Silver Donald Cameron

Posts Tagged ‘GPI Atlantic’

The Prime Minister of Bhutan

Tuesday, December 29th, 2009

December 27, 2009

“Nature cannot continue to absorb the abuses that we are throwing at it,” the Prime Minister told me. “The world is finite, and economic growth cannot continue to take place except with considerable cost to this generation and generations in the future.

“It is time that the world understood that we should talk about growth with a different understanding — growth of the individual, growth of the mind, growth of happiness. What really constitutes wealth? What is prosperity, and what is being rich? I think these have to be understood more in human terms, in terms of relationships and in an ecological sense.”

The Prime Minister of Canada? Ah, I wish! But no: the speaker was His Excellency Jigme Y. Thinley, the Prime Minister of Bhutan, a Himalayan kingdom smaller and less populous than Nova Scotia. Nearly 40 years ago, Bhutan’s Fourth King declared that “Gross National Happiness is more important than Gross National Product,” bravely setting his tiny nation on a unique path to development. In 2006 he abdicated in favour of his 27-year-old son. In 2008, ancient Bhutan became the world’s youngest democracy, its commitment to Gross National Happiness intact.

Gross National Happiness sounds like wide-eyed California mind-mush, but it’s as rigorous as most economic measurements — and far more useful. GNH rests on “four pillars” of value that almost everyone accepts. The first pillar is environmental conservation, caring for nature and others. Second is cultural promotion, preserving the wisdom of an ancient and cherished culture. Third is sustainable and equitable development that benefits all citizens, past and future as well as present. Fourth is “good governance,” the inculcation of active and responsible citizenship.

These “pillars” are divided into nine “domains,” which in turn are broken down to 72 measurable variables. One variable reflects Bhutan’s commitment to maintain at least 60% forest cover forever. In actual fact, 72% of Bhutan is forested, 52% is protected, and Bhutan presently absorbs three times as much carbon as it produces. Similarly, between 1984 and 1994, life expectancy rose from 48 to 66 years, while infant mortality was cut in half. The country now has universal health care and universal free education.

That’s solid data. And that’s GNH in action.

Bhutan has serious problems, including the controversial status of Bhutanese refugees of Nepali origin, a relentless rural-urban migration that has created a restless cohort of unemployed urban youth, and the advent of western-style materialism resulting from the introduction of TV and the internet a decade ago — all of which make GNH even more urgent.

To help entrench GNH values in Bhutan’s civic consciousness, Prime Minister Thinley turned to GPI Atlantic of St. Margaret’s Bay, the creators of Nova Scotia’s own Genuine Progress Index. Assembling educators and others from 16 countries, GPI convened a workshop in Thimphu, the capital, in early December, on “Educating for Gross National Happiness.”

So I found myself in Bhutan, listening to a sparkling five-day debate on education attended by both the Prime Minister and the Education Minister. What would the graduate of a GNH-infused education look like? How would you develop and nurture such a student?

After two days, Ron Colman of GPI made an amazing announcement. Overnight — literally — the government had adopted the workshop’s findings as government policies. Now, how should those policies be implemented? Two days later, the government had committed to an immediate GNH workshop within the education department, followed six weeks later by a workshop for all school principals in the country. Within a year, the new policies would reach every schoolroom in Bhutan.

As the workshop ended, I asked the Prime Minister how Bhutan would be different in 10 years, if the GNH education program succeeded.

“I would like to see an educational system quite different from the conventional factory, where children are just turned out to become economic animals, thinking only for themselves,” he said. “I would like to see graduates that are more human beings, with human values, that give importance to relationships, that are eco-literate, contemplative, analytical.

“I would like graduates who know that success in life is a state of being when you can come home at the end of the day satisfied with what you have done, realizing that you are a happy individual not only because you have found happiness for yourself, but because you have given happiness, in this one day’s work, to your spouse, to your family, to your neighbours — and to the world at large.”

