Eco(di)versity: Education, Community Building and Sustainable Development in Bhutan
Dr. Sayan Dey
Senior Advisor, Lecturer, Yonphula Centenary College, Bhutan
The terms ‘educating’ and ‘education’ have always been underpinned with multiple forms of conflicts, hierarchies, questions and challenges across the globe. Whenever we engage with these phenomena, some of the basic questions that come to the forefront are:
Who will educate whom?
How to de-authorize and de-centralize the systems of knowledge production?
How a pedagogical system can be transformed from ‘knowledge teaching’ towards ‘knowledge sharing’?
These are some of the questions that have provoked the evolution of the global movements against authoritative, racialized and centrally universalized education systems like Rhodes Must Fall in South Africa, Rhodes Must Fall in Oxford, Why is My Curriculum White?, Why Isn’t My Professor Black?, #LiberateMyDegree, Silence Sam, Leopold Must Fall, etc. As a decolonial researcher, through this article I am going to point how, consciously and/or unconsciously, the systems of knowledge production that are being implemented in India blindly mimic the colonial-Euro-North-American-centric frameworks. I will also argue the various possibilities through which the education systems can be de-westernized and indigenized, and pushed towards the praxis of sustainable development and community building. With respect to the process of de-westernization and indigenization, I will reflect upon Bhutan’s ‘Green School’ initiative as an example.
Blindness and Mimicry
Usually, as we look around the globe we see that the association of ‘modernity’ and ‘education’ is very problematic in nature. Peruvian sociologist Anibal Quijano argues that the ideologies of modernity and coloniality are inseparable entities. Therefore, the usual tendency of the so-called modern education system is to blindly mimic the ethical, moral and infrastructural patterns of the colonial West and the “the ‘Western European Dominators’ and their Euro-North American descendants are still the principal beneficiaries”. Let us briefly look into the scenario of private education systems in India. According to a research conducted by Geeta Gandhi Kingdon, Chair of Education Economics and International Development, University, College, London:
Between 2011 and 2015, the number of children attending government schools fell by 11 million and the number attending private schools rose by 16 million, as per the government’s DISE (District Information System for Education) school-census data. Parents have voted with their feet to bypass or abandon the government schools (despite the inducement of free tuition, textbooks, uniforms, school bags and meals), opted for private education instead. This rapid drift has generally been attributed to innocent explanations such as parents’ desire that children learn English, or the growing affluence in the country. However, parents notice that even the unrecognized low-fee private schools produce higher learning levels than the state government schools.
But, this capitalistic research output fails to address a couple of crucial questions: Are the parameters of comparing the ‘learning levels’ in the private schools and the public schools equal? What are the various ways to cope up with the economic divide that are systemically practiced by the private schools in India through imposing massive fees on the students? Even if we keep statistical data aside and simply take a look into the geographical composition of the students in most of the private schools in India, we find that numerically the students from urban areas surpass the students from rural areas. This numerical imbalance also opens up gateways towards social, cultural, communal, racial and economic imbalance. Therefore, Geeta Kingdon’s argument: “...parents notice that even the unrecognized low-fee private schools produce higher learning levels than the state government schools” is highly questionable. One can think about the levels of learning in private and public schools, only if the basic necessities of a human community are in proper shape. What is the value of learning (also read as rote learning) if it only feeds the colonialist/capitalist designs of epistemological and ontological exclusivity and fails to contribute to the diverse practical experiences of everyday life?
With respect to these arguments, the following section, through analyzing the ‘Green School’ initiative in Bhutan, will make an effort to explore the various possibilities of how the phenomena of ‘education’ can be ‘educated’ in the forms of sustainable development and community building.
Green School in Bhutan
The practice of ‘Green School’ was conceptualized by the ex-Education Minister of Bhutan Mr. Thakur Singh Powdyel. During a national address he mentioned:
Educating for Gross National Happiness is essentially an invitation to Education, to all of us educators, to look for and to discover the soul behind our role. We are returning to the original and the authentic purpose of education – a process that gently draws the human mind to look for and to love what is true and good and beautiful and useful – values inherent in the goal of education. We are, in effect, returning to the root of education-educare meaning to draw out.
Within this project of ‘educating for Gross National Happiness’ the ‘Green School’ initiative plays a pivotal role. Dawa Drakpa and Rinchen Dorji, in their article “Green School for Green Bhutan” (2013) defines ‘Green School’ as “the idea to educate youth to use the natural environment to teach students concepts in all disciplines, while emphasizing hands on real world learning experiences”. The eight major components of ‘Green School’ are as follows:
Natural Greenery: The central idea of natural greenery is to learn and share knowledge in collaboration with the natural environment. The physical environment of the school should be organized in such a manner that the cleanliness and the neatness of the natural environment should prominently appear. A natural greenery can promote values like “beauty, cleanliness, purity, aesthetic, naturalistic, respect to nature, love, carefulness, sense of belonging, peace, harmony, sustainability, etc.
