From the Tetons to the Himalayas: An Evolving Place-Based Partnership in Bhutan

Join us for a special summer blog series by our TSS-Bhutan Graduate Fellow, Emma Griffin, featuring the place-based education work that is happening with our partners in Bhutan. 

Bhutan, nestled between India and Tibet, China, is a peaceful and quiet Himalayan country known as The Land of the Thunder Dragon. It is home to the Takin (a unique animal that is said to be half cow, half goat), the beautiful Blue Poppy Flower and now place-based education (well, that’s the goal anyway).

In 2008, Teton Science Schools (TSS) and the Government of Bhutan entered into a partnership, initially signing a three-year agreement to pilot place-based education in Bhutan. In the ten plus years since, the partnership has evolved and developed, increasing the spread of place-based education (PBE) in Bhutan and building the capacity of PBE educators, administrators, and institutions.

Take a look at the accomplishments from the past 10+ years!

500+ teachers, lecturers, and curriculum officers attended place-based education training

2300+ participant days

31 teachers, school leaders, Ministry of Education staff, and Royal University of Bhutan lecturers have attended 2-week programs at Teton Science Schools in 5 delegations.  

7 graduate students have completed the 1-year-long Graduate Program at Teton Science Schools.  Of these, 4 have gone on to the University of Wyoming to complete Master’s degrees.

These teachers teach in over 50 different schools, and the lecturers teach at Bhutan’s 2 Teacher’s Colleges.  

9 visits by representatives from Teton Science Schools have been made to Bhutan to advance the work for the partnership and conduct place-based education programs.

1 TSS-Bhutan Fellow living and working in Bhutan, assisting the implementation of PBE in Bhutan.  

An Evolving Partnership  

Over the years, the partnership has adapted to meet the needs of Bhutan’s educational system. In the beginning, the focus was on bringing Bhutanese to TSS campuses to experience and engage with a PBE community. During this time, delegates from the Ministry of Education and the Royal University of Bhutan visited the Jackson and Kelly Campuses. Bhutanese were also hosted at TSS and the University of Wyoming for further studies. The goal was to inform and inspire Bhutanese to take their newly acquired knowledge about PBE back to Bhutan, sharing their understanding with others. This got the ball rolling with a few teachers bringing back the ideas into their classrooms and into the National Curriculum.  

In 2013, the partnership evolved with TSS representatives making an annual journey to Bhutan to assist in hosting Professional Development (PD) programs across the country. The PD programs extended the PBE network by inviting teachers from all 20 Dzongkhags (Districts in Bhutan) to participate in multi-day PBE programs. Lecturers from the two teachers’ colleges in Bhutan also participated in multi-day trainings in PBE in order to bring the ideas to pre-service teachers. We went from reaching a handful of teachers to reaching hundreds of teachers!

A Place-based Education Professional Development workshop held in January 2018.

In 2017, the partnership adapted again with the creation of the TSS-Bhutan Fellowship. The TSS-Bhutan Fellowship is a 10-month long opportunity for Graduate Program alumni to represent TSS in Bhutan working with and for two long-time TSS partners, Samtse College of Education and the Bhutan Youth Development Fund. This recent stage of the partnership addresses the need for consistency. By having a long-term TSS representative in Bhutan, there is more consistency and continuity between trainings and programs. These fellows assist with PBE implementation, provide mentorship and monitor and evaluate programs.

Looking forward

The future of the partnership is looking strong. In December 2018, TSS and the Royal Education Council (REC), the Bhutanese educational institute that develops the National Curriculum, signed a five-year agreement to support the infusion of PBE in the Curriculum.

In addition, TSS and Samtse College of Education (SCE) also recently signed a five-year agreement to continue supporting PBE in pre-service teacher education. Currently, REC is focusing on rolling out a new PBE-infused English curriculum for Primary Schools, providing PD programs on PBE for school principals and working on the development of a place-based assessment which will focus on performance-based assessment. Concurrently, SCE is investigating how to use Participatory Action Research to measure the impact of PBE in pre-service and in-service teacher education. They will also continue to host the TSS fellows during the fall term. These agreements lay out specific plans for the growth of this work, ensuring the development and sustainability of the partnership.

At its beginning, this partnership was highly structured, with TSS providing all of the resources and PBE information for Bhutanese to directly implement. Now, the partnership is moving into a guided relationship with TSS acting in a supporting role as the Bhutanese people take the lead. Educators are now taking the information and adapting it to be appropriate for themselves, their schools and their cultures. PBE in Bhutan is truly a place-based approach!

Next month, we will share how Bhutanese are building capacity and gaining autonomy in their efforts to implement PBE into their education system. Stay tuned!

Emma Griffin is a TSS Graduate Program Alum (class of 15’-16’) and the first TSS-Bhutan Fellow. She traveled to Bhutan in August 2017 for an 11-month Fellowship, spending her first 5 months at Samtse College of Education and the last 6 months with Bhutan Youth Development Fund. She ended up falling in love with the place and culture, extending her Fellowship for another year plus. She is currently working in Thimphu under the Bhutan Youth Development Fund assisting in the implementation of PBE in a small, rural community school. You can follow her adventures in Bhutan on her personal blog, here.

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