Development Education

Education for Happiness? Relationships between Nationalism, Development and Education in Bhutan’s National Education Policy.


Bhutan is almost unique in its approach to development. The adoption of gross national happiness (GNH) as a metric instead of gross domestic product (GDP) seemingly broadens the goal posts from a purely economic focus to a humanist one, concerned with creating a flourishing society. In this essay I aim to examine the extent to which GNH, is incorporated into the National Education Policy of Bhutan. Specifically, I will examine the National Education Policy of Bhutan published in draft in 2019. My essay is limited to this single policy analysis due to the constraints of space. In order to unpack the policy, I will first examine GNH and compare it to human capital theory (HCT), probably the major hegemonic paradigm for justifying investment in education at this time. Discussion of the literature about nationalism and national identity follows, in order to illuminate the relationship between government education policies and national identity formation before presenting an analysis of the National Education Policy of Bhutan mentioned above. I argue that the adoption GNH in the education policy of Bhutan is a gloss covering a definite retention of the language of HCT and investment in education for the purpose of economic development. I suggest that this use of GNH, which has been interpreted as embodying a humanist vision that rejects the prevailing economistic view of education, is perhaps best explained as a continued exercise in nationalism or nation branding. This process of nation branding began with the development of an ethno-religious Bhutanese national identity by the ruling minority group, the Ngalong, in the 1970s and 1980s.

This paper is organised as follows. In section one I provide a brief overview of the history and context of Bhutan and the GNH initiative. This is followed, in section two, by a discussion of GNH compared to HCT and, in section three a discussion of relevant theories of nationalism. Finally, in section four I provide an analysis of the Bhutanese National Education Policy 2019 draft document through the lens of the literature presented in the previous sections.

Section one: Bhutan and the GNH initiative

Bhutan is a small independent nation wedged in the Himalayan mountains between India and China. According to recent World Bank (2021a) data, since the turn of the 21st Century Bhutan has seen strong economic growth and large decreases in poverty, with an average annual GDP growth of 7.5%. Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, Bhutan’s gross national income (GNI) was only just below that required to be classified as a middle-income country and it was estimated that in a few years the country would no longer be classified as low income. Currently, India accounts for 98% of Bhutan’s exports and is its largest trading partner (Marshall 2018, pp 158). This trend in economic growth began in the 1960’s when Bhutan adopted so called modernization development methods. In the 1970s Bhutan shifted its development focus from modernization to its unique approach of GNH (Krogh & Giri 2015).

Bhutan has a geographically dispersed population of around 750,000 with diverse linguistic and ethno-cultural groups. According to Saul (2000) there are three major ethnic groups. Firstly, located in the North, and practicing Buddhism, the Dzongka speaking Ngalong make up around 20% of the population and include the Royal Family. Dzongka is the official language of Bhutan. The Sharchops are another ethnic group making up approximately 30% of the population. They generally practice Buddhism and speak Tsangla, another Tibeto-Burman language. Lastly, In the South there are the Lhotshampa who primarily speak Nepali and practice Hinduism and are ethnically related to the Nepalese. In the 1960s this group accounted for almost 50% of the Bhutanese population but more recent official statistics state they make up 30% (Saul 2000). There is a history of discrimination against the Lhotshampa which is discussed later in the essay.

Bhutan is unique from a development point of view with its focus on GNH, supposedly a humanist approach to development. The idea of GNH was first coined by the King of Bhutan in 1972 (OPHI 2021) and developed out of the Buddhist traditions of Ngalong culture. As an approach to development, it aims to give equal importance to non-economic aspects of human wellbeing as well as economic welfare. The GNH philosophy has led to the creation of the GNH index, used by Bhutan to measure its progress.

According to the literature, (Krogh & Giri, 2015; LaPrairie 2015) the GNH index is a multidimensional measure of quality of life and wellbeing that seeks to assess development across four pillars. The four pillars are:

  1. Sustainable and equitable socio-economic development
  2. Preservation and promotion of culture
  3. Environmental protection
  4. Good governance

These are further broken up into nine domains that are used to generate indicators used in the index. What makes the GNH index different from other development indices is that it tries to capture and give equal weight to each domain of which economic measures of development are only a part. This is different to many indices, like the human capital index, discussed below, which are drawn from different paradigms and are mainly concerned with economic development. It is important to note that the GNH index does not leave out economic indicators. They are simply not valued more than other indicators drawn from other domains.

