In a move to adopt Gross National Happiness (GNH)-inspired education, all the colleges under the Royal University of Bhutan (RUB), have started to to conduct “mindfulness practice” classes which see a large number of students and teachers on a regular basis.
“I feel calm and stress-free, and I can focus more on my studies after attending the sessions,” said Kinley Dorji, a student from Sherubtse College, who has now become a fan of these classes.
Kinley Dorji described himself as an aggressive, irritable person before attending the mindfulness classes.
Sherubtse College started having a separate one-hour session on mindfulness about two weeks back; around 100-plus students attend the session now.
“We take the sessions on two consecutive days every week,” said a Dzongkha lecturer, Chimi Dorji, who also coordinates and instructs the practitioners.
RUB conducted a workshop earlier this year in Paro where lecturers and directors from the various colleges were trained on the practice and briefed on GNH values and principles by faculty members from Naropa University in the United States.
According to the Director of Jigme Namgyal Polytechnics (JNP), Andu Dukpa, all the staff from his college are made to attend such workshops.
RUB is aiming to have separate mindfulness classes in all the colleges apart from those under its aegis.
“Mindfulness should be the defining character of our educational process”, said the Director of Research and External Relations at the RUB, Dorji Thinley, “It is very necessary.”
Dean of Student Affairs, Tshering Wangdi, from Sherubtse College feels that the classes should continue as the response from all the students has been positive so far.
Trainees of institutes like the Royal Institute of Management (RIM) also want mindfulness practice classes in their curriculum.
“As we prepare to take on adult responsibilities, it’s important that we have the character and depth of understanding needed to generate positive energies in the communities,” said Karma Sonam, a RIM trainee.
But Dorji Thinley said that initially it may be necessary to make special arrangements for the sessions.
But “once it becomes the quintessence of what and how we teach and learn there will be no need for separate classes”, he added.
Mindfulness is practiced in Samtse and Paro Colleges of Education as well but the trainees do not attend separate classes.
Changes have been noticed in students after attending the classes, especially those with disciplinary problems.
However, a student, Rangupati, who is a practitioner at Sherubtse College feels that the practice suppresses the mind from thinking and functioning in certain ways.
“In one way we are learning to concentrate and focus our mind on something but at the same time we are preventing our minds from being creative,” said the Life Science final year student.
As per RUB annual report 2011, the project is envisaged to continue for the next 10 to 12 years eventually leading to the award of PhDs in GNH pedagogy.