Are Bhutan and Vanuatu world leaders? Thoughts for the International Day of Happiness

Happiness is a word with an intense golden glow and surely one of the main goals of each one of us every day of our lives; but it seems an elusive thing, difficult to define or measure or pursue systematically or collectively. Yet it is gaining ground as a concept in social sciences and in politics.

In 2012, the United Nations unanimously adopted the International Day of Happiness on March, 20.  Resolution 66/281 urges members to integrate “happiness and well-being” into public policies and to balance economic growth with social justice and sustainability.

The pursuit of maximum production and capital has tentatively been replaced by more holistic aims. One factor is equality: if there is a considerable national income, how is it distributed? Another factor is health: if life expectancy is very high and rising, how many years are actually spent in good health? Some development indexes try to weigh literacy and education. Then there is the environment: we have finally noticed that unchecked development will destroy the space where it takes place.

Also since 2012, the UN publishes the World Happiness Report, with rankings for 156 countries and a focus on inequality in the latest update of 2016. Not only has socio-economic inequality increased: ‘happiness inequality’ is on the rise within countries, within regions, and across the globe. This ranking uses surveys on subjective well-being and studies on ethics and religions but claims to be a more precise indicator of social inequality.

The Human Development Index establishes a formula from income, education and life span. The usual suspects in Northern Europe and Central Europe and East Asia get very high ratings, together with the United Kingdom, the United States, Canada, Australia and New Zealand. Note that in the ‘inequality-adjusted’ HDI, the Nordic countries become the team at the top, while South Korea drops from position 17 to 32 and the US is in freefall from position 8 to 28!

The Happy Planet Index comes to a very different conclusion: The tiny Pacific nation of Vanuatu made it to the top of the world in the first round, with Costa Rica and other Caribbean countries of modest means runners-up and holding the flag since. The lowest rankings of well-being are clustered in Africa and extend, bizarrely, to Russia and the United States of America. This is due to the ‘ecological footprint’ of the nation’s lifestyle. ‘Happy Planet’ refers to happy, healthy people as well as a happy, healthy planet.



Map showing countries shaded by their position in the Happy Planet Index (2006). The highest-ranked countries are bright green; the lowest are brown. — Source: By Super cyclist at English Wikipedia (Transferred from en.wikipedia to Commons.) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons.

The German Parliament set up the Commission ‘Growth, Prosperity, Quality of Life’, which in 2011 came up with ten development indicators across economic, social and environmental areas: among them national debt, personal freedom, and greenhouse gases. I think this is an approach to be watched and worked on!

A few years ago, the UK Government established the What Works Centre in order to look into and promote well-being. Some of the focus areas are adult learning and culture. Recent research papers examine the link between music and dementia and discuss how ‘life-satisfaction’ can be measured and compared.

This movement was apparently started by another tiny nation, Bhutan in Central Asia, quite cut off amidst the Himalayas in the 1970s. When a journalist asked the King about their Gross Domestic Product, he replied that the Bhutanese have different aims – and went on to have Gross National Happiness (GNH) enshrined in the law.

The Newsam Library at the UCL Institute of Education has just bought two new books on the matter (downstairs at 549.8). Schuelka, Maxwell and colleagues (2016) and Robles (2016) describe how Bhutan moved, within half a century, from a traditional monastic education to a secular system with international outlook, while preserving the cultural heritage and upholding Buddhist values. The concept of ‘happiness’ encompasses equality and kindness.

I gather that in Asia, collective happiness is not the sum of individual satisfaction, but an equilibrium, the maximum space for everyone to find development and contentment. The editors of the UN’s World Happiness Report 2016 draw a similar conclusion: the more equally distributed happiness is in a country, the happier its inhabitants are overall.

For the International Day of Happiness 2017, you could think about these matters as a teacher, perhaps with your pupils or students, or as a researcher. Have there been surveys of life-satisfaction and well-being in your country? Do recent policies on economic expansion explicitly take social equality and mobility, or the educational achievement, or the healthy life span into account?