Section two: Theories of development and GNH

As noted previously, Bhutan initially openly pursued modernization principles of development before later switching to pursue GNH. Modernization theories of development are rooted in the Bretton Woods agreements of 1944 and essentially prescribe development as economic catch up for less developed countries (McGowan 2020). From this view development is about expanding the economy of a country to bring levels of income and living standards up to be equivalent to those countries considered to be developed. Modernization theories set an economic bar by which development is measured and place people as the means by which the ends of this development can be met.

HCT is one of the key modernization theories of education and development. It was originally formulated by Becker (1964) and at its most basic level focuses on the relationship between education and development. It justifies investment in education on the basis that increased education raises the productivity of an individual and more productive individuals make the economy expand. HCT positions education as a source of growth for an economy as opposed to a consumption. It assumes that the more education (whether years or quality) an individual has the greater the return to GDP of the country. It makes the education of individuals one of the means to the ends of increased GDP. From the perspective of HCT, governments should invest in the education of their citizens as it increases the skills and productivity of their population which in turn leads to more endogenous growth. The key difference philosophically between HCT and GNH is that HCT makes human beings the means by which the ends of economic development are met where GNH is part of a group of approaches that supposedly try to make development the means by which human needs are met.

HCT is a core principle of modern development theory. It was the theory that produced the modern economic justification for investment in education. Because of Becker’s work, policy makers could justify the funding of, and investment in, a state’s education system as it explained a mechanism by which endogenous economic growth within a country could be stimulated. It remains one of the key mechanisms by which funding for an education system can be sought from development donors and makes up much of the key terminology in education and development policies produced by the actors like the World Bank. For example, a brief look at the World Bank website highlights a focus on human capital. The World Bank produces the human capital index as part of the human capital project (World Bank 2021b).

A modern education system came fairly late to Bhutan. Prior to the 1950s, the vast majority of schooling was provided by Buddhist monasteries and only a small portion of the population attended these institutions (Krogh & Giri 2015). In the 1960s, the Bhutanese government began a modernization programme of the education system, focussed on adopting a system of western style schooling. Since the public adoption of the GNH philosophy, Bhutan has attempted to adapt the education system to the principles of GNH. Krogh & Giri (ibid) suggest that culturally the teacher in Bhutan is a secular Lama or Buddhist monk. As Lamas are revered holders and teachers of enlightenment and truth, GNH philosophy implies that happiness is something that can be learned, and teachers are expected to be the secular monks delivering GNH instruction to their charges (ibid). Regardless of whether happiness can actually be taught, Krogh & Giri (ibid) suggest that teachers are pivotal to developing the understanding of GNH in the citizenry of Bhutan.

HCT justifies investment in education for its returns, both monetary and non-monetary to the individual to society as a whole. While they are hard to quantify the non-monetary social returns of education are undeniable. These effects have been documented as reductions in fertility rates and mortality rates, greater democratic participation and even the avoidance of natural disasters (Sen 1999). Education helps to produce individuals who understand their shared participation in a society and, it could be argued, indoctrinated into a particular world view as required by a government (Harber & Mcnube 2012). Education is a powerful tool for developing a sense of national identity and nationalism.

Section three: Theories of nationalism and GNH

Interestingly, the concept of a nation does not lend itself to easy definition. Anderson (2016) argues that the idea of the nation state and nationalism originated in the independence movements of the Americas. Anderson (ibid) defines the nation as “an imagined political community – and as imagined as both inherently limited and sovereign” (ibid pp 6). In this work Anderson (ibid) traces three distinct types of nationalism. The first is creole nationalism in the America’s which provided the model adopted by populist nationalism movements in Europe, the second type. This populist nationalism was adopted as official nationalism, the third type, by European imperial powers, and later global governments, to justify their own positions of power. Anderson (ibid) writes “… ‘official nationalism’ was from the start a conscious, self-protective policy, intimately linked to the preservation of imperial-dynastic interests.” (pp159). Anderson (ibid) argues that this official nationalism model has been applied globally throughout the twentieth century, being adopted by many governments all over the world including Asia. Anderson (ibid) describes how, amongst others, the Thai monarchy (pp 171-5) and the Japanese (pp 96-97) adopted these principles to develop the national identity of their citizens.

