How the Bhutanese are Gaining Autonomy in Place Based Education Implementation

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

In the past 10+ years since Teton Science Schools (TSS) first partnered with Bhutan, Place-based Education (PBE) has evolved to be more than just a professional development session or study tour to the U.S., it has developed to be culturally appropriate and relevant approach to teaching and learning. Starting as an immersive exchange program to now, with the infusion of PBE into the National Curriculum, PBE in Bhutan has made great gains. The credit goes to the Bhutanese educators, administrators and program officers who have taken the PBE principles and adapted them to be appropriate for their classrooms, communities, and cultures. It is the Bhutanese people who have committed to taking PBE, tailoring it to fit this context and place who deserve the credit for the success of PBE in Bhutan. It is this amazing group of educators and their efforts that we want to highlight and celebrate.

A Trainer- of- Trainers Approach

To ensure that PBE is sustainable in Bhutan, the Professional Development (PD) programs use a Trainer-of-Trainers (ToT) system. In 2013, a group of teachers from all disciplines attended the 1st workshop hosted by TSS. In the following years, some of those participants joined the workshop as assistant facilitators. This continued each year, building the capacity of individuals to become Master Trainers. In 2018, TSS in collaboration with the Royal Education Council (REC) held the first Master ToT PBE program. It was a 5-day program that went in-depth into the principles of PBE, specifically addressing how the PBE ideas can be taught to other teachers and administrators. The task given to the Master Trainers was to go back to their school with a plan to implement a school-based or cluster-based (the nearby schools come together to host a PD program) PBE professional development program ranging from 1-3 days long.

Master Trainers return to their schools across Bhutan to conduct their own PBE program. During the 2018 academic year, many of the Master Trainers completed this task, reporting back to TSS and REC on how they implemented the training and the outcomes that occurred. At the end of 2018, TSS representatives returned to Bhutan to evaluate how the schools and their teachers had adopted the ideas. Visiting three seed schools (Schools that have been identified as pilot schools for implementing PBE) in the Central and Western regions of Bhutan, TSS and REC observed how the Master trainers and their schools are building the capacity of PBE within their school community.

Place-based Education Seed Schools

PBE Seed Schools are pilot schools leading the way in implementing PBE as a whole school approach. Many of the Seed Schools are led by Master Trainers, like Kinley Pem at the Chendebji Primary School in Trongsa, Bhutan.








Students in Madam Kinley Pem’s class participate in an interdisciplinary lesson on English action verbs and traditional skills using a local mill and cooking as the medium of instruction. The class visits the local grain mill that is behind their school, interviewing the caretaker and practicing their communication skills in Dzongkha (the National Language). They inquired about the local process, investigating the traditional process of producing flour. The students then came back to the classroom and make Khabzay, a local snack made from wheat flour. Emphasizing the English action verbs, like cut, stir, braid, they are introduced to new vocabulary while learning to make a traditional snack. What an engaging place-based lesson!

Top-down Approaches 

One of the challenges expressed by the teachers while trying to implement the ideas of PBE into their classroom was the lack of support from school administrators. To address this feedback, REC hosted Principals from around the country for a 5-day PBE workshop at the beginning of the 2019 academic year. Primary and Secondary Principals from various districts of Bhutan were introduced to the Principles of PBE. They participated in a discussion on how to support their teachers in this approach, identifying management techniques that support a whole school approach to PBE. The same task was then given to the Principals as the Master trainers: take this information back to your school and host a school or cluster-based PD program on implementing PBE in their classrooms and school culture.

Some Principals have already completed the task like the Principals in Punakha, Bhutan. At the beginning of May, two Principals from nearby Central Schools partnered together for a 1-day cluster-based program. They also invited a REC program officer and me, the current TSS Fellow, to assist in the implementation. To start the session, Sir Namgyal Tshering,

The principal of Dechentsemo Central School in Punakha, Bhutan shared his impressions of PBE and his experiences at the Principal’s Training through a poem. Inspiring and insightful, he set the stage for the session, emphasizing the importance of teaching with Bhutanese culture and way of life as the focal point. Read his poem here.

Secondary teachers participated in a 1-day PBE Program as part of the Principals’ training directive. (Punakha, Bhutan May 2019)

The approach to PBE in Bhutan is both top down and bottom up. Efforts are being made in the field as teachers and educators are implementing the PBE principles, and in the administration as Principals, Education Ministries, and Curriculum Officers are introduced to the benefits of PBE in the school culture and in the curriculum. PBE in Bhutan has shifted from being a once in a year PD opportunity to being a year-long, sustainable commitment to infusing the ideas of PBE into the curriculum, values, and communities of Bhutan!

The focus now is for Bhutanese educators, administrators, and institutions to continue to build from the 10-year foundation, implementing and instilling the values of PBE into their curriculum independently and in their own authentic way. Bhutanese educators are building capacity and gaining autonomy as they start to adapt and adopt the PBE principles into their teaching styles, curriculum, and schools’ cultures. 

Check out next month’s post to learn more about the PBE projects being implemented at Gyalyum’s Village School. 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 and fell 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 implementing PBE in a small rural community school, Gyalyum’s Village School, which is a model PBE Primary School under Bhutan’s Ministry of Education.

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