Intellectual Greenery: The knowledge, moral values, ethical sensibility and virtues that is offered by nature to the human minds significantly and holistically contributes to the intellectual development of the human civilization. Intellectual greenery enhances values like “thoughtfulness, determination, purpose, readiness, confidence, attention, concentration, contemplation, usefulness, helpfulness, worth and utility.”
Academic Greenery: The natural green environment enables students and teachers to learn and share in a collaborative and practical manner. In other words, individuals not only gain knowledge through the written theoretical documents of the text books, but also get the scope of applying them in real life. Academic greenery contributes towards values like “appreciations, admiration, respect, honour, esteem, enjoyment, pleasure, happiness, satisfaction and delight among many others.”
Social Greenery: Working closely in/with nature allows individuals to develop collective social values. The individuals are able to overcome the ‘bad faith’ that self-development is synonymous to community development. Apart from developing one’s own self, nature also teaches us to how to share and learn with/from each other. This is how social greenery enhances “unity, sharing, teamwork, harmony, peace, togetherness, commonness, oneness, cooperation, tranquillity, serenity, composure, etc.”
Cultural Greenery: This process of diverse learning from the natural environment has a massive influence on the individual and collective cultural development as well. On the one hand the collation between nature and culture not only gives a unique cultural dimension to Bhutan, but also it keeps the local natives attached to their indigenous roots of origin. Cultural greenery adds “identity, personality, character, uniqueness, individuality, distinctiveness, tranquillity, sovereignty, autonomy, comfort, peace and harmony” to one’s life.
Spiritual Greenery: Nature also adds a lot to the spiritual development of individuals. Nature enables individuals to blend spirituality with rationality. Instead of seeking spirituality in the lifeless ritualistic practices of existence, spiritual greenery enables individuals to inculcate spiritual values in the form of “belief, relation, strength, dependence, trust, hope, faith, devotion, loyalty, sincerity, allegiance, conviction, confidence and reliance”. These virtues give birth to spiritual rationality and rational spirituality amongst communities.
Aesthetic Greenery: Nature also shapes the aesthetic beauty of an individual. It makes people realize the differences between ‘appearance’ and ‘reality’. It also provokes individuals to build a strong shield against the mechanical seductions of technological invasion. Therefore, aesthetic greenery is crucial to build “truth, honesty, integrity, appreciation, selection, insight, admiration, adoration, pleasant, satisfaction, contentment, fulfilment and satiation”.
Moral Greenery: The final component of the ‘Green School’ initiative is moral greenery. The natural environment plays a pivotal role in developing a sense of “productive citizenry” and “noble values” through “judgement, analysis, reasoning, logic, interpretation, illumination and enlightenment”.
Altogether, the ‘Green School’ initiative in Bhutan has amalgamated three crucial aspects of non-authoritative, de-hierarchical and indigenous modes of knowledge production – practical education, community building and sustainable development. As a result, amidst this severe biomedical pandemic when most of the countries are suffering from severe crisis of basic necessities (food, groceries, etc.), Bhutan’s ecological consciousness has enabled the people to ensure the sufficient availability of agricultural and grocery items because with respect to the eight components, the ‘Green School’ teaches each and every individual of the country to be self-sufficient and share their self-sufficiency with each other through effective community building and sustainable development. Each and every school and almost each and every households make sure they have sufficient physical spaces for agriculture and livestock farming. “It is mandatory for the school campuses to keep separate plots of land for harvesting. After the various agricultural items grow, they are supplied to the student hostels for their consumption and whatever is left the school authorities sell it at a subsidized rate in the public markets.” This is how, to date, Bhutan has remained detached from the ‘planetary universities’ of knowledge production and established ‘eco(di)versities’ of its own. I would like to non-conclude by saying that the arguments, reflections and possibilities that have been shared through this article are not ‘ultimate doctrines’, but a sincere effort to open up new avenues of learning and sharing across the globe.
Dr.Sayan Dey grew up in Kolkata, West Bengal. He completed B.A. (English), M.A. (English) and PhD (English) from Banaras Hindu University, Varanasi and is currently working as Lecturer, Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. Before joining there he worked as an Assistant Professor, Amity Law School, Noida and Lecturer at Faculty of Humanities, Royal Thimphu College, Bhutan.