Thakur S. Powdyel: education must rediscover its original objectives, rediscover its course, its nobility and its soul

- through Francois Leclercq

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In Bhutan, GNP has been dethroned by GNP, Gross National Happiness. To allow this philosophy to gradually penetrate all of Bhutanese society, the government launched a reform in 2010 called “Educating for Gross National Happiness”, rooted in the country’s Buddhist culture. Interview with the initiator of this reform, Thakur S. Powdyel, Minister of Education between 2008 and 2012, now President of the Royal Thimphu College, who calls for a new ethic in education.

What is the philosophy of education in Bhutan, its great ideals?

In Bhutan, education is seen as a means to an end: we want to build a nation at peace with itself and at peace with the world. If one is not at peace with oneself, it is impossible to be at peace with the world. It is about creating an educated and enlightened society based on the philosophy of Gross National Happiness, which has its roots in Buddhist philosophy.

What would be your definition of gross national happiness?

Every human being, every nation must carry a great dream. In Bhutan, it is called Gross National Happiness. We live in a world that hungers and thirsts for truth and authenticity. A world that has an ardent desire to see alternatives, new perspectives of life and development. Gross National Happiness is a holistic ideal. Education is at the heart of the system, it has an essential role to play in the realization of this great national dream. This is why in 2010, I launched, with the support of the government, a reform called “Educating for Gross National Happiness”. This reform aims to ensure that the younger generations take ownership and make this great dream come true. Gross national happiness is a bit like our polar star, it allows us to never lose the North. We will probably not reach it in one generation, but each generation has an obligation to strive towards this milestone. How to draw up perspectives, build plans, find resources in oneself when one does not know where one is going? The universal indicator for measuring progress, GDP, focuses only on its economic and material dimension. It does not measure or evaluate anything that makes life worth living. Gross National Happiness, on the contrary, strives to establish a balance between the needs of the body, the mind and the soul, a balance between the human and the nature, between the physical element and the spiritual element. . It is a holistic tool and therefore more sustainable.

How will you manage to infuse these principles of Gross National Happiness into educational programs?

In the space of a few years, the majority of our schools have managed to understand, take ownership of these rules and educate in BNB, based on our program called “Building Green Schools for a Green Bhutan” . These “green” schools must respect eight essential principles, all of which are deeply rooted in the Buddhist aspirations and culture of our country. The first element is the promotion and respect of a “green” or natural environment. Environmental conservation is one of the four pillars of BNB. It is enshrined in Bhutan's constitution that it is mandatory to retain at least 60% of the country's forest cover. Today, 80% of the surface of the country is covered with forests. But nothing is definitively acquired. In the future, nothing says that the leaders in power will have the same respect for nature. We are the guardians of one of the greatest biodiversity in the world. The generations that will be in charge in twenty years must become aware of the richness of this heritage inherited from previous generations. These are the future leaders of the country who are today on the school benches. One should be able to find on the campuses of these schools a wide variety of plants, trees, fruits, vegetables and flowers. A diversity of smells, shapes, sounds, and objects intended to awaken our five senses, which are so many windows on the world. Living in the middle of nature, in a green environment, is an essential condition for the good development of the mind.

Gross National Happiness strives to balance the needs of body, mind and soul, between human and nature, between the physical element and the spiritual element.

We also need what I would call a “green” intellectual environment. Need for open minds, receptive to new ideas, new knowledge, new wisdom and new methods of education. Life springs when the executives and teachers who run these institutions have an open mind, goodwill, and a heart open to all possibilities.

Our schools must also be part of a “green” academic environment, a framework where the child can discover the great ideas inherent in all the disciplines studied.

Building a “green” social environment is equally essential. It is a question of cultivating in the child positive values, good will, kindness and positive energy. We also need to build an environment conducive to the development of the soul. It's essential. All countries need positive energy and goodwill. These are the qualities that make a society stronger and healthier.

It is our duty to also build a “green” moral environment in order to give young people the ability to make distinctions between categories of values. What is truth, good and evil, true and false? It is the ability to make such distinctions that makes us human.

Growing GDP is much easier than promoting Gross National Happiness. Educating at the BNB is difficult, much more difficult than training young people for a trade, and entering the labor market. Education is essential for us, it is the basis of all progress, of all development. Education must rediscover its original objectives, rediscover its course, its nobility and its soul. We urgently need a new ethic of education, a grand purpose, a need to reclaim the nobility that education has lost.

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Francois Leclercq

François Leclercq is the founder of Buddhist News, a website which aims to disseminate information and practical advice on Buddhism and spirituality. François Leclercq was born and raised in Paris. He studied Buddhism at the University of Paris-Sorbonne, where he graduated in social sciences and psychology. After graduating, he devoted himself to his passion for Buddhism and traveled the world to study and learn about different practices. He notably visited Tibet, Nepal, Thailand, Japan and China.

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