For a philosophical background, you could turn to Bertrand Russell’s Conquest of Happiness, in several copies at UCL Main Library, or to Hermann Hesse’s musings on Happiness (Glück), available in German at Senate House Library.

François Lelord offers a mixture of entertaining narrative and popular philosophy in his Hector novels, available in French at the French Institute and in English at the public libraries around UCL, which belong to Camden Council. The hero flees – like the author did – the Western ‘wellness’ industry of gyms, pills, and psychoanalysis in order to look for true contentment with Eskimos and, incidentally or not, monks in the Himalayas.

Sunlit veranda of coffee-house with cups on round table and flower pots on rails.

The IOE Library also holds a critical documentary on Bhutan’s claims to the best recipe for satisfaction: Bhutan tourism, TV and happiness.

Our Curriculum Resources section offers introductions into philosophy for children at classmark 100. Teaching and learning materials on happiness are located at 152.4 and those on health and well-being in general from 300 onwards.

For very young children, there are picture books exploring the aims of life. Have a look at The jar of happiness and Augustus and his smile. Older children will be intrigued by the illustrated tales The seeds of peace and The keeper of wisdom.

My own version of happiness would be a place in the sun, quite literally: a seat in a coffee-house in a sunny country, with the leisure to immerse myself in… social history!

‘Nid’cigogne’ café in Marrakesh, Morocco. Photograph: Christina Egan © 2012.

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The Angela W. Little Collection of Education in Sri Lanka

In keeping with the theme of international education research at the UCL Institute of Education Library, this post highlights the acquisition of a new collection in our Special Collections – the Angela W. Little Collection of education in Sri Lanka. The collection was deposited in the Library during the Summer of 2016. We asked Professor Emerita Little to write about her work in Sri Lanka and how she came to collect the materials which are now in the Newsam Library and accessible to researchers working in this area.

Angela W Little, Professor Emerita

Professor Angela W. Little

My interest in education and society in Sri Lanka began in 1975 when, as a member of a comparative education research team based at the Institute of Development Studies at the University of Sussex, I had an opportunity to visit schools and villages in the remote district of Moneragala as well as in the capital, Colombo. At that time I was exploring the causes and consequences of ‘examination backwash’ on the quality of teaching and learning in schools. This was motivated by concerns to understand the causes of the widespread youth insurrection just a few years earlier that had come close to toppling the government. The insurrection was borne of the frustration among educated youth unable to find the government jobs that their education and qualifications had led them to expect.   The very high unemployment rate among this group intensified the competition between students in schools and universities for examination success and qualifications that gave access to jobs and higher education.  It also meant that examination syllabi largely determined the quality of teaching and learning and led to an emphasis on rote learning and a narrow focus on that which could be examined. This resulted in what was termed by Ronald Dore ‘Diploma Disease’ (1976, 1996).  Historically, government jobs were allocated through educational qualifications and merit based interviews. By the mid-1970s political affiliations were gradually becoming an additional prerequisite. Thus it became important (especially for an ‘outsider’ researcher) to understand not only the nexus between the education system, the examination/qualification system and youth aspirations – but also that between the labour market, the occupational structure, income distribution and the political system. And that nexus needed to be understood historically as well as contemporaneously. The writings of J E Jayasuriya and Swarna Jayaweera, both Institute of Education alumni, and K H M Sumathipala, were particularly helpful in understanding the history of education in Sri Lanka.

Alongside this work on society, economy and pedagogy I undertook research of a more social-psychological nature – on the attributions that children of different ages make for academic success and failure. This work was rooted in a very new but rapidly developing theory of ‘attribution’, and the more established child development theory of Piaget, personal construct theory of Bannister, Kelly and Salmon and cross cultural psychology.  It was a new area of research in Sri Lanka. Nonetheless, I was able to draw on Sri Lankan writings on Buddhist psychology and philosophy, on research on child development by Kotalawala and others, and selected anthropological works. Related work on student motivation with Chandra Gunawardene, S Rupasinghe and Ariya de Silva explored secondary school students perceptions of the value of learning and education.


