Innovative Curricula and Methods
To connect students with nature we try to bring nature into the classroom and the classroom into nature. Thus we teach some core science classes in neighbouring farmers’ fields, studying the plants and animals, learning where the rains come from and how vegetables grow. In the process, we also convey, in completely secular terms, teachings on karma and interdependent arising that are core to the ancient wisdom traditions of this country.
For example, we developed a five-lesson unit on composting that taught core scientific principles within a context of local culture and deep respect for nature’s processes. We turned these units into a radio play that was broadcast nationwide by Bhutan Broadcasting Service.
Teaching economics, we examine where our daily products come from, under what social and environmental conditions they were produced, and how they are disposed.
For example, we constructed lessons comparing purchase of Coca-Cola vs. Bumthang apple juice – their and health effects, the containers (apple juice in re-used bottles), their origin (imported or local), company ownership, environmental and economic impacts, including the degree to which money spent stays in the local community, and more.
We teach math from a GNH perspective: For example, to teach 10 minus 6 = 4, our example is that a child from the local army base comes to school with 10 items in her lunch pack. But two village children from poor families have come to school without lunch, so she gives 3 of her lunch items to each of those children. How many does she have left for herself?
And we teach practical skills that are in short supply in today’s world of mushrooming consumer debt – like how to balance income and expenses. One example is that a family takes out a loan to buy a car but finds (too late) that monthly debt payments leave the family short of other necessities, and they can no longer support aging parents in their home village.
Community service is built into all we do, and our students recently participated in a major local dump site cleanup organized by the Samdrup Jongkhar lnitiative, to prevent polluting leachate from reaching the local river and water sources, combining their service with real learning on science and ecology.
And we do not rely on the high stakes testing that causes immense stress and often feelings of failure. Instead we evaluate and assess our students individually, with testing is only a measure of understanding and never a cause for failure. Every student is good at something, so we encourage the particular strengths and talents of individual students – whether written, musical, mechanical, poetic, mathematical, artistic, etc.
In a world where indigenous languages and cultures are dying, we encourage the use of the local language of the region, which is not used in government schools. But we have also focused on raising students’ English language skills, since these are crucial in today’s world.
Above all, we try to make learning fun and enjoyable, and never a burden. So we have local excursions, story and movie nights, outdoor activities, games and treasure hunts that might require students to solve basic problems and riddles to find the next clue, writing and producing videos, songs, and artwork.
Perhaps most importantly, we create opportunities for students to develop their creativity, critical thinking, and problem solving skills. And to foster personal responsibility and creativity we also leave individual study time, so that learning is not only associated with sitting behind a classroom desk as in so much conventional education.