The Green School Initiative in Bhutan: A Long-Term Solution to Future Pandemics

Co-Written by Sayan Dey and Malati Sunar

green school bhutan

Introduction: An Overview

This article is a continuation of the arguments about the importance of ecological consciousness as a powerful antidote against future pandemics, which we have put forward in the article “Why Bhutan Is An Outlier In The Fight Against Coronvirus?” In the previous article we have mentioned about the ‘green school’ initiative in Bhutan “which plays an instrumental role in instilling ecological consciousness amongst individuals from their very childhood days” (Dey and Sunar 2020).

This article will be specifically focusing on the aspect of green school initiative of Bhutan and how it can be a long-term solution to any form of future pandemics across the globe. Since the advent of COVID-19, the world has undergone a massive “geopolitical change” with re-configurations of the existing power structures on the one side and the evolution of new power dynamics on the other. As COVID-19 evolved as a biomedical threat, immediately the medical laboratories across the globe started brainstorming together to discover the best and the most powerful antidote to overcome this severe pandemic as soon as possible. But, does the antidote(s) ensure that there will no such threat in the near future? Instead of manufacturing temporary antidotes, isn’t it necessary for us to look for long-term permanent solutions to avoid such crisis in the near future?

The green school initiative in Bhutan is such a kind of initiative, which has been successful to keep the present pandemic under control by embedding ecological consciousness within the collective socio-cultural psyche not just as a temporary academic and research framework, but as a permanent way of life. The next section will reflect upon the various dimensions of green school practices.

What is a Green School?

The initiative of green school was developed by the former Education Minister of Bhutan Thakur Singh Powdyel and it was inspired by the Fourth King of Bhutan Jigme Singye Wangchuck. According to Thakur Singh Powdyel:

Green Schools is not just about the environment, it is a philosophy, so we are trying to instill a sense of green minds, which are flexible and open to different types of learning. It’s a values-led approach to education that stems from the belief that education should be more than academic attainment, it should be about expanding children’s minds and teaching what is to be human – and at the forefront of this is the conservation of the natural environment.

The initiative was flagged off towards the end of 2009 and it is an integral part of the Gross National Happiness (GNH) plan. The green school initiative is underlined with the following objectives:

  1. Nature as Teacher: The first and the foremost objective of this initiative is to regard nature as a teacher. With respect to this aspect, there are eight components which the schools in Bhutan try to practice on a daily basis: natural greenery (planting trees, shaping gardens and growing fruits, vegetables and cereals), intellectual greenery (to gain moral and cultural values from nature), academic greenery (to understand science and philosophy as taught by the text books through natural surroundings), social greenery (to learn peace, harmony, togetherness and tranquility from nature and to indulge with all forms of physical constructions like school buildings, etc. in proper balance with nature), cultural greenery (to learn from nature the various ways through which one can be rooted one’s culture on the one side and embrace the temporal changes on the other), spiritual greenery (to learn faith, devotion, loyalty and sincerity from nature), aesthetic greenery (to eternalize the value of beauty through the natural surroundings) and moral greenery (to enlighten and enrich one’s body and mind through the greeneries around). These eight components, which are inculcated and practiced by the students and the teachers in schools on a daily basis, contribute towards the holistic growth of the society in Bhutan. From the very childhood days, the individuals are imbibed with the ideology that nature is not a ‘resource’ for exploitation and overuse, but a foundation for all forms of civilizational activities in our daily life. Therefore, ecological preservation is given utmost importance in every facet of existence.
  2. Agricultural Self-sufficiency: This green school initiative has also enabled Bhutan to be an agriculturally self-sufficient nation. Based on the different climactic conditions across the country, the students and the teachers work together to plant various cereals and vegetables in their respective school campuses. It is mandatory for the school campuses to keep separate plots of land for harvesting. After the various agricultural items grow, they are supplied to the student hostels for their consumption and whatever is left the school authorities sell it at a subsidized rate in the public markets.

With every school adopting this practice across Bhutan, it ensures infrastructural stability as well. Especially during situations like COVID-19, when the entire world is under lockdown and is reeling under severe crisis of basic necessities, the situation in Bhutan is quite stable. Environmental conservation in Bhutan, through the green school initiative, has kept the infection rate remarkably low as compared to other nations with so called better medical infrastructures. Though, due to preventive measures the country is under lockdown, yet, unlike its neighbors, there has been no crisis with respect to basic necessities like food, water and shelter.

Conclusion: A Long-Term Counter-Resistance

Since time immemorial, historical records have been documenting the various pandemics that this world has experienced over different spatio-temporal moments. But, in spite of experiencing severe downfalls in the past, hardly any initiative has been taken till date in formulating long-term solutions to cope with such challenges. Instead, the counter-resistance has only remained limited within the discovery of temporary antidotes in the laboratories. So, an initiative like green school generates far-sighted long-term possibilities of counter-resistance against any form of future pandemics and Bhutan stands as a glowing example. Already several countries like Canada, Italy, France, Thailand, Spain, Japan and Vietnam have started planning to adopt green school measures as a habitual part of teaching and learning, and several other countries are on the way to do it. Thakur Singh Powdyel’s book My Green School has been translated into several languages like Spanish, Catalan, Vietnamese and German and translations in several other languages are under way. Therefore, this practice of green school can be globally integrated to create a future that is “more relevant, thoughtful and aligned with sustainable practices”.

Dr. Sayan Dey is currently working as a Lecturer in Yonphula Centenary College, Royal University of Bhutan. His areas of research interests lies in postcolonial studies, cultural studies, race studies, sociology and decolonial studies. Email id [email protected]

Malati Sunar completed her Masters in English from Yonphula Centenary College in 2018. She wrote her dissertation on Margaret Atwood’s Oryx and Crake. She is currently working as a teacher in Lhayul Primary School.  Email id [email protected]



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