Socio-Emotional Intelligence Is More Important Than Artificial Intelligence

BHUTAN, a country at the foot of the Himalayan range, does not stand out in the same way as other countries in the region. Nepal, for instance, is more familiar to Malaysians due to the significant number of its citizens working in our country. This isn’t the case with Bhutan; in fact, numerous other factors set these two countries apart.

In Nepal, one may climb the Himalayas for recreation or as a source of income in the tourism sector. In Bhutan, climbing mountains is not officially permitted out of respect for the place from the perspective of cultural and religious values. Never to be used as a means of generating income at the expense of their values and principles.

We recall the incident of foreign tourists stripping naked at the peak of Mount Kinabalu some time ago. It was later linked to certain tremors which caused immediate ‘damage’ to the main feature of the mountain!

Bhutan, in this case, is wiser and braver. More dignified in deciding what is best for its own sovereignty and independence. Not everything can be bought and sold.

In this respect, Bhutan is the only universal example that does not use Gross Domestic Product (GDP) as an indicator of its country’s progress. This practice has been in place since decades ago through the decree of its King.

Instead, what was proposed is an indicator based on ‘happiness’ within the framework of Gross National Happiness (GNH). Its constitution states that the Bhutanese government is responsible for promoting happiness for the people and the country based on four main aspects.

For Bhutan, happiness can neither be bought nor sold. It is not an economic commodity to be showcased. Thus, GDP takes a back seat to GNH in the country’s priorities.

When making these declarations, the whole world was astonished. Some laughed heartily. A little-known country has dared to challenge the longstanding global norms strongly upheld by major powers like the United States and Europe. Surely Bhutan, being isolated, would have to turn back! This was the prediction and mockery directed at the country.

However, Bhutan, with its small population, remained steadfast in its beliefs. It did not waver. The government, with the full support of the Royal Throne, continued to forge ahead, not retreating even a single step. Their intellectuals came forward with propositions and appropriate actions to implement the goals of GNH wholeheartedly.

The university stands strong at the forefront. They are wise, not deficient! They are humane, not just technological. All this was evident in the International Symposium held last week with the theme: Reimagining Education – From Gross National Happiness (GNH) Perspective, at Paro College of Education, organized by the Royal University of Bhutan in collaboration with the Ministry of Education of Bhutan.

More than 300 educators from all around the world attended, representing over 25 countries, including the West and organizations such as the United Nations Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organization (UNESCO), the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), and the World Happiness Foundation.

It is not wrong to say that countries and organizations that once mocked Bhutan are now eating their own words. Under the pretence of being in full support and nothing but praises that are clearly hypocritical in nature. Some have even become strong supporters of GNH.

The symposium, which ran from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. for a week, revealed that Bhutan’s education has instilled something profound in its citizens and the country. Everyone wants to know the ‘secret’! How can Bhutan stand as the sole universal example of a carbon-negative country, surpassing developed nations with supposedly ‘excellent’ GDPs yet still struggling to find solutions after making various promises? Including aspects of artificial intelligence (AI).

Whatever it is, this is clear from the theme of the symposium, where the primary focus of discussions was not on technological matters, but rather on human aspects.

In the initial presentation on GNH, Dr. Ha Vin Tho, the author of the book, “Happy Organizations” (2024), quoted, “socio-emotional intelligence is more important than artificial intelligence.” Period. AI is void in the socio-emotional aspects, meaning it is not human, as argued in this column last week (May 30, 2024).

This was proven when Dr. Anreas Schleicher, Director of the OECD, illustrated the tendency of countries with good Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) scored in academic/scientific aspects (including technology) yet displayed relatively low socio-emotional aspects. This means the GNH goals were not achieved. Most unfortunately, there were countries that failed in both! Many of the presentations were eye-opening, changing even those who were previously indifferent.

The Prime Minister of Bhutan, in his keynote speech, set the stage by clearly outlining the country’s educational purpose based on the GNH perspective. He emphasised that the education policy has remained consistent since the introduction of GNH, despite changes of government and officials.

It is evident that education based on GNH is completely devoid of political influence. All responsibilities are entrusted to highly ethical, trained professionals. An important message for those of us guiding education according to the national education philosophy formulated over three decades ago.


The Prime Minister of Bhutan reminded us of the three key values in realising GNH education. First, wisdom; second, courage; and third, compassion.

The first value determines the direction for a brighter future. However, these ideas often remain theoretical and are not well implemented. There is a lot of talk but little action. Here, the attribute of courage is crucial. Without courage, wisdom remains confined to books or minds, never manifesting in practice. The combination of both ensures that wisdom is embodied for the common good. This applies to individuals, families, communities, the nation and even the world. However, sometimes there are lapses when both values stray from the GNH target.

This is where the characteristic of compassion comes in to ensure that justice is not neglected. Without compassion, oppression will reign. GNH will fail like in many other countries.

Therefore, to achieve the desired result, the values of humanity must be placed above those of non-human concerns.

PROFESSOR Emeritus Tan Sri Dzulkifli Abdul Razak is the Rector of the International Islamic University Malaysia (IIUM). Translated by Associate Professor Suhailah Hussein, Dean Kulliyyah of Education, IIUM

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