Language is important in official nationalisms for building solidarities of nationhood. “It is always a mistake to treat languages in the way that certain national ideologues treat them – as emblems of nation-ness, like flags, costumes, folk-dances, and the rest. Much the most important thing about language is its capacity for generating imagined communities, building in effect particular solidarities.” (ibid pp133). Anderson (ibid) identifies capitalism as allowing nationalism to take hold through the development of print-media of vernacular languages, which dislodged Latin as the major administrative language across Europe. The increasing importance of vernacular languages then began to give rise to national identity. Anderson (ibid) highlights how the rise of these languages through print-capitalism in Europe had a catalytic effect in building national identity amongst populations in pre-nation imperial states. While nationalists are tempted to point to their language as proof of the nation, it was printed language not the languages per se that built nationalism.

Through the use of textbooks, and other printed media, printed language can link to the state’s education system. A nation state can use the education system to build up a sense of national identity directly or indirectly. The adoption of specific subjects such as citizenship education or the mandating of particular topics in specific subjects would be one direct influence. Medium of instruction policies can indirectly influence what linguistic and thus cultural elements gain prominence in society. Languages that are adopted by the state in the education system gain importance for the society. However, the state education system can exclude groups who don’t speak the dominant language at home (Taylor-Leech 2013). As discussed below, since 1961, Bhutan has adopted Dzongka, the language of the minority ruling group, as the sole national language despite linguistic diversity within the territory (Ball & Wangchuk 2015).

Gellner (1999) stresses the importance of the education system in the development of state nationalism. He argues that development of the education system is what allowed industrial societies to become successful. This is because these societies require homogeneity, where mobile, literate, culturally standardized individuals become interchangeable through their educational training. It is this homogeneity and reliance on high culture (essentially having a literate population) in the society that gives rise to nationalism. Gellner writes “Nationalism … is in reality the consequence of a new form of social organization, based on deeply internalized, education-dependent high cultures, each protected by its own state” (ibid pp 48). Like HCT discussed above, in Gellner’s model economic development is dependent on education and nationalism is dependent on economic development. If Gellner’s model is true we should expect to see nationalism develop hand in hand with development of a state’s education system and economy.

The relationship between education systems and national identity are also stressed by Green (1994) who argues that the rise of state education systems in Europe in the modern era was a “bulwark against the potential anarchy of rising democracy” (ibid pp 5). Green goes on to write “Governments were concerned more with educating political leaders, administrators, officers, soldiers and loyal subjects, rather than scientists, technologists etc” (ibid pp 7). Green argues that the implementation of national education systems was a result of a need to provide the state with trained civilian and military professionals and to inculcate the population with particular ideologies of nationhood. Green (ibid) writes “The key social factor…. In explaining the timing and form of the development of education systems is the nature of the state and the process of state formation. The major impetus for the creation of national education systems lay in the need to provide the state with trained administrators, engineers and military personnel; to spread dominant national cultures and inculcate popular ideologies of nationhood … cement the ideological hegemony of their dominant classes” (ibid pp 9). This idea is similar to Anderson’s (2016) idea of official nationalism.

To Gellner (1999), Green (1994) and Anderson (2016), education systems all have a role to play in the development of nationalism within a state. For Gellner education leads to economic development which leads to nationalism in industrial societies. For Anderson, capitalist print media (for example textbooks) pave the way for development of nationalism based on solidarities of shared language and for Green the education system is developed by the state in order to build the nation and control the population. Green goes on to cite three historical factors associated with nation building that would also give fertile ground for the formation of national education systems:

  1. when there are external military threats
  2. internal revolutions
  3. to escape from economic underdevelopment.

In Bhutan development of the education system and the economy began in earnest in the 1960s as discussed above. This was not long after China had annexed Tibet, Bhutan’s neighbour to the North. Perhaps the threat of China as well as endemic economic underdevelopment prompted the Bhutanese to look for ways to prevent the same fate. According to Worden (1991) the Chinese conflicts with Tibet in the 1950s that resulted in the complete annexation of the latter by the end of the 1950s acted as a stimulus to the Bhutan government to pursue development and open itself up to the outside world. Fears abounded that unless Bhutan gained international recognition, it too could find itself “annexed” like Tibet, particularly as China had threatened to do so in the past. With the Chinese annexation, Bhutan closed its border to Tibet and began developing relationships with India, its larger neighbour to the South (Worden 1991).

