The Social Outcomes of Learning
By: Lyonpo Om Pardhan during the World Innvoation Summit for Education(WISE) at Doha, Qatar 1st November, 2011

"Mr. Chairman, I would like to praise the Qatar Foundation for the wisdom and foresight in instituting the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE). I also respectfully commend and congratulate the Chairperson, Her Highness Sheikha Moza bint Nasser on her leadership in making such a great success of the work of WISE since its inception. WISE has indeed given the world a forum to advance the cause of education through innovation, development and a multi-sectoral approach.

I also take this opportunity to congratulate the Chairman, His Excellency Sheikh Abdulla bin Ali Al-Thani for the leadership and guidance that he has been providing to WISE.

Bhutan attaches the highest priority to education. This is demonstrated by what our King, His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck said: "If there is one word that will stand out above all other words to describe the country's amazing journey of modernization over the last few decades - it was Education. Our institutions, our leaders of today, all of us, including me are the proud products of the Bhutanese education system." Education has, therefore, been the key to Bhutanese social and economic change and progress during the last half a century.

From the Bhutanese perspective, the ultimate objective of education is to advance the overall economic, social, cultural and religious well-being and livelihood of the people. Economic growth is only one of the components. This holistic development is to be achieved through a philosophy, which we refer to as Gross National Happiness or GNH. This approach seeks to reconcile and harmonize the varied objectives of the Bhutanese people. It includes the preservation of our natural environment, the promotion of our culture and way of life, sustainable economic development, good transparent governance that ensures peace, tolerance and stability.

Bhutan's GNH approach becomes more the relevant as it is now well accepted that the growing levels of consumerism we see worldwide, are not sustainable. Resources are finite. The expanding use of hydrocarbons coupled with the simultaneous loss of biodiversity and forest cover, is resulting in global warming and climate change. The adverse effects of climate change are already being acutely felt in Bhutan, specifically in the form of receding glaciers and the threat of glacial lake dam bursts. Various countries have witnessed excessive rains and floods, droughts, changing crop patterns, and a resulting shortage of food and water. Moreover, both developed and developing societies are grappling with an array of related social issues, from increasing economic inequality, to the loss of cultural identity, and other social evils. The United Nations estimated that the world population reached seven billion just yesterday on 31st October, and will increase to 15 billion by 2030. In this scenario the problems that I mentioned will but only multiply.

At the same time, many governments and private companies continue with single-minded initiatives that seek to maximize profits and economic performance. There seems to be little or no regard for the broader social and environmental impact of their activities, nor to the long-term sustainability of their operations. Short-term performance, reflected in financial statements and stock prices, is given priority seemingly regardless of the consequences.

Ultimately, it is evident that unrestrained consumerism, which results in ever-increasing production using nonrenewable resources that pushes market demand, cannot be sustained. Apart from the inherent limitations posed by nonrenewable resources, it is, perhaps, an impossible task to expect that we will be able to satiate the human appetite for such manufactured wants and desires. In the end, such an approach will threaten the world's long-term survival.

There is, however, reason to hope. As intelligent beings, humans can rise above short-term, selfish thinking and behavior. We must take initiatives that seek to promote the well-being of the greater community and society in a sustainable manner. To this end, the Bhutanese people have adopted, and are working to realize what I mentioned earlier, that is, the philosophy of Gross National Happiness or GNH.

One of our most recent steps to promoting a balanced approach to education is the launching of the first education city project in our country. This is with a view to develop appropriate infrastructure, a common space to support a community of learning. By using the education city as a foundation, Bhutan will work with international educational institutions to develop a new approach to education, an approach that will promote sustainability and long-term thinking, an approach to ensure that future generations will be better stewards of our societies and the earth, an approach that will take GNH fully into consideration. In this regard, I must say that Qatar's education city has been an inspiration to us.

The education city that we envisage is also quite innovative. It is expected to bring about paradigm shifts in learning in the country, and the region. It is what could be referred to as "break-the-mold" project. The city will house national institutions as well as those from abroad. The expectation is to have a wide variety of excellent facilities catering to different academic disciplines within one area, with all physical needs that educational institutions require. Some of the key thematic areas of studies that can be offered in the Bhutan Education City are: biodiversity, climate change, sustainable development, hospitality and tourism, hydropower and energy, religious studies, politics and democracy and the study of the GNH.

Bhutan continues to propagate the GNH philosophy. Recently, in collaboration with the UNDP, Earth Institute of Columbia University, along with scientists and academics, Bhutan is working on forming policy recommendations that will be presented at the United Nations Conference on Sustainable Development, RIO+20, which takes place in June next year. Bhutan is committed to promoting a sustainable and progressive human civilization within a peaceful and secure environment.

Finally, coming back to Bhutan's education city project, since the education city will benefit from investments and ideas, we welcome prospective investors, educationists, universities and institutions to come and discuss with us and have a look. They can then see for themselves if they can contribute to our endeavor, and together become catalysts in bringing positive social outcomes through learning for Bhutan and the people of the world.

Thank you."


Last Updated on Thursday, 22 March 2012 09:53