Children learn under the shade of a tree

During the 1980s my attention shifted to social disadvantage and disparities in the access to education of different ethnic groups, classes and gender. This involved a change in emphasis from urban to rural, from majority to minority social groups, from the school to labour market transition to the home to school transition and from classroom pedagogy and examination pass rates to differential rates of enrolment, repetition and dropout and the reasons for them. My interest in social disadvantage was fuelled by an opportunity to work as a development worker-cum-researcher with development organisations such as SIDA, UNICEF and GTZ who, during the 1980s were working to promote educational opportunity among rural disadvantaged communities. It was enriched by writings on social disparity by S B Ekanayake, Swarna Wijetunge and K D Ariyadasa among others. I developed a special interest in the development of educational opportunity among communities residing in the tea and rubber plantations and drew on writings by G Gnanamuttu, K. Jayawardene, S Sandarasegaram, Sunil Bastian, P P Mannikam and Rachel Kurian. Involvement in the planning and implementation of education programmes in the plantations provided insights often out of reach to the non-participant researcher. It highlighted the daily political realities of project and programme implementation, and the intersection of interests between government departments, development agencies, individual politicians and educational leaders. All of these were reflected in the daily realities of teachers endeavouring to improve the quality of teaching and learning.


Mother engages in a literacy exercise while daughter looks on

From the mid-1990s I became extensively involved in the work of education planning teams designing provincial and national plans for primary education. This close collaboration with government officials, the veteran educator, Kamala Peiris and school teachers kept my work grounded in the opportunities for and resistances to innovation at the ground level. Many of these plans are included in the collection and draw on education planning writings by Sri Lankan authors such as Jinapala Alles, E L Wijemanne, George Wijesuriya, D Guneratne, S Malawarrachchi and Muthu Sivagnanam.


Schoolboy delivers class registers

Between 2000 and 2005 I embarked on new comparative education research programmes on the reciprocal relations between globalisation and education, with Siri Hettige at the University of Colombo and colleagues from the Institute of Education (notably, Jane Evans, Andy Green, Moses Oketch, Ed Vickers). In some ways this brought me full circle to my 1970s interests in relations between labour markets, qualifications and education. However, by now the process of economic globalisation had intensified, with all that implied for the movement of young persons into globalised as well as national and local labour markets, the attraction and currency of foreign qualifications as well as national qualifications and participation in globalised education as well as national programmes. In keeping with my 1980s interests in social disadvantage this research involved tracing the distribution of opportunities and challenges posed by globalisation for male and female youth from different social and ethnic groups.  From 2006, and as part of the CREATE research consortium (, I explored the realm of policy formulation and the broader political, social and economic imperatives that had ushered in policy change in policies on basic education over time. Here my primary research was enriched by writings on policy by Eric de Silva, M D D Pieris, G B Gunawardene,  and M U Sedere, among others.  Finally, from around 2010, I was privileged to be invited to join a World Bank team working in collaboration with the National and Provincial Ministries and Departments of Education in the delivery of a long term programme for transforming the quality of primary and secondary education and to lead teams evaluating the delivery of education programmes sponsored by the government, UNICEF and AusAID. The World Bank writings of Harsha Aturupane were particularly helpful

So what does the collection consist of and how did I assemble it? The collection includes writings by Sri Lankan and foreign authors and offers a wealth of information about the Sri Lankan education system, culture, economy and society. It is organised around six themes

  1. Education in Sri Lanka
  2. Primary Education Project Plans and Evaluations
  3. Socio-economic and Political Development in Sri Lanka
  4. Statistics: Education, Socio-economic and Demographic
  5. Journal Issues and pamphlets covering Education, Socio-economic and Political developments (not otherwise kept by UCL/IOE library)
  6. Published bibliographies

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Music education in feature films

Music’s place on the school curriculum can be uncertain. However it is a subject which can inspire strong passions in teachers and pupils. This is portrayed in several DVDs in the Education in Literature Collection.