Other writers have focussed on the nature of nationalism. Kohn (1944) provides a distinction within European states between civic western nationalism, that of the UK, France, Netherlands and Switzerland and ethnic eastern nationalism, of Germany, Spain and Ireland among others. The civic nationalism is rooted in the civic ideals of individual liberty, cosmopolitanism and political and individual rights. The ethnic nationalism is illustrated by the rejection of these civic ideals with a focus on ethnicity, language and culture. Essentially civic nationalism is an inclusive nationalism whilst ethnic nationalism is exclusive. Kuzio (2002) critiques Kohn’s (1944) work and rejects his distinction between the two. I would suggest that the framework Kohn provides is a useful starting point for thinking about nationalism but agree with Kuzio’s critique. I would argue it is more useful to see the distinction between civic and ethnic nationalism on a spectrum, with most nation states having had elements of both, leaning towards one or the other at different stages of their development. This is also the position that Kuzio (ibid) takes, and he stresses that nation states have tended to evolve from ethnic nationalism to civic nationalism. From this point of view, the adoption of GNH by the state of Bhutan can be interpreted as secular iteration of an ethnic nationalism focussed on the Buddhist identity of the dominant Ngalong minority.

In Bhutan there is evidence that a growing ethnic, cultural and religious nationalism has been forming hand in hand with development of the economy and of the education system. The adoption of GNH by the King in 1972 can be seen as the first step in the formation of an ethno-religious nationalism that seeks to position itself as modern and secular but rooted in Buddhism. The second step can be seen in the political delineation of who exactly in Bhutanese. Carrick (2008) argues that the Bhutan Citizenship Act of 1985 and the “One Nation, One People” policy adopted in 1988 were two policies adopted by the Ngalong minority elite, deliberately designed to side-line the majority ethnic Lhotshampa community and that the rights of the Lhotshampa continue to be violated by Bhutanese government policies. In 1985 the Bhutanese government effectively made the Lhotshampa stateless through the 1985 Act and subsequent census. In the 1990s there were reported human rights abuses as many Lhotshampa were removed from their homes. Many now reside in refugee camps in Nepal (Saul 2000). It is possible that the adoption of GNH in the years prior to these events marks the start of government policy to forge a national identity based on the rejection of Nepali speaking, Hindu Lhotshampa culture and the underscoring of secular Buddhist, Dzongka speaking, Ngalong culture, to which the Royal Family belong. Following these events, Bhutan adopted a constitutional monarchy with a democratically elected government in 2008. Even with these changes towards a more civic nationalism the eviction of the Lhotshampa is still not openly discussed (Christensen 2018). From this perspective the adoption of GNH can be interpreted as part of the evolution of Bhutan’s ethno-religious nationalism focussed on Ngalong culture and Buddhist principles.

Section four: Policy Analysis

Here I examine the document “National Education Policy 2019 (draft)” produced by the Ministry of Education, Royal Government of Bhutan (2019). I aim to analyse the policy statements within it to see what extent it incorporates principles of GNH and HCT in order to understand the role of the education system in developing the Bhutanese National Identity.

The Education Policy 2019 opens with the quotation from the current Monarch of Bhutan His Majesty Jigme Khesar Namgyel Wangchuck, the 5th King of Bhutan, from 2014:

“As I serve my country, I have a number of priorities. Number one on my list is education. Education is empowering- it’s a social equalizer and it facilitates self- discovery, which leads to realizing one’s full potential. Good education gives you confidence, good judgment, virtuous disposition, and the tools to achieve happiness successfully. A good school gives a child a fair shot at success and ensures that a person’s achievement in life will not be predetermined by his or her race, parentage and social connections.”

In this quote education is claimed to be centrally important for individual citizens in order to overcome inequality of birth. However, as discussed below, there is no provision for teaching in any local language other than Dzongka, which may severely limit the ability of non Dzongka speaking children to have a “fair shot” at accessing their education.

