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 GNH 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.
“We were innocent and life was simpler. Then Bhutan opened up to the world, received more tourists. And, as they learnt more, the youth became arrogant,” he said, explaining what life in Bhutan was like prior to modernisation.
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.
“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.”
Published in: The New Straits Times, Wednesday 18 September 2019
The Ministry of Education has long acknowledged the emphasis in improving the quality of English proficiency amongst students as well as teachers through the introduction and implementation of several key policies.
The policies, which include Upholding the Malay Language and Strengthening Command of English (MBMMBI) introduced in 2010, outline the plan to strengthen English proficiency in students as the international language of communication and knowledge.
This was followed by the Malaysia Education Blueprint 2013-2025 (MEB), which sets the aspiration for students to be proficient in both Bahasa Malaysia and English. Although the MEB outlines key steps needed to be taken to achieve its aspiration, there was also a need to empirically understand the level of English proficiency when it is benchmarked against internationally recognised standards.
Hence, the Cambridge Baseline 2013 commissioned by the Education Ministry and carried out to evaluate English learning, teaching and assessment from preschool to pre-university levels. The report suggested that the level of English language education system may only be sufficient for the needs of the past. However, it also indicated that the level of English is not sufficient for us to succeed as a nation in a globalised world that requires English for international communications of all kinds. Hence, what we really need to do is to reform the entire national programme for the teaching and learning of English from preschool to graduation.
Genuine change can only be brought about by the adoption of a holistic and integrated approach. This can be carried out by putting together a coherent programme that encompasses every component of the education system relating to the delivery of the English language programme — curriculum, teaching and learning, and assessment.
This is what the English Language Road Map 2015-2025, led by the English Language Teaching Centre, sets out to do. To ensure that learners achieve what they are capable of achieving, we need a continuous and sufficient supply of high-calibre English teachers, learning materials of international standard, and a conducive and supportive learning environment.
The formal learning of English has to be supported by a highly immersive English-rich environment (e.g. the Highly Immersive Programme at school level, and the ecosystem for English Language Learning at tertiary level), which extends learning to spaces beyond the classroom, so that learners can apply what they learn in the classroom to real-life situations.
The road map provides an overview of English language education in Malaysia, covering all stages of learning from preschool to tertiary education, from pre-service to in-service teacher training, and the development of coherent learner-oriented programmes at every stage complemented by reliable and valid methods of assessment. It sets proficiency target levels (generally known as aspirational targets) for learners at all stages, and includes an implementation plan to ensure that learners progress from the current situation described in the Baseline Study in 2013 to the 2025 target.
The baseline study as well as the Cambridge Evaluation Study 2017 evaluate where our students and teachers actually are when referenced against the 2025 Common European Framework of Reference (CEFR) aspirational targets. Components of the CEFR include the global proficiency scale and the “can do” statements. The CEFR distinguishes five communicative skills, namely listening, reading, spoken interaction, spoken production and writing. Although the CEFR is targeted at understanding students’ English proficiency, English language teachers too have an important role to play in the implementation of the reform and will have to be at a certain skill level.
The same goes for teacher trainers (i.e. lecturers at the Teachers Training Institutes and universities) who deliver the courses to pre-service teachers. This is important to ensure that teachers are fully familiar with international standards in language teaching and learning.
The adoption of the CEFR at school level will have consequences for Higher Learning Institutions (HLIs). The primary and secondary curriculum for English language has been aligned to the CEFR progressively starting with Primary 1 and Form 1 in 2017 through the revised Standard Curriculum for Primary Schools (KSSR) and new Secondary School Standard Curriculum (KSSM).
Students will take the English language paper in the national assessment that is aligned to CEFR in 2021 (for Sijil Pelajaran Malaysia) and 2022 (for Ujian Pencapaian Sekolah Rendah) respectively. English language programmes in HLIs are also being aligned to the CEFR, so that the learning experience provided for secondary students going up to university is integrated and continuous. HLIs will, therefore, retain the responsibility to devise their own CEFR-aligned English language programmes.
The idea of the ecosystem is that the different components (including classroom and beyond classroom activities) work smoothly together to optimise the learning experience for the student.
The ultimate goal is to create a favourable campus-wide ecosystem for learning English, placing the students in a collaborative learning atmosphere and requiring them to put into practice what they learn in the classroom, so that they are able to develop their skills and knowledge in line with the expectations of the jobs market.
Dr Amin Senin is director general of Education and Dr Siti Hamisah Tapsir is director-general of Higher Education, Education Ministry
Published in: The New Straits Times, 22 May 2019
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