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Former Bhutan education minister Thakur S. Powdyel speaking at the International Islamic University Malaysia in Kuala Lumpur recently. PIC BY ROSDAN WAHID

THE key to happiness could be as simple as being “respectful towards the sanctity of life” and practising mindfulness, according to Thakur S. Powdyel.

The former education minister of Bhutan, the country which sparked worldwide interest in its unique index, the Gross National Happiness (GNH), was recently at the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM) as a guest speaker.

Thakur is recognised for his dedication to education and has been awarded with, among others, the Coronation Gold Medal in 2008, the Gusi Peace Prize for Life-time Contribution to Education (2011), Global Education Award for Outstanding Contribution to Education (2012) and the Institutional Award: The Honour of Druk Thuksey (2012).

His philosophical approach to education, as written in his book My Green School, has been translated into Spanish, Catalan, Vietnamese, Japanese, Kannada and German, with translations in several other languages under way.

He is instrumental in the development of the Green School concept, inspired by the fourth king of Bhutan, Jigme Singye Wang-chuck.

GNH AS YARDSTICK OF PEOPLE’S WELLBEING

“Some people said to me: ‘The Bhutanese must be the happiest people on earth.’

“Well, the world ranking says otherwise,” Thakur said in his lecture at IIUM recently.

He said instead of being pressured to compete, the Bhutanese government was focused on achieving balance between the material and non-material.

This, he said, was done by adhering to the four pillars of GNH, namely sustainable socio-economic development, environmental conservation, cultural preservation and promotion, and good governance.

“Culture, for instance, gives us identity. It gives us a sense of who we are. It gives us a sense of belonging. It is the core of human beings, fundamentals of a meaningful life, if you may.”

He said most countries were focused on the gross domestic product (GDP), which meant everything was based on the market value of goods and services.

“GNH is founded on a broader base, the major factor that contributed to the wellbeing of the people.”

He said while GDP growth was important, it “is not everything”.

“GDP is important, we need it, but it is not everything. What is important is GNH and developing with values.”

INVESTING IN THE LEADERS OF TOMORROW

Thakur said children and youth were a nation’s most precious segment, and the right investments in the next generation of leaders would determine the future and direction of a nation.

"As the country opened up and we learned more about the world outside, our people, particularly the youth, became more aware of the downsides of modern development and the negative influences of mass media".

This, he said, was where green schools played a role in nurturing the next generation of leaders, who were well balanced as individuals and worked well in a community.

Thakur’s green school concept espoused a holistic idea of education, which went beyond academic achievements.

“With all the good that it has done, modern education leaves much to be desired.”

Thakur, who was an educator, said it produced successful young people who excelled in academics and got ahead of their peers, but often felt isolated from themselves and others.

“A wise person once described education as the ‘Noble Sector’ and called upon others to help children and youth cultivate the nobility of the mind and the nobility of the heart, which would lead to the cultivation of the nobility of action.

“As things stand, there is an urgent need to restore education to its core function as the ‘Noble Sector’ that seeks to harmonise the gift of the head, the heart and the hands, thereby enabling young men and women, children and youth to develop into well-integrated individuals who are at peace with themselves and at peace with the world around them.

“We learn to live together and learn together, respecting our uniqueness and our commonality. We learn to care and to share and to succeed together.

“Life is to be celebrated. If somebody is lagging behind and feeling down, we give them courage and bring them along. If somebody has reasons for joy, we celebrate it together.”

He said these virtues must be developed and shared in schools as they were crucial for the unity and strength of the country and the world.

GREEN SCHOOLS

“As you look around the world, there’s so much going on in the name of education, but not much of it is educational.

“Education is such a large engagement for any society, for any country. It engages the largest number of young people around the world, and it keeps them in institutions of learning for a long time.

“Education must be meaningful. Today, most education efforts are, at best, limited to the intellectual element of human beings. Most parents would like their children to excel and succeed in life, and that they must score high marks, get good jobs; that is important.

“But what is more important is what happens to their lives as a result of spending long years learning different subjects in institutions of learning.

“I look at education from a different perspective, or (rather) planes or dimensions.

“Today, education looks only at the intellectual dimension. But we are more than the mind or the intellect.”

He said humans were not just social, but also cultural, emotional and spiritual beings.

“We have aesthetic sensibilities and ethical dimensions to our lives.”

He said the green school concept began with the obvious and most fundamental of the elements, which was natural greenery.

The other elements, he said, were academics, aesthetics, culture, intellect, morality, society and spirituality.

“Being able to appreciate this earth on which we walk is a great education because we depend on the earth.

“Green is more than a colour; it is a metaphor for everything that support and sustain life.”

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