A professor at Boulder’s Buddhist-inspired Naropa University is in Costa Rica for a two-week trip that began Monday, to work with faculty at the University of Costa Rica to integrate more gross national happiness index components into their education system.
Debbie Young, chair of Naropa’s contemplative education department, has become a pioneering international expert and consultant in education based on the gross national happiness index, a measurement of happiness implemented by the South Asian country Bhutan starting in the 1970s.
Young received Fulbright grant to work with University of Costa Rica
She has spent much of the last four years working with the Royal University of Bhutan on a similar project.
Bhutan, which is situated between China and India, has been a pioneer in implementing the gross national happiness index, which focuses on the collective pursuit of happiness and is a holistic approach to progress.
The gross national happiness index is a spinoff from the gross domestic product, an economic vitality measurement used by most other countries.
Bhutanese leaders asked Young to help them better integrate the four pillars of the happiness index into their education system — good governance, sustainable socioeconomic development, cultural preservation and environmental conservation.
“If they were going to show the world, because the world is watching in a sense, what the gross national happiness index is, what would the educational pedagogy or practice look like?” Young said. “There isn’t another country in the world that has a holistic education framework as their national policy. There’s nowhere to go and copy and paste this.”
She’s leading a multi-year study with 85 Bhutanese lecturers to help them explore what a new gross national happiness-based model would look like.
One of the changes they’ve implemented already addresses their disciplinary processes, Young said. Rather than kick the “naughty” kids out of school, they’ve created a separate room for those students.
Inside that room, counselors, teachers and elderly adults from the community help the students with self regulation through music, dance, basket-making, wood-carving and other cultural activities.
That solution solves two problems at once — not only are the students being kept off the streets for misbehaving, but it gives the elderly adults a renewed purpose. As more Bhutanese families move from urban areas, the extended family structure has changed, and the elders, which used to have high positions in the family, are often left alone.
“Why don’t we take these elders who are feeling a little bit on the margins and now bring them into these classrooms?” she said. “They’re really trying to come up with some creative ideas and not just cookie-cutter the rest of the world. They’re not 100 percent there. They’re in the process.”
Her work in Bhutan, and now Costa Rica, has given Young an even clearer view of some of the shortcomings of the American education system.
“In reality, if we look at the U.S., our bottom line is always the dollar,” she said. “Everything we do for our schools and by our schools is because of the dollar and that isn’t the way that education is run there. The dollar is considered and so are other things, such as ‘What part of our budget is going to be put into conserving the environment?’ at each school. It’s just this thoughtful process.”
The parallels between Bhutan’s gross national happiness index and the contemplative education at Naropa has led to a partnership between the two schools. Next spring, Naropa students will travel to the Royal University of Bhutan for the first formal study abroad program there.
Most classes in Bhutan also start with a moment of silence so that the students and educators can reflect on their intentions, Young said.
“You just see people really reflecting about themselves and making really informed choices about who they want to be as a teacher,” she said. “Pedagogy is about your state of being, not just your teaching strategy.”
Source: Daily Camera