Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Article: Gross national happiness in Bhutan: the big idea from a tiny state that could change the world

Original Article written by Annie Kelly for The Guardian - Saturday 1, December 2012

Bhutan measures prosperity by gauging its citizens' happiness levels, not the GDP. Now its ideas are attracting interest at the UN climate change conference in Doha

A series of hand-painted signs dot the side of the winding mountain road that runs between the airport and the Bhutanese capital, Thimphu. Instead of commands to cut speed or check mirrors, they offer the traveller a series of life-affirming mantras. "Life is a journey! Complete it!" says one, while another urges drivers to, "Let nature be your guide". Another, standing on the edge of a perilous curve, simply says: "Inconvenience regretted."

It's a suitably uplifting welcome to visitors to this remote kingdom, a place of ancient monasteries, fluttering prayer flags and staggering natural beauty. Less than 40 years ago, Bhutan opened its borders for the first time. Since then, it has gained an almost mythical status as a real-life Shangri-La, largely for its determined and methodical pursuit of the most elusive of concepts – national happiness.

Since 1971, the country has rejected GDP as the only way to measure progress. In its place, it has championed a new approach to development, which measures prosperity through formal principles of gross national happiness (GNH) and the spiritual, physical, social and environmental health of its citizens and natural environment.

For the past three decades, this belief that wellbeing should take preference over material growth has remained a global oddity. Now, in a world beset by collapsing financial systems, gross inequity and wide-scale environmental destruction, this tiny Buddhist state's approach is attracting a lot of interest.

As world leaders prepare to meet in Doha on Monday for the second week of the UN climate change conference, Bhutan's stark warning that the rest of the world is on an environmental and economical suicide path is starting to gain traction. Last year the UN adopted Bhutan's call for a holistic approach to development, a move endorsed by 68 countries. A UN panel is now considering ways that Bhutan's GNH model can be replicated across the globe.

As representatives in Doha struggle to find ways of reaching a consensus on global emissions, Bhutan is also being held up as an example of a developing country that has

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Article: Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less

Original Article written by Peter Gray for The Independent - Sunday 12, January 2014

Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative or discover their own passions

I’m a research bio-psychologist with a PhD, so I’ve done lots of school. I’m a pretty good problem-solver, in my work and in the rest of my life, but that has little to do with the schooling I’ve had. I studied algebra, trig, calculus and various other maths in school, but I can’t recall ever facing a problem – even in my scientific research – that required those skills. What maths I’ve used was highly specialised and, as with most scientists, I learnt it on the job.

The real problems I’ve faced in life include physical ones (such as how to operate a newfangled machine at work or unblock the toilet at home), social ones (how to get that perfect woman to be interested in me), moral ones (whether to give a passing grade to a student, for effort, though he failed all the tests), and emotional ones (coping with grief when my first wife died or keeping my head when I fell through the ice while pond skating). Most problems in life cannot be solved with formulae or memorised answers of the type learnt in school. They require the judgement, wisdom and creative ability that come from life experiences. For children, those experiences are embedded in play.

I’m lucky. I grew up in the United States in the 1950s, at the tail end of what the historian Howard Chudacoff refers to as the “golden age” of children’s free play. The need for child labour had declined greatly, decades earlier, and adults had not yet begun to take away the freedom that children had gained. We went to school, but it wasn’t the big deal it is today. School days were six hours long, but (in primary school) we had half-hour recesses in the morning and afternoon, and an hour at lunch. Teachers may or may not have watched us, from a distance, but if they did, they rarely intervened. We wrestled on the school grounds, climbed trees in the adjacent woods, played with knives and had snowball wars in winter – none of which would be allowed today at any state-run school I know of. Out of school, we had some chores and some of us had part-time jobs such as paper rounds (which gave us a sense of maturity and money of our own); but, for the most part, we were free – free to play for hours each day after school, all day on weekends, and all summer long. Homework was non-existent in primary school and minimal in secondary school. There seemed to be an implicit understanding, then, that children need lots of time and freedom to play.

I’m writing, here, in response to the news that the independent School Teachers Review Body is due to report back this week to Michael Gove on his plan to make school days longer and holidays shorter. The Education Secretary’s hope is that more hours in school will raise test scores in the UK to the level of those in China, Singapore and other East Asian nations. Paradoxically, Gove’s proposal has appeared just a few months after the Chinese ministry of education issued a report – entitled Ten Regulations to Lessen Academic Burden for Primary School Students – calling for less time in school, less homework and less reliance on test scores as a means of evaluating schools.

Educators in East Asian nations have increasingly been acknowledging the massive failure of their educational systems. According to the scholar and author Yong Zhao, who is an