In the introduction to the policy, we find this statement:

the National Education Policy 2019 aspires to provide an overarching framework and directions for building and nurturing an education system that prepares citizens who are nationally rooted and globally competent” (pp 1)

which makes clear the desire of the government to work towards a balance of the tensions between nationalism and globalization.

In section two, the rationale, we have the first reference to GNH:     

“Education should be responsive to the individual interest and changing socio-economic needs of the country in achieving country’s aspiration of Gross National Happiness…. enhance access, quality and equity in education in order to create a strong foundation that aligns with the country’s unique values, traditions, and such an education system will lead towards realizing His Majesty’s aspiration for a robust education system that is timeless and acts as an ongoing social equalizer.” (ibid)

Followed again in section three entitled vision:

This policy aims to enable the development of an education system that will contribute to: “An educated and enlightened society of Gross National Happiness, built and sustained on the unique Bhutanese values of Tha-Dam-Tshig Ley Gyu-Drey.”  (pp 2)

In section four the goals of the policy are stated:                                  

“The purpose of education is to develop citizens that value Bhutan’s unique national identity, traditional wisdom and culture, who are prepared for right livelihood, and practice contemplative learning. It is also to develop individuals who are lifelong learners, who have a holistic understanding of the world and have a genuine care for others and nature. It should also develop all citizens’ competency to deal effectively with the contemporary world, individuals who are critical, creative, informed and engaged in civic affairs.” (pp 4)

Here again we see the stress placed on developing citizens with a strong national identity balanced against the competing tension of globalization. This national identity is conspicuously linked to Buddhist Ngalong principles of care and respect for oneself and others. Further on in this section we find a third reference to GNH:

Inculcates the principles and values underpinning Gross National Happiness, and upholds the nation’s unique cultural and spiritual heritage and values” (ibid)

The Bhutanese heritage and values implied here are those of Buddhism not Hinduism. Afterall, GNH values are based on Buddhist values of peace, tolerance and compassion (Beaglehole & Bonita 2015).

Following this section, we find the policy statements for all sectors of the education system from Early Childhood Care and Development (ECCD) through to tertiary and vocational education and training. The ECCD sections provide an example of the implicit language of HCT. ECCD sections link in directly to current global discourses on the importance of investing in education. Work by Heckman (2010) for example, has stressed the improved returns on investment to early years education over and above investments in later stages of the education system. This has been influential on recent global development discourse and has been an important policy focus for the World Bank among others. The emphasis on ECCD programs indicates that Bhutan, despite the GNH rhetoric, is following the HCT-focussed trends in mainstream global education policy. Other language found throughout the document, with its focus on lifelong learning and global competitiveness, also supports this assertion.

As we move into section seven on “school education” we begin to find explicit references to HCT. In the first instance we read this in the opening statement to this section:     

“School education shall offer opportunities to all students to realize their full potential by strengthening access, quality and equity so that they can become socially useful and economically productive citizens.” (pp 3-4)

Here there is a complete absence of any reference to GNH. Education is stressed as important for offering opportunities to become economically productive. The phrase economically productive is a clear reference to HCT. If GNH were important I suggest we should expect to find more humanist references here.

Further direct references to HCT can be found in section 11:

“This enables a society that responds to changing labour market demands, and well-rounded individuals who can effectively contribute culturally and economically.” (pp 12)

This highlights the priority for economic development and the awareness of the importance of meeting the demands of a changing labour market to continue economic growth. This priority is again tellingly highlighted in section 9.1 “curriculum and pedagogy” in the following policy statement:

“9.1.8 School curriculum shall strengthen Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics (STEM) education to promote creativity and innovation and prepare students to participate meaningfully in a society and economy that is increasingly reliant on information and communication technologies.” (pp 8)

Elsewhere we find indirect references to GNH, but these are always found alongside references to economic development like this one from section ten where citizens are referred to as human resources:

“Tertiary education system in Bhutan aspires to be a nationally rooted and globally competitive that aims to develop productive, socially responsible, culturally grounded, ecologically sensitive, and spiritually aware citizens equipped to lead Bhutan into a knowledge-based society that values lifelong learning. Tertiary education plays a central role in building human resource requirements of the country.” (pp 10)

The reference to human resources places human beings as the means of development, in line with human capital theory as discussed above. The only time that GNH is directly mentioned in the policy statements outside of the introductory section is in section eleven in tandem with non-formal education:

“Non-formal education shall infuse life skills such as health and reproductive issues, environment, disaster management, social dimensions such as gender, childcare and protection, democracy, Gross National Happiness within its course content.” (pp 13)           

In the policy statements we also find statements that highlight the concern of the Bhutanese government for developing a national identity amongst its citizens. For example, in section seven we find interesting requirements which arguably indicate the importance of schooling to the government of developing national conscious and national identity amongst its citizens:

“7.26 Schools shall hoist the national flag of Bhutan as per the laws of the Kingdom of Bhutan. (pp 6)             

7.27 All students shall attend academic sessions in national dress as a standard school uniform. (ibid)                                               

7.28 The National Anthem shall be sung during morning assembly sessions and on all formal school occasions.” (ibid)

These requirements are clearly designed to help build a sense of national identity and cohesion amongst the children in school. From my experience they are similar to practices in China where the government also expects schools to hoist the flag in assembly. It could be argued that these practices are one way by which a government is able to begin to control its citizenry through cultural indoctrination.

In section 9.1 “curriculum and pedagogy” we find further concerns with developing national identity amongst the school population:                                      

“Curriculum should also promote the country’s unique culture and tradition, values, while learning to participate actively in the process of building an educated, enlightened, and cohesive society.” (pp 8)

“9.1.1 The curriculum shall equip students with the knowledge, skills, beliefs, and attitudes based on Bhutanese values of Tha-Damtse Ley-Judrey, Zacha-Drosum, and Sampa- Semke.” (ibid)

This section of the policy highlights a key part of the national identity of the country is the speaking of Dzongka, the language of the dominant minority ethnic group. It is also implicit that the unique culture and tradition of Bhutan are Buddhist and do not include Hindu or Lhotshampa culture as these are not referenced in any part of the policy.

“9.1.3 Dzongkha as the national language shall be taught in all schools to ensure that all students acquire high proficiency.” (ibid)  

“9.1.4 English shall be the medium of instruction in schools. Efforts shall be made to ensure that all students acquire high proficiency in English, and continually improve the standard of English teaching and learning.” (ibid)

This approach of the government to its language education is interesting in a country with diverse languages and cultural groups. Nepali spoken by the Lhotshampa, is conspicuous by its absence. It could be argued that the elevation of Dzongka to the exclusion of other cultural languages helps to ensure that the dominant group remains politically dominant because those children who are already proficient in it when they start school are very likely to have a head start on children who will have to learn Dzongka and English before they can access the curriculum. Particularly in ECCD, prevention of children from learning in their mother tongue in school can hamper their academic progress (Taylor-Leech 2013). The language of this policy document leans heavily towards that of HCT. Throughout the policies we can read the language, both implicit and direct of HCT. The language of GNH is only explicitly referenced in the opening sections and one other location of the policy. GNH appears as a surface gloss. When we dig deeper into the policy we find much more focus on human resource development, making economically productive citizens who can participate as lifelong learners in the labour market. The lack of any space for other languages other than Dzongka, which is spoken by only around 20% of the population is one way, in which the vision of creating an education system that acts as a social equaliser and promotes happiness, is limited.


I began this essay aiming to examine the extent to which GNH, is incorporated into the national education policy of Bhutan. GNH is a key feature of the national identity of Bhutan, and of its branding to the global community. I have compared GNH to HCT as well as discussed some of the key features of three modern models of nationalism. When examining the National Education Policy of Bhutan 2019 through these lenses, it could be argued that the language written into the national education policy of Bhutan emphasizes the cultural features of the minority ruling group, the Ngalong. This is seen through the policy focus of Dzongka as the only local language taught in school. Moreover, it is implicit in the policy focus of the cultural values of “Tha-Damtse Ley-Judrey, Zacha-Drosum, and Sampa-Seme” which derive from monastic Buddhist teaching and eschew Hindu, Lhotshampa cultural values. Through the 1985 Act and census, the dominant minority has defined what it means to be Bhutanese, “othered” citizens who did not fit the cultural type-caste and remained silent on these events. By defining Bhutanese national identity solely through Buddhist principles and along Ngalong cultural lines the government control the national identity. And the rhetorical focus on GNH is part of this process. This is only surface deep in the education policy as the major emphasis of this document is producing economically productive citizens. The GNH rhetoric presents an inclusive nationalism (the development of human flourishing in all the people of Bhutan) but masks an exclusive ethno-religious nationalism that excludes anyone who does not fit the Ngalong model of being a Bhutanese citizen.

