Global Education

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Bhutan

Map for Bhutan
  • AusAID and UNICEF have been working together to help Bhutanese children gain access to a quality education.
  • The steep Haa Valley in western Bhutan looks toward the snow-capped Himalayas.
  • The Trashigang Dzong or Buddhist monastery in eastern Bhutan has distinctive white towering walls surrounding its courtyard.

Case studies

Tourism for development in Bhutan

The steep Haa Valley in western Bhutan looks toward the snow-capped Himalayas.
The tiny kingdom of Bhutan is trying to balance maintaining its traditional cultures with the improvements that connecting to the world can bring.
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Flag of Bhutan

Population:

741,822

GNI per capita (PPP US$):

1,710

Population living below the poverty line:

12%

Adult literacy rates:

53%

Access to water:

97%
Did you know?

Bhutan had no television until 1999 as it was feared that outside influences would undermine the country's monarchy and culture.

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Geography

Physical geography

Bhutan is a landlocked country, bordered by China and India. It covers 38,390 square kilometres, about two-thirds the size of Tasmania. In the north are the glaciated, snow-capped mountains of the eastern Himalayas, which includes Kula Kangri, the highest point, at 7,553 metres. The central area consists of the Himalayan foothills, rising between 1,500 and 2,700 metres. The Wong, Sankosh, Tongsa and Manas rivers rush through the steep, fertile valleys. Monsoon influences promote dense forestation in this region. In the south, the Duars Plain drops sharply away from the Himalayas to a region of semi-tropical forest, savannah grassland and bamboo jungle.

Climate

The Bhutanese climate varies according to altitude. There are severe winters and cool summers in the glaciated, permanently snow-capped north. In the centre, Bhutan’s climate is less severe, with summer temperatures averaging 17 °C in July and winters averaging 4.4 °C in January. Annually, the rainfall ranges between 1,000 and 1,250 millimetres. In the south, the climate is tropical, with 5,000 millimetres of rainfall annually.

Environment

The Bhutanese people are deeply committed to living in harmony with their rich natural environment. The strong conservation ethics of the Bhutanese and political will are the greatest contributing factors to the preservation of the forests. Almost 85% of Bhutan's total land area is covered in forest, although expansion of industrial and agricultural activities, and increasing urbanisation means this may change.

The country’s animal life includes elephants, rhinoceroses, tigers, musk deer, snow leopards, brown bears, red pandas, takins (a type of ox) and blue sheep. Bhutan is home to one of the most endangered bird species in the world, the white-bellied heron, and a winter resting place for the vulnerable black-necked crane.

Bhutan’s rich variety of plant life includes 300 species of medicinal plants, over 50 species of rhododendrons and more than 600 species of orchid.

Population

The population of 741,822 lives predominantly in the central uplands and Himalayan foothills. A third live in urban areas, with the major towns being Thimphu, the capital, and Phuntsholing. The rugged, cold northern region is sparsely populated, mostly by nomadic yak herders.

People

Culture and identity

The main ethnic groups of Bhutan are Bhote (50%), ethnic Nepalese (35%) and indigenous or migrant tribes (15%). Dzongkha. Dzongkha spoken by 24% of the population is derived from Tibetan is the official language. Sharchhopka is spoken by 28% and Lhotshamkha, one of the Nepalese languages is spoken by 22%. Southern Bhutan is inhabited mainly by Nepalese farmers who arrived in the country at the end of the nineteenth century. These people speak Nepalese and Hindu.

The national dress for men is the gho, a knee-length wrap-around coat tied at the waist. The women’s ankle-length dress is known as the kira. It is made of brightly coloured, fine woven fabric with traditional patterns.

The castle-like dzong (fortress) dominate the landscape and serve as religious, military, administrative, and social centres. Bhutanese festivals centre on celebrating the harvest or expelling evil spirits. They are colourful, loud and joyous, with plenty of music, dancing and food. Some festivals end with the unveiling and worship of huge religious appliques or throngdrels. Many include the national sport, archery, or other traditional sports such as digor (a kind of shot-put), darts and wrestling.

Health

Great progress towards the Millennium Development Goals has meant the health of Bhutanese has improved dramatically. Over the past two decades, infant mortality has dropped to 44 deaths per 1,000 live births. Life expectancy at birth is 67 years. Fewer than 0.1% of the population are living with HIV.

Health services are provided free to the entire population. Traditional medicines are commonly used, with both Buddhist rituals and village shaman playing an important role.

Most people have access to clean water and just over two-thirds use improved sanitation facilities.