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What Nova Scotians Know

Sunday, March 2nd, 2008

One of the greatest intellectual skills is the ability to ask good questions – which is a prerequisite for discovering good answers. Nobody asks better questions than GPIAtlantic.

The Faithful Reader already knows my admiration for this little research organization from St. Margaret’s Bay, which has done so much to help us think more intelligently about the world and the frantic social flux we live in. GPI, you’ll recall, stands for “Genuine Progress Index,” as opposed to “Gross Domestic Product,” which has become our conventional – but unsatisfactory — indicator of progress.

The GDP is only about money. Increased sales of cars and cannelloni make the GDP go up, yes – but so do crime, disease and disasters. When Hurricane Juan strikes, the GDP counts all the costs of clean-up as economic growth, and thus as “progress. The GPI, by contrast, counts things which are destructive and harmful as negatives and deducts them from our overall well-being. Sounds like common sense? Yes, exactly.

In the past decade, GPIAtlantic has issued more than 80 reports about Nova Scotian society on topics as diverse as the social costs of obesity and tobacco use, the unrecognized cash value of volunteerism and unpaid housework, the destructive irrationality of our treatment of forests and fisheries. Each report is a piece of the Genuine Progress Index of Nova Scotia. When the index is complete, we will have an unique description of Nova Scotia’s quality of life, and a solid set of benchmarks against which to measure future progress or decline.

GPIAtlantic’s most recent report, just issued, is entitled How Educated Are Nova Scotians? Education Indicators for the Nova Scotia Genuine Progress Index. Predictably, the study reviewed such data as test scores, literacy, student debt and research financing. It came up with some interesting findings – for example, that the increasing reliance of schools on fund-raising is slowly creating a two-tiered educational system, where schools in wealthy neighbourhoods are much better equipped than schools in poorer districts.

The study reported that Nova Scotian university students graduate with a very heavy debt load, and that they work longer hours during the academic term than they ever have. It also revealed, rather shockingly, that although Nova Scotians today have more schooling than ever before, they are no more literate than they were a generation ago.

The usual report on education would have ended there, basing its findings on the assumption that “education” means “what the educational system does.” Instead, the GPI report turned the process on its head, asking not, “What do students learn?” but “What do Nova Scotians know – no matter where or how they learned it?”

So the GPIAtlantic study considered modes of learning which lie beyond the formal educational system. “Life-long learning” is the intellectual progress that continues throughout the individual’s lifetime. Life-wide learning is the education that takes place in informal settings like the home, the workplace, and the community, and through advertising and the media.

The end result of life-long and life-wide learning is a wide range of “literacies.” The GPIAtlantic team therefore attempted to assess Nova Scotians’ command not only of languages and numbers, but also their understanding of science, ecology, health, nutrition, civics, arts, culture, statistics, indigenous knowledge, and the media. We don’t have much data on the general level of public understanding, but GPI executive director Ronald Colman notes that high levels of literacy in these matters should be revealed in wise collective choices and intelligent public policies.

Alas, the report found little evidence that Nova Scotians are particularly literate in most of these areas, and in some – civics and politics, for example – younger people are actually less literate than their parents and grandparents, although they have much more schooling.

As is so often the case, the research was badly hampered by a lack of information.

“We don’t know how literate our people are on all those dimensions, and we don’t know whether their literacy levels in these and other knowledge areas are improving or not,” said Dr. Colman. So GPIAtlantic Statistics Canada to begin administering a Canadian Knowledge Survey, which would provide an evolving picture of population knowledge and wisdom – clearly an essential step.

For me, however, the report’s greatest contribution is its deep insight into the purposes of education. Learning starts with data, but it soon progresses to information and then to knowledge – and its final destination is wisdom. Understanding – otherwise known as literacy – is the factor that connects all four levels.

Without a broad spectrum of literacies, there is no possibility of attaining wisdom. And without wisdom, there is no possibility of creating a truly humane society and a sustainable way of life. In its deepest and broadest sense, that’s really what education is all about – and by reminding Nova Scotians of that fact, a report like How Educated are Nova Scotians does us a signal public service.

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