Elements of all three models of nationalism discussed in section three are present in Bhutan. The focus on the Dzongka language in the education policy reflects Anderson’s (2016) model of official nationalism, mirroring his argument made about the Thai monarchy. There are elements of an existential threat from China providing the impetus for development of the education system as discussed as a model by Green (1994). Finally, we have elements of Gellner’s (1999) argument that economic development will lead to nationalism as a society moves from agrarian to industrial. The adoption of GNH can be largely seen as symptomatic of this growing nationalism. I have argued here that this focus on GNH in the National Education Policy of Bhutan 2019 is only surface deep and hides a deeper focus on human capital growth for economic development.


Anderson, B. (2016) Imagined Communities. 2nd Edition. Verso. London

Ball, J. & Wangchuk, K. C. (2015) Using a policy of “Gross National Happiness” to Guide the Development of Sustainable Early Learning Programs in the Kingdom of Bhutan: Aspirations and Challenges. Global Education Review 2(1) pp 5-22

Beaglehole, B. & Bonita, R (2015) Development with values: lessons from Bhutan. The Lancet 385 (9971) pp 848-849 DOI:

Becker, G (1964) Human Capital: A Theoretical and Empirical Analysis, with Special Reference to Education. University of Chicago Press. Chicago.

Carrick, B. (2008) The rights of the Nepali minority in Bhutan Asia-Pacific Journal on Human Rights and the Law 1 13-28

Christensen L.K. (2018) Piecing Together Past and Present in Bhutan: Narration, Silence and Forgetting Conflict. International Journal of Conflict and Violence. Vol 12 DOI:

Gellner, E. (1999) Nations and Nationalism. Blackwell. Oxford

Green, A. (1994) Education and State Formation Revisited. In Historical Studies in Education. Vol 6 (3) pp 1-17

Harber, C. & Mncube, V. (2012) Education, Democracy and Political Development in Education, democracy and development: does education contribute to democratisation in developing countries? Symposium books. Oxford

Heckman, J (2010) The Rate of Return to the High/Scope Perry Preschool Program in Journal of Public Economics 94 (1-2) pp 114 – 128

Kohn, H. (1944) The idea of Nationalism: A study of its Origins and Background. New York: Macmillan

Krogh L. & Giri K.P. (2015) Gross National Happiness in Bhutanese Education – How is it Implemented in Practice?. In: Lund B., Chemi T. (eds) Dealing with Emotions. Creative Education Book Series. SensePublishers, Rotterdam.

Kuzio, T (2002) The myth of the civic state: a critical survey of Hans Kohn’s framework for understanding nationalism. Ethnic and Racial Studies 25:1 pp 20-39

LaPrairie, M (2015) A case study of English-medium education in Bhutan. EdD International, IOE, London.

Marshall, T. (2018) Divided: Why we are living in an age of walls. E and T books. London

McGowan, T. (2020) ‘Lecture 1.2: Theories of Development Tristan McCowan’ EDPS0057_2021: Education and International Development: Concepts, Theories and Issues available at:

Ministry of Education, Royal Government of Bhutan (2019) National Education Policy. Thimpu Bhutan. Accessed on 1st January 2021 Available at:

OPHI (2021) accessed 22nd February 2021

Saul, B (2000) Cultural Nationalism, Self-determination and Human Rights in Bhutan International Journal of Refugee Law 321 p324.

Sen, A. (1999) Development as Freedom Oxford University Press

Taylor-Leech (2013) Finding space for non-dominant languages in education: language policy and medium of instruction in Timor-Leste 2000–2012, Current Issues in Language Planning, 14:1, 109-126, DOI: 10.1080/14664208.2013.766786

World Bank (2021a) accessed on February 22nd 2021.

World Bank (2021b) accessed on March 8th 2021. Worden, R. L. (1991), “Bhutan”, in Savada, Andrea Matles (ed.), Nepal and Bhutan: Country Studies, Library of Congress.

Please share your thoughts..

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.