Project Mikhung (Project Democracy) is a three-year citizenship engagement project aimed at using the “whole school” approach that combines faculty, parents, students, and community members in a full-scale, community-based program to develop news literacy and build community participation and active citizenship within a democracy.
Although Bhutan peacefully transitioned into a democracy a little over ten years ago, the cultural shift from monarchy to democratic constitutional monarchy requires strategic interventions if a healthy democracy is to succeed long-term. The Bhutan Foundation, in partnership with the Bhutan Centre for Media and Democracy (BCMD), recognizes the need to aid that transition through programs focused on education and good governance in order to proactively cultivate a civic-minded population—one that is prepared to take on the immense responsibility that comes with building, sustaining, and truly taking ownership of one’s own government and in engaging in Bhutan’s democratic change.
Bhutan’s 12th five-year-plan places impetus on the decentralization of planning and development with 50 percent of the development budget expected to shift to the dzongkhags (district) and gewog (block) levels. The underlying premise is that when citizens take responsibility for community development activities, development becomes more sustainable. Such a move towards decentralization also makes good governance imperative. Defined as a system of management reflective of values of responsibility, accountability, fairness, and transparency, good governance becomes foundational to active citizen engagement and a democratic form of government.
The Need for Creating Awareness of Active Citizenship
As more than 50 percent of Bhutan’s population is under age 25, we believe that preparation for active citizenship and good governance for a strong democracy should begin in schools. In the current school system, media studies (news and social media literacy) is an elective course and only available at select schools. In the broader system, lessons on democracy are limited to historical developments rather than deeper explorations of the values of democracy and its relevance to the students’ daily lives. Moreover, since teachers also lack professional training in the subject, democracy- and citizenship-related programs in the school are piecemeal in the form of clubs and scouts, whereby coordinators of these activities often do not fully understand what it means to be an active citizen, nor do they have a complete grasp of the role of citizens in strengthening democracy. Unfortunately, this lack of education on the role of a citizen in democracy is not just true of students in these schools, but also of the larger adult population including parents, teachers, and coordinators of citizenship-related after-school programs.
Proactive Citizenship in Democracy Beginning in Schools
In response to the gap in education about a citizen’s role in a democracy, the Bhutan Foundation in partnership with BCMD started Project Mikhung (Project Democracy) in 2019 with a goal to nurture a culture of democratic school governance where there is active participation from all school community members, including students, parents, teachers, staff, and community residents. We also aim to involve the community in the formulation of development plans and policies of the school and the surrounding community and where the principles of good governance (responsibility, accountability, fairness, and transparency) are woven into school practices and culture. This type of targeted intervention has not been done before in the country. BCMD has already started work with the Paro Dzongkhag (local district) and Shaba Higher Secondary School and Drukgyel Central School in Paro. Another school was adopted to serve as the control group that will allow us to evaluate the results of the project.
The Constitution of the Kingdom of Bhutan was enacted in 2008.
The Parliament of Bhutan has 72 members.
The National Council has 25 members while the National Assembly has 47 members.
The Bhutan Center for Media and Democracy (BCMD) was founded in the transition period that followed the proclamation of democracy in Bhutan in 2008 and is Bhutan’s first registered civil society organization. The transition to democracy was ushered in by the simultaneous proliferation of media. It was in the wake of this dual development that BCMD was established to encourage a higher standard for media in Bhutan that would also promote a culture of democracy through media education and professional support to those in the media sector. BCMD is working on cross-cutting issues concerning Bhutan’s youth, environment, society, education, and governance.
In order to engage civil society in a discourse, BCMD has placed a special focus on the youth of Bhutan through their Media Lab program. BCMD and the Bhutan Foundation have worked together on good governance advocacy, completing briefings to parliament to help lawmakers understand the role of media and the relationship between media and democracy. In addition, BCMD and the Foundation have worked together on media literacy and civic engagement education workshops.