Music of the Heart (1999) is based on the true story of a violin teacher Roberta Guaspari (played by Meryl Streep) who develops a high school music program in East Harlem. After several years of hard won success the program is threatened by budgetary cuts. A fund raising concert is eventually organised at Carnegie Hall. The program is known as Opus 118 and is still running today. Surprisingly the director is Wes Craven who is better known for his Horror films.

Choral rather than orchestral music is the subject of The Choir (2015). Stet is from a small Texas town and when his mother dies his father sends him back East to board at the the-choirNational Boychoir Academy. At first Stet finds it difficult to fit in at the prestigious school. But then he is mentored by the demanding Choir Master Carvelle (Dustin Hoffman) who recognises his singing talent. The film features the choral music of Handel, Tallis and Britten.

Although a much older film, It’s Great to be Young (1956) is still of interest.  Mr Dingle (John Mills) is passionate about the school jazz band because he wants his students to enjoy life through music. Mr Frome, the new Headmaster of Angel Hill School, would prefer him to concentrate on his duties as a history teacher. It is also a pleasant change that the teenagers in this film are not portrayed as delinquents as they were in other contemporary films (Cosh Boy, 1952). It’s Great to be Young was one of Britain’s first teenage musicals and was very popular during the 1950s. John Mills is dubbed by the jazz trumpeter Humphrey Lyttleton.

Music also features in a more recent British film, Hunky Dory ( 2012 ) in which a feisty high school drama teacher, Viv (Minnie Driver) strives to get her reluctant pupils to stage a Rock musical based on the ‘The Tempest’.hunky-dory The film is set during the long, hot summer of 1976 and Viv has to battle the lure of the local Lido .Features music by David Bowie, The Beach Boys, ELO and The Velvet Underground.

A different musical tradition is the focus of Drumline (2002). Devon Miles, a young, gifted hip hop drummer from Harlem gains a music scholarship to the fictional Atlanta A & T University.drumline He becomes part of their prestigious marching band. Devon learns that he cannot rely on raw talent alone to reach the top.   The film’s college is based on North Carolina A & T State University and its Blue and Gold Marching Machine band’s drumline Cold Steel.

In the 2004 French film The Chorus (Les Choristes) it is 1948 when unemployed music teacher Clement Mathieu starts work as a proctor in a correctional boarding school for minors. He is shocked by the boys’ repressive regime and sets out to change their lives by acquainting them with the magic and power of music.

Despite its exuberant musical numbers Fame (1980) realistically portrays the ups and downs faced by pupils at New York’s High School for the Performing Arts.

The Curriculum Resources Collection on Level 4 (Shelf Mark 780 onwards) contains many excellent materials about learning and teaching music. Of course there are books about the pedagogy of music in the Main Collection on Level 5 of the Library.

Free, on-line resources are available from a variety of sources including

English Folk Dance and Song Society

Music for Youth (useful for many other subjects as well).





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January 2017 Country/Student Focus: Italy

The January Country Focus is Italy provided by Frances Peruzzo in the International Education LibGuide.

Ciao a tutti!


My name is Francesca Peruzzo, and Italy is my country of origin. I am currently doing my PhD at the UCL Institute of Education in the department of Education, Practice and Society and my project focuses on Italian higher education disability policy and practices.

By using Foucauldian tools to research the practices that produce disability in the mundane academic routine, my ultimate aim is to show how, eventually, we are made out of what we do, and not a result of categorisations and labels!

Coming to London to pursue my PhD, I spent my entire educational journey in Italy except for one year on a university Erasmus programme in Spain – magical………………….

If that has whetted your appetite, you can read the rest of Francesca’s focus on education in Italy here.

Why not share your own experiences and contribute to our monthly focus? You can start by by filling in the form here.  Let’s find out how global UCL really is.

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Why meritocracy may cement inequality : a closer look at China

Mass literacy and universal tests have brought higher education within reach of literally a billion people in China, if they have some academic aptitude at all and work hard enough. This is probably what you believe, whether you favour the Chinese political system or not. Maybe precisely now that hundreds of Chinese students cross your path every day at UCL  – all of them obviously high achievers.

