Dr Stephen Codrington, who joined Alphacrucis’ Parramatta campus in January this year, is undertaking several overseas fieldwork research trips this year to collect material for use in six new Geography courses being developed for our new BEd(S) degree, and to update ten books he released in 2017 to support the new International Baccalaureate Geography syllabus.
In late March and early April, Stephen spent nine days in Bhutan, the tiny nation sitting between India and China that is the last kingdom in the Himalayas. Stephen’s research was focussed on two specific areas – the country’s distinctive approach to sustainable tourism, and its unique concept of Gross National Happiness (GNH).
Initially developed by the fourth King of Bhutan, Jingme Singye Wangchuk, GNH was designed to be a measurable alternative to other indicators such as Gross National Product (GNP), replacing the traditional emphasis on material values with a focus on values, morals and human welfare.
GNH does not rely on intangible, individual ‘feel good’ moods, but works on the more collectively-based assumption that true happiness cannot exist while others suffer, and comes only from serving others, living in harmony with nature, and developing innate wisdom. The concept of GNH has become more and more sophisticated over time, and is said to encompass nine domains (each of which has several components, making 72 in total):
Bhutan was the first country in the world to ban smoking, and this was done on the basis of boosting GNH. For many years, Bhutan banned television and the internet, and when these were finally permitted, the country’s GNH was shown to decline. Because of its emphasis on environmental quality, Bhutan is the world’s only carbon-sink country, i.e. it absorbs more carbon than it produces.
Bhutan is a strongly Buddhist nation, and justifies many of the principles and practices of GNH on the basis of Buddhist teachings. For example, GNH provides an important philosophical basis of Bhutan’s education system, such as using meditation to improve personal well-being and promoting holistic school assessment programs that include components such as adopting and caring for a ‘Gross National Happiness tree’ and establishing ‘Emotional Bank Accounts’ that earn deposits whenever students perform a good deed.
Many of the underlying values of GNH would be familiar to Christians, but are arguably alien to the materialist, capitalist, humanistic values that dominate contemporary Western societies today. This is perhaps paradoxical as western capitalism arose in societies that were dominated by Christian thinking at the time. Jesus’ teachings certainly emphasised quality of life (life in all its fullness) and what it means to be fully human, our responsibilities towards one another and to our environment, all of which are fundamental tenets of GNH. The GNH domain of ‘Psychological Wellbeing’ accurately identifies ‘spiritual belief’ and ‘spiritual practice’ as key component variables, although the meaning and implication of these terms will differ significantly for Christians and Buddhists.
In an address to school principals, college lecturers and education officers at Paro in 2010, Bhutan’s Prime Minister (Lyonchhen Jigme Yoser Thinley), endorsed the concept of GNH by encouraging educators with these words:
“The message is simple – a Gross National Happiness graduate is not only good-hearted and caring, but also deeply intelligent, sharp and discerning. (But) we cannot claim a Gross National Happiness educational system so long as our students are judged by one narrow criterion alone – their performance on competitive standardised exams that frequently create excessive stress, that often leave students who don’t make that particular grade feeling like failures... (We must) acknowledge the unique talents and contributions of each and every student – whether academic, in the arts and music, in manual dexterity, or in their generosity, care and help to others”.
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 Department of Curriculum Research and Development (2010). Educating for GNH: Refining our school education practices. Paro: Ministry of Education, Royal Government of Bhutan. Pp.106-107