Religion and beliefs

Bhutan's state religion is Drukpa Kagyu, a form of Mahayana Buddhism. The leader, an elected lama, has equal rank with the monarch. The Buddhist faith plays a fundamental role in the cultural, ethical and community life of Bhutan. Every major event is marked by a religious ceremony in homes or at the temples.

The Nepalese south are predominantly Hindu.

Food and shelter

Food varies from region to region but rice and curries made with yak meat, vegetables and chilli are common. Special rice-based dishes include desi, a tasty mixture of white rice, butter, sugar, golden raisins and saffron, and zow – fried rice mixed with sugar, butter and sometimes oilseeds. In eastern Bhutan, the staple diet is puta or wheat noodles. In southern Bhutan, kharang is made from ground corn kernels and bamboo shoots. In the north, most people are nomadic yak herders whose diet consists of milk, butter, cheese and yak meat, with the addition of some barley, winter wheat and a few root vegetables. The accompanying drink may be suja (butter tea) or ara (a locally made grain wine). With increasing urbanisation and connection to the outside world, Western foods are becoming more popular.

Rural houses are made of mudbrick or stone walls and metal, wooden shingles or thatch roofs. During the summer the nomadic herders live in black tents woven from yak hair and in winter they live in homes built in the lower valleys. People in cities commonly live in cement-brick apartment blocks.

Economy

Wealth and poverty

About one-sixth of the population live below the poverty line. These people live mainly in rural areas, and have limited access to roads and a lack of farmland and productive skills.

Education and work

Most children attend primary school; however the rate of retention in secondary school is a challenge for Bhutan, particularly in remote areas. The overall literacy rate is estimated at 53% – higher among males (65%) than females (39%). Most people are employed in subsistence agriculture or forestry and hydropower industries.

Industries and products

Agricultural products include rice, corn, root crops, citrus, other food grains, dairy products and eggs. Industries include cement, wood products, processed fruits, alcoholic beverages, calcium carbide and tourism.

Trade

Bhutan exports electricity, cardamom, gypsum, timber, handicrafts, cement, fruit, precious stones and spices to India (84%) and Hong Kong (11%). Bhutan imports fuel and lubricants, grain, aircraft, machinery and parts, vehicles, fabrics and rice from India (72%) and South Korea (6%).

Government

In 2000 Bhutan’s king began to move from absolute monarchy towards democracy. The first general election, held in December 2007, was won convincingly by the Druk Phuensum Tshogpa (Bhutan Harmony Party-DPT). Elections in 2013 peacefully installed the opposition party.

Bhutan’s economic development is guided by ‘Gross National Happiness’ rather than increasing wealth. Underlying this principle is good governance, inclusive development, and the conservation and preservation of Bhutan's culture.

Achievements and challenges

As Bhutan transitioned to democracy, the once isolated kingdom opened itself to the outside world. As part of a series of five-year plans for economic and political improvements, Bhutan has achieved good growth, improved education access and standards, and the provision of services. These plans are aligned with the Millennium Development Goals, all of which Bhutan is expected to meet by 2015.

As new opportunities arise for its people, Bhutan faces the challenge of preserving its culture and environment, as well as creating employment opportunities for an educated workforce.

Ethnic unrest in Bhutan and the ensuing violence in the 1990s led more than 100,000 Nepali speaking Bhutanese to seek refuge in camps in south-eastern Nepal.

Links with Australia

Australia and Bhutan have traditionally enjoyed warm and friendly relations. Australia’s bilateral aid program was first established under the Colombo Plan and continues today, mainly in the form of scholarships. Education, health and agriculture are other areas of aid.

The 2011 census recorded 2,455 Bhutan-born people in Australia, mostly of Nepalese background who have arrived since 2006 on humanitarian visas after fleeing unrest.

AusAID and UNICEF have been working together to help Bhutanese children gain access to a quality education.
Photo ©UNICEF/NYHQ1996-0318/FranckCharton
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AusAID and UNICEF have been working together to help Bhutanese children gain access to a quality education. Photo ©UNICEF/NYHQ1996-0318/FranckCharton
The steep Haa Valley in western Bhutan looks toward the snow-capped Himalayas.
Photo by Douglas J McLaughlin/Wikimedia
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The steep Haa Valley in western Bhutan looks toward the snow-capped Himalayas. Photo by Douglas J McLaughlin/Wikimedia
The Trashigang Dzong or Buddhist monastery in eastern Bhutan has distinctive white towering walls surrounding its courtyard.
Photo by Françoise Brenckmann/Fotopedia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/
Print | Save
The Trashigang Dzong or Buddhist monastery in eastern Bhutan has distinctive white towering walls surrounding its courtyard. Photo by Françoise Brenckmann/Fotopedia http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by-nc/3.0/