Equal educational opportunity accomplished in China ? Not so, says researcher Ye Liu in her recently published study Higher education, meritocracy and inequality in China (2016).

If you let contenders run a race on the same course, but shackle some of them, who will reach the goal first and snatch the prize? So if someone from a rural background has fewer opportunities to start with, will they really make it to a prestigious university in the capital? In addition to this general social issue, a centrally organised state like the People’s Republic has quotas for everything; and if the quota to get a study place in Beijing is far better for people from Beijing, it’s tough on someone from a mountain village out there. One way of getting ahead is joining the Chinese Communist Party. Which may be what the Party aimed at all along.

imperial_examination_cheating_materialAn interesting insight is that unsuccessful candidates usually blame themselves and not the system. (You have probably done the same in your life. No? That’s because you have not noticed either.)

‘Cribbing garment’ to cheat at the extremely competitive imperial examination of the past.

A report on Ye Liu’s work in the Times Higher Education reveals that ‘meritocracy’ was originally a negative, satirical term. Sociologist Michael Young postulated half a century ago in The rise of the meritocracy: When a system pretends to be fair, it may be less fair than an openly aristocratic one. It makes you think you are a contender when you are not.

As Dr Liu explains in The Conversation, ‘meritocracy’ has since been turned into a positive, desirable concept, together with a return to grammar schools, if not ‘intelligence tests’. According to Liu, the mantra that “IQ plus effort” will get you anywhere shaped the policies of ensuing British Governments as well as the European Union.

Another fascinating aspect of this book is the long historical lens; it refers to tough exams and unfair quotas which were in place 600 years ago! The book also debates the influence of the One-Child Policy on the opportunities of women and the long-term effects of the Chinese Cultural Revolution. Is there a connection between cultural capital and education? Do the musical instruments your family owns, for instance, indicate how likely you are to climb a social ladder?

Ye Liu (or Liu Ye in Chinese) studied and worked at the UCL Institute of Education before and is now a lecturer in International Development at King’s College London.


Dr Ye Liu, King’s College London

The Newsam Library at the IOE is strong in research into higher education and the recent field of comparative higher education. Our Comparative Education Collection holds around 100 books on higher education in China alone. You will find many of them on the lower floor (Level 3) at classmark 510, which is followed by 511 for Taiwan and 512 for Hong Kong. Look out for our features on the IOE Library guides. More, of course, are available online, all listed on Explore.

Another recent addition is Quality assurance and institutional transformation : the Chinese experience (2016) by Shuiyun Liu (Liu Shuiyun), who earned her doctorate at the IOE, too, and now works at Beijing Normal University. Perhaps you, too, will find topics in Chinese education to look into or even to compare internationally?

Photograph of cribbing garment: By Jack No1 (Own work) [CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons. Candidates sat exams in tiny cells for days and nights!

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Recreational reading recommendations

The festive season is nearly upon us and you may have time for some recreational reading. For inspiration look no further than the Library’s Education in Literature Collection. The collection contains novels, plays, biographies and DVDs which explore the educational experience at all levels and from different viewpoints.

Recent additions to the collection include Once upon a Term by Michael C. Cox. The term in question is the summer one at Beaumont Abbey, a private, independent boarding school for boys in the north of England. The author has drawn on his own experiences, and those of colleagues, to make his characters and events come to life.

In Confidence by Rowland Manthorpe and Kirstin Smith Ellie and Ben are both in their final year at university.confidence The story of their progress (or lack of it) is blended with an introduction to Nietzsche’s philosophy of confidence. A strange mixture that unexpectedly works very well.

One woman dares to risk everything for the chance of a better life in The Gilded Years by Karin Tanabe. This novel is a compelling fictionalised account of the life of the fascinating African-American woman, Anita Hemmings. In the 1890s she had to pose as a white student in order to be able to attend Vassar, a prestigious women’s college.

