I’ve just returned from Bhutan, the small Himalayan kingdom renowned for its pursuit of gross national happiness (GNH) instead of gross domestic product (GDP). While there, I attended the international conference on GNH, a meeting of hundreds of academics and practitioners all interested in different aspects of GNH, from economic models to promoting the values of GNH.

There are four central pillars of GNH:

-sustainable and equitable socioeconomic development

-conservation of the environment

-preservation and promotion of culture

-good governance

All policies are screened against these four pillars.

GNH is pursued through activities across 9 domains, relating to psychological wellbeing, health, living standards, ecological diversity and resilience, good governance, cultural diversity and resilience, community vitality, education, and time use.

Of course, my interest was in the educational sphere. My conference paper explored the potential of outdoor learning experiences to support teaching of the values of GNH. My research on learning at forest school shows that the greatest learning at forest school concerns children’s personal, social and emotional development. The impact on children’s engagement with nature  and their sense of valuing nature is also important, and learning in this area is greater than the more widely expected learning about nature itself (e.g. biology, geography).  (See Harris, F. 2015 The nature of learning at forest school, published by Education 3-13 and available online at their website.)

I argued that learning about personal and social development, and engagement and valuing nature, complement the GNH values which are to be embedded in teaching within Bhutanese schools. Outdoor learning will not, in itself, support teaching of all GNH values, but can go a significant way towards teaching in this area. Further, the move to outdoor learning could be an enjoyable change for schools which have taken a fairly formal, traditional approach to learning. The move outdoors can be stimulating as it releases children from the constraints of the 4 walls of the classroom, and the tules for behaviour in the classroom. Outdoor settings provide freedoms: to move, to be noisier, to interact more, which can be a real relief for students who find sitting still or have ADHD. (These ideas are explored further in a paper I am writing at the moment).

A new ‘Green schools for a green Bhutan’ programme is supporting a transition to new learning styles. I was fortunate to be able to visit several schools, and do some work with pupils. I made films for the ‘Royal Tutorial Project’ on plant growth, management of soil fertility and valuing biodiversity. These films, aimed at 13-16 year olds and the general public, are aired on a Sunday evenings on  TV, by the Bhutan Broadcasting Service. A fourth film, showcasing some very successful examples of outdoor learning in schools will, I hope, encourage more teachers to take their children outside.