By Sonam Wangchuk Leh, Mar 20, 2014
Leh :
Dear young friends,

In the next few issues I shall share with your stories of the education system of our cousins in other parts of the Himalayas like the Tibetans and the Bhutanese. As students I am sure you have interest in the kind of education our brothers and sisters in the rest of Himalayas are receiving. So this time it is the first part of the Tibetan education story.

As you might know, the Tibetans came to India as refugees in 1959 when His Holiness the Dalai Lama had to escape the Chinese invasion of Tibet. Those years were truly hard for the Tibetans. Not only did they lose their homeland, they had to adapt to a new country, coming from the frozen plateau of Tibet to the roasting hot plains of India. Since Tibetans had no skills for this new country, many worked as road labourers and many of them died unable to take the stress of this transition. Many also died en route from Tibet to India. Hence there were hundreds of orphans left behind.

Moved by this sight His Holiness urged his sisters Ama Tsering Dolma la and later Ama Jetsun Pema la to do something for these helpless kids. The two sisters dedicated their lives for this cause. Thus came into existence the Tibetan Children’s Villages (TCV) which has today become a huge body 18 big and small schools spread all over India, serving nearly 17,000 Tibetan children of all segments from the richest to the poorest orphans. Leh has a TCV with 2,000 children in Choglamsar which was started in 1975. The quality of education in this school, started for the poorest of the poor Tibetan refugees is such that today even the rich Ladakhis beg to find a place for their children here. The TCV, despite being meant for poor refugees has been generous enough to have accepted over 500 local Ladakhi children. More than half of these children are fully supported by the school with all expenses for food, clothing, tuition etc. paid.

Sometimes I really feel sad that instead of wealthy Ladakhis sponsoring the education of refugee children, we are actually taking away parts of their hard earned resources. Its time Ladakh’s rich think of sponsoring at least the poor Ladakhi children who are studying in such schools.

Let me share another amazing fact about the TCV school system. We in Ladakh give a lot of lip-service to our mother tongue Ladakhi, but when it comes to medium of instruction in schools we consider English as the blessed and superior language, leaving Ladakhi as a poor third language after English, Urdu/Hindi. Our private schools take pride in calling themselves ‘English Medium’ even if it does a great deal of damage to the child’s growth and grasp of basic concepts. The Tibetan Schools started with English medium initially but then from late 80s they switched to Tibetan as the medium of instruction, meaning that all the textbooks for mathematics, science and social studies etc. were re-written in Tibetan and teachers were re-trained to teach in the mother tongue. Their experience has been very positive as they found that the children’s basic grasp improved and neither the board exam results nor the English language proficiency had any adverse effects by the time the children reached class 10th. Encouraged by this outcome, now they are experimenting with extending this system up till 8th grade.

I am sure by now you all must be asking, so what is the performance of these schools in class X and XII board exams. The following figures speak for themselves. In 2012 the pass percentage of all Tibetan schools in CBSE class XII exams was 92.8%. In 2013 it was 87.3%, which was higher than the CBSE results for Indian schools at 82.10 %. And the class X board exam results is of course 100% in the new CCE system. Indeed the refugees have come a long way from the time these poor schools started in little huts. And let me tell you, the board results are only the tip of the iceberg; there is much more to TCV education than just exam results.

I am sure HH the Dalai Lama and Ama Jetsun Pema la must be very satisfied leaders today, looking back at the outcomes of their ceaseless efforts for the education of the Tibetan people. But I wonder how our own leaders will explain the fact that despite being in their own homeland and with generous state expenditures of over Rs. 7,000 per child per month, our government schools are a big mess and our children are forced to take refuge in the refugee schools of the Tibetans. On the other had TCVs have to manage with only roughly Rs. 1,200 per child per month for tuition and Rs. 2,500 per child per month with food, clothing, tuition, room, uniforms and even books and stationery.

So my friends! If you or your parents are well off then please contact the TCV to sponsor a Ladakhi child there, if not then at least ask your own leaders as to why our schools are not doing as well as those of the refugees… in our own homeland.
….To be continued