curriculum is based on the principles, culture and values and the objectives of GNH that the country aspires for its citizens. The overall aim of school education is to enable the learners to discover their talents and develop their potentialities to the fullest. It aspires to develop their physical and interpersonal skills, cognitive abilities and subject-matter expertise, attitudinal and emotional predispositions, character formation and work habits. It further develops the social and human values needed for enhancing one’s life-long well-being, functioning as responsible citizens, contributing to Bhutan’s economic prosperity and to the social and cultural life of the community in which they live. The citizens respond to the global challenges and changes that are shaping the lives of Bhutanese people.”
(Was there ever such a clear indication of the need to develop all of a child’s intelligences?)
And the English aims of the National Curriculum?
“The National Curriculum provides pupils with an introduction to the core knowledge that they need to be educated citizens. It introduces pupils to the best that has been thought and said; and helps engender an appreciation of human creativity and achievement.
The National Curriculum is just one element in the education of every child. There is time and space in the school day and in each week, term and year to range beyond the National Curriculum specifications. The National Curriculum provides an outline of core knowledge around which teachers can develop exciting and stimulating lessons.”
(Was there ever such a clear indication that the only intelligence that is deemed important is that of the intellect?)
The Bhutanese document continues to state a clear set of objectives and a “Vision” for Bhutanese children. It also outlines some fundamental child-development theories and what it intends as an outcome of quality education. Its purpose is very clear and holistic. This entire purpose is carefully detailed in 30 pages of the document – with there being a further 10 pages outlining the point of each subject before they look at the specific learning outcomes.
Meanwhile back in England, a mere 5 pages are given to the purpose of education, and most of these are to do with organisational points.
In our next post we’ll look in greater detail at the purpose of education as outlined in the Bhutanese document as it may support the reader when making comments about the proposed curriculum for England. For those who cannot be involved in the consultation, we hope it will provide a further insight into the fundamental aims of education.
- Reviewing the National Curriculum (3diassociates.wordpress.com)
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