The failure of the British government’s post-World War Two “Groundnut Scheme” left empty buildings at Kongwa in Central Tanganyika (now Tanzania). The buildings were utilised as a school at which, at aged nine, Tony Edwards became a pupil in 1952. His experiences  are described in The Slope of Kongwa Hill: a boy’s tale of Africa by Anthony R. Edwards. Added to the usual tribulations of boarding school life were encounters with deadly snakes, locust invasions, shooting game for the school’s meat supply and other trials of living in a remote location surrounded by the African bush.

If you prefer a scary tale as an antidote to Seasonal Cheer then you could read The Perils and Dangers of this Night by Stephen Gregory. The setting is a boy’s prep school, Foxwood Manor, which lies deep in the Dorset woodlands. It is Christmas 1966 and twelve year old Alan Kerr has been deserted by his mother. Instead he has to spend Christmas with the Kemps.perils The Headmaster and his wife are not ideal company for a lonely boy. Things seem to change for the better with the unexpected arrival of an ex-pupil, Martin Pryce and his girlfriend. Gradually Alan realises that Martin is seeking revenge for some terrible past event. A heavy fall of snow isolates the school and it becomes a Christmas no-one will forget. The hauntingly chilly, strange events that follow build to a frightening and bloody finale.

Just a reminder that books may be borrowed for 4 weeks and the DVDs for 1 week. However because the Library is closed for Christmas from 5pm on Friday 23rd December 2016 until 8.30 am on Tuesday 3rd January 2017, DVDs which are borrowed from Friday 16th December onwards will be due on Wednesday 4th January.

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Two items from the Baines Collection at the IOE Library: The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum

As we highlight the Baines Collection in our Special Collections Advent Calendar today, I thought it would be appropriate for me to write about two items from the collection based on some material I had prepared when I recently showcased our Special Collections at the UCL Post Graduate Day.  The Baines Collection consists of 200 books dating from the 1700s to 1920. This is a collection of children’s books that originally belonged to the Baines Family (many of them have inscriptions providing names of family members to whom the books belonged) and were given in 1955 to the Ministry of Education. The collection
was eventually donated to the IOE in 1992.


The 1726 edition of Gulliver’s Travels is held in the UCL Libraries Special Collections

These two tiny books (volumes 4 and 5) I chose (Baines 104) were both published around the 1780s and belong to a series of work published in ten volumes entitled The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum. The success of Swift’s Gulliver’s Travels early in the century led to publishers to draw on this popularity by associating subsequent children’s publications on Gulliver and Lulliput. The Lilliputian Library or Gulliver’s Museum is an example of one such publication that uses this marketing ploy.

The frontispiece confirms that when first published the complete series cost five British shillings and each volume six pence for the following reason:

…[it is ]but for the convenience of those little Masters and Misses, whole finances may not admit of expending to capital a sum at once, they may be supplied with one or more volumes, weekly or monthly, till the whole work is completed, at Six-pence each.

Five Shillings was a considerable sum in the 18th Century and we can therefore assume baines-2
that only middle and higher income families could afford these books -and also were most likely to have the literacy skills to read them. The ten volumes consist of lectures on morality, historical pieces, interesting fables, diverting tales, miraculous voyages, surprising adventures, remarkable lives, poetical pieces, comical jokes and useful letters. This whole formed the “complete system of juvenile knowledge, for the amusement and improvement of all little masters and misses, whether in summer or winter, morning, noon or evening”. The author is given as Lilliputius Gulliver, Citizen of Utopia, and Knight of the most noble Order of Human Prudence. However, it is thought that the series was by a Richard Johnson, a neglected 18th century children’s author, usually described as a ‘hack writer’ for he did not have any qualms about using the work of other authors if he had to to get his commissioned work paid for – see here for more information.

The small size (the books fit in the palm of my hand!) appealed to children who could more easily hold the books in their hands. We often think of miniaturisation as something that is a modern concept with computer devices getting smaller and smaller but in the 18th century, this was a growing phenomenon most evidenced in the trend towards designing dolls houses with smaller and smaller and more intricately designed furniture including book shelves and tiny books that sat on the shelves.

Now let me tell you about these two items in turn.

Continue reading

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