National Education Framework in Bhutan: Part Two

bhutan-rhododendronToday, we return to the Bhutan National Education Framework to discover more about how other countries develop their curriculum for schools. It’s so wonderful to see a national document giving such prominence to learning and providing a clear explanation as to why the curriculum has been developed. Its strong emphasis on the learner and its understanding of child development as the driving force to the development of the document is extremely heart-warming, and in equal measure tinged with a sadness that our own country can’t be so enlightened.

Imagine an entire National Curriculum document that keeps mentioning the child, their learning and their growth. There’s a whole section within this framework that clearly indicates its intention to inform and to explain why the curriculum is managed and developed in the way that it is. Does the English proposal do this? Do we have any idea who has been informing and guiding Mr Gove in the decisions about the curriculum? Has anyone done this or is the entire English document the whim of one man?

There’s been significant mention of the content of the National Curriculum for England and about the factual choices made, particularly for history, geography and English Literature. Whilst we may disagree with the choices made and the emphasis on facts and figures, there’s less being said about its organisation and the principles behind its development. In other words, we have no idea why this curriculum has been organised in the way it has with a seeming disregard for certain aspects of child development that are so integral to quality teaching and learning.

Bhutan children [1]

The Bhutan National Education Framework also does one extremely important thing. It mentions the learner before the teacher. It considers why we need to think about learning rather than teaching, yet also gives space in the document to explain good pedagogy. One suspects that the reason Mr Gove barely mentions pedagogy in his document, other than to give teachers the “freedom” to teach how they wish (allegedly), is that he knows that his notion of good pedagogy isn’t palatable to either learner or teacher. As for his consideration of the needs of the learner, well they seem a somewhat secondary factor, which is ironic in itself.

Let’s return to the Bhutan document. The opening paragraph to the purpose of education goes like this.

“This section 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.”

(The National Curriculum for England, by comparison talks of preparing children for “later life”. Not once does it mention childhood. Not once!)

From the outset, the learner is responsible for his learning. The teacher (and the parent) is a facilitator of that learning and is reminded of that through the scaffolding analogy.

bhutanese_children [2]

The document then continues to explain the main principles of learning, and teaching.

  • Developmental appropriateness
  • Learner and learning
  • Children learn through active participation
  • Children learn in diverse ways and at a different pace
  • Learning is both individual and a group process

It continues to describe the role of the teacher with sections on constructive knowledge and effective pedagogy, culminating in an entire section on values (which we shall copy in full in the next post).

We’re now going to choose some quotes from the document to demonstrate the emphasis on the learner but once more we would strongly recommend the reader reads this section in full; pages 8-19 of the framework –

Bhutan children [5]


The Learner

What do we want an educated young person to look like by the time they are 19 years old? This is a question that should drive the development of schooling and the curriculum. This is one that is answered in Bhutan.

“A complete person should be

• skilled in the use of speech, symbol, and gesture

• factually well informed

• capable of creating and appreciating objects of aesthetic significance

• endowed with a rich and disciplined life in relation to self and others

• able to make wise decisions and to judge between right and wrong

• possessed of an integral outlook.”

The notion of a complete person, or an actualised person, if we want to consider Maslow, is the driving force for the shaping of a curriculum. It is preparing for “later life” but it’s also recognising the value of being a learner – as a developing child, within childhood, and outlines a more holistic approach to what constitutes that preparation for adult life.

On “Developmental appropriateness”……………..

Bhutan children [4]

Quoting Lilian Katz, it says,

“In developmental approach to curriculum design….(decisions) about what should be learned and how best it should be learned depend on what we know of the learner’s developmental status and our understanding of the relationship between early experience and subsequent development.”

 “a broad based review of literature shows that there is a wide agreement about certain patterns in children’s growth and development.”

So how do the Bhutanese reflect this fundamental essence of placing the learner at the centre of development within their their document?

On “The learner and learning”…………….

“The Bhutanese system of learning consists of the triadic activities of (thos pa, literally hearing), reflection (bsam pa,literally thinking) and meditation (sgom pa, literally practising), of which the first two constitute scholarly activities.”

“The dominance of modern education, brain research and recent findings has influenced the traditional system of learning in the country.”

“Since the focus is to make learning meaningful it is important to understand how children learn and what implication it has on the child centred pedagogy.”

“What is required is to accept and create a common ground on which modernists can recognize the value of traditional thinkers and traditionalists can quench the spiritual thirst of the modernists.”

