A group of University of New England (UNE) education students will gain a fresh perspective on Australian education next month, when they head to Bhutan for a funded short-term study experience. Bhutan is the Himalayan kingdom best known for implementing Gross National Happiness as a key policy framework, including in education. 

UNE School of Education’s Dr Brenda Wolodko, who’ll be accompanying the 10 students, says the three-week education and cultural experience is primarily about giving future teachers new insight into their teaching practice.

“Very often, students can approach teaching thinking there’s only one way of doing things. This study tour helps students step back and understand much more about Australian education, by viewing it through a different set of cultural and educational practices,” she says.

When they arrive in the Himalayas, the students’ first stop will be a small local clothing maker, where they will be fitted in traditional Bhutanese outfits – the Gho for men and Kira for women – that they will wear during the two weeks they engage with local school and the Royal University of Bhutan’s education colleges.

Associate Professor Judith Miller, who will also accompany the students, said the study tour was a rare opportunity made possible by over 30 years of close partnership between UNE and the Royal University of Bhutan and the Ministry of Education.

“As an unspoilt, traditional Buddhist country, it’s very eye-opening for the students,” Associate Professor Miller said.  

“Even young children wear traditional dress to school. They work on the floor rather than from tables. They don’t have a lot of resources, and nothing is mass-produced. Many of our students will have the opportunity to teach in this context, then we reflect on that experience with them and talk about how they can apply what they’ve learnt back in Australia.”

UNE Education student Rebecca McCue, from Groote Eylandt, Arnhem Land, is looking forward to the study tour.

“Aside from indulging in chilli and cheese laden cuisine and Bhutanese dumplings, I am very much looking forward to meeting the Bhutanese lecturers, teachers and students we will be studying with and observing,” she says.

“As a curious traveller, I am very excited to experience a new culture and to visit such a seemingly tranquil, scenic and environmentally inspiring country.”

Associate Professor Miller and Dr Wolodko, who have been co-leading the UNE Education student groups to Bhutan for the past two years, say there are usually a few common highlights.

“Students are constantly blown away by how helpful, friendly and happy the Bhutanese people are. They also generally choose the challenging hike to the Taktsang (Tiger’s Nest) Buddhist temple, carved into a cliff side, as an overall highlight of the trip,” Dr Wolodko says.

“It’s just not an experience you can gain from sitting in a lecture theatre. It’s a very valuable opportunity for broadening the students’ knowledge.”

Funded through the Australian Government Colombo Plan program, the opportunity to visit Bhutan is one aspect of the UNE-Bhutan partnership that also includes collaborative education program development and a large cohort of Bhutanese students graduating through UNE. 

The education students leave for Bhutan on 6 October.

Photo: UNE School of Education short-term study tour, Bhutan, 2017.