The seeming juxtaposition between traditional and modernist thinking is warmly embraced here. It’s not as an insurmountable challenge but as an appreciation of extremes that can naturally work well together. It must also be stated that whilst the Bhutanese has Buddhist principles as a key driver, the document and education in the country is secular.

On “Children learn through active participation” ………………

Bhutan children [3]

“Children learn best when they are physically, intellectually, and emotionally engaged in meaningful experiences. When children are motivated, they maintain engagement, attention, and focus, they persist though the activity may be difficult.”

“Play engages the child’s whole being. Through their play, children develop sensory motor control, eye-hand coordination, problem solving skills, social skills and creativity. Physical, social, intellectual, and emotional development is all enhanced through play.”

“Children represent their understanding in a variety of ways. As children grow their repertoire of the forms of representation expands. Learning a variety of ways of representing allows students with diverse backgrounds, interests, and abilities to be successful.”

These statements in themselves aren’t new to the educationalist in the UK. The significance is in the fact that the Bhutanese feel a need to reiterate this so that it’s clear why the curriculum is developed for the learner.

On “Children learn in diverse ways and at a different pace”……………..

“Children vary in their thinking and learning styles, their previous experiences and the pace at which they learn. Current understanding is that intelligence is multidimensional and that it cannot be captured by a single ability.”

“Children vary in their learning needs, they learn at different rates and in different degrees………………… However children’s need for safety, security, belongingness, care and equal opportunities remain similar to all.”

As an organisation dedicated to the advancement of multiple intelligences in education, this is manna of the highest order. A national curriculum document that clearly identifies the need to develop education to address all of the intelligences is precisely what we feel is essential in this and all countries. We’re not all factual learners. We’re not all automatons, ready and willing to digest and consume the thoughts of others. We are social beings with personal attributes who have a need to explore our own passions and respect the needs of others. This is an essential part of living well and naturally should be an integral part of any curriculum.

On “Learning is both individual and a group process”……………….


“As children learn they begin to make connections between new and previously known information. They acquire knowledge, skills and attitudes. Thus learning is an interplay of development and experience, personal and social, and in which cognition and emotion play an equally important role.”

“Competent learners self-regulate their learning. Successful learners understand their learning process, adapt their learning to different situations, transfer their learning to new and unfamiliar situations.”

“Because learning is also a social and cultural process, children learn through social interaction, construct their own understanding of concepts, and they benefit from instruction by more competent peers and adults.”

Once more, these facts about learning and the learner are already known but to have them laid out provides a clear message to those in the profession as to focus on personal and social intelligence as well as the intellect. It continues to place the learner at the heart of education.

The document continues then to discuss constructivism, something that we referred to in a recent post about Thailand.

“Constructivism is a philosophy founded on the belief that we construct our own understanding of the world by reflecting on our experiences that had meaning and importance to us. We connect new ideas with our existing ones; each of us generates our own “rules” and “mental models”, which we use to make sense of our experiences. Learning is the process of adjusting our mental models to accommodate new experiences.”

Interestingly, this comment on constructivism is contained within the section on teaching and pedagogy. The point of mentioning this is that even the factual knowledge, which is clearly an integral part of learning, is described and developed to accommodate the need and the experience of the learner, rather than be an integral part of learning due to the diktat of another human being.

“Traditionally teachers use didactic instructional methods, where they provide students with information, considered by the teacher as ‘true knowledge’. Students are expected to memorize this information and reproduce the same in the examinations. This kind of information loading education puts a lot of stress on students. The question that arises is, how can the school make learning more meaningful for students. In order to understand this shift, teachers must first understand that their existing teaching-learning practices are output driven and does not provide the scope for constructing knowledge by the children.”

Really, it excites and demoralises simultaneously when you read something like the previous paragraph. All around the world, people show their understanding of learning, of what encourages and discourages the learner and of just how important it is for the learner to feel fully involved in their learning. Don’t all children deserve an education shaped on the fundamental aim of recognising the learner as an individual young human being with a life-time of learning ahead of them?


The next post: culture and values of education.

About 3D Eye

Gary Foskett and Clare Blackhall are educationalists, writers and consultants. We work with schools and other organisations who share our vision of how schools, businesses, etc should work in the 21st Century. We also run courses and contribute to conferences - speaking about our three dimensional model of intelligences and how schools, colleges and universities can develop the full potential of all their staff and students. We also offer consultancy for businesses and public sector organisations to support staff training and organisational change and development. For more detailed information read our blog at or see our website at
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