Education Reforms and ONH

From the founding of SECMOL in 1988 one of our main objectives was to improve the educational system of Ladakh. In 1998, 95% of Ladakhi students failed the state 10th class exams every year, so we concluded that it was necessary to change the educational system. In 1994 SECMOL launched the Operation New Hope movement to improve education in Leh District, in collaboration with the Education Department, the local government and the village community members. In 2007, SECMOL had to pull out of school reform, and stopped working with the local government on it. Substantial improvements are visible, although more should still be done.

All teachers are now trained, primary level children have locally relevant textbooks, the language confusion has been reduced, teachers and administrators are more accountable, and village committees oversee and improve their schools. The number of student passing the matriculation exam increased, so that from 2003 to 2006 about 50% of government school students passed their matriculation exam in Leh District every year, and after a drop in 2008 to 28%, it has risen to over 2/3 of students passing.

The educational system in Ladakh

In the 1980s and 90s, some of the major problems in the education system in Ladakh were:

Operation New Hope

SECMOL launched Operation New Hope (ONH), in 1994 to overhaul the primary education system in the Government schools in Ladakh. This tried to tackle the roots of the problem and to reform the education system, especially in remote villages. The ONH movement had three arms working together: the Government, the Non-Governmental Organizations (NGOs), and the village communities.

ONH’s aims and objectives:

Village Education Committees (VECs)

One of the root reasons for the failure of the education system in Ladakh was the lack of involvement of the families and village communities. Parents, who didn’t know they had the right to step in and demand proper functioning of the schools or contribute their own efforts, were giving up hope in government schools. Under ONH we mobilised villagers to create VECs to raise a sense of community ownership of the government schools and to insure accountability. This was one of the most important and effective components of ONH.

We started with educational campaigns in the villages about the importance of village schools. Then people elected VECs including at least one third women and two students. SECMOL ran more than 18 batches of intensive training for a total of about 1000 VEC members, where they learnt how schools are supposed to run, and what their rights are. The trainings used group discussion, brainstorming and role-plays to develop problem solving and planning. The members learnt accounting and book-keeping to promote transparency and accountability. After the trainings, we organised intensive education campaigns again in the villages to raise educational awareness among the people and give status and credibility to the newly trained VEC leaders.

Another campaign strategy was Village Education Festivals, with films about education made by our media section, and quiz and prizes, songs and dances.

The VECs became very active in raising their own funds for their schools. In 1998, at the inauguration of SECMOL campus in Phey, H. H. the Dalai Lama made a special contribution of Rs. 150,000 to SECMOL for educational work. We leveraged this money by sharing it with each VEC, as precious seed money to inspire villagers to step forward with contributions to their own VECs.

Teacher training

Under ONH, SECMOL trained over 700 teachers and education officials and administrators, in 10-day intensive residential courses. Eventually, ONH training was taken over by the Education Department and the District Institute of Educational Training (DIET). They now provide training every year during the winter vacation, to hundreds of in-service teachers. Now in any case, similar training in child-friendly methods, is required under the Sarva Shiksha Abhiyan (SSA) programme.

Apart from giving courses in Ladakh, another thing that proved very effective was taking teachers, educational officials, and leaders on tours to see successful models of education reform in other parts of India. We took about 100 teachers and officials to see Lok Jumbish in Rajasthan, Rishi Valley Rural Education Center and satellite schools in Andhra Pradesh, and the Nali-Kali reforms in the Mysore government schools, as well as other smaller programs. Some were taeken to Bhutan to see it’s impressive culturally relevant education system. A group of headmasters and officials was trained at the National Center for Educational Research and Training (NCERT).

The main components in ONH teacher trainings were:

As part of the Government collaboration in ONH, a team of resource people was deputed by the government education department, to conduct follow-up visits to the schools to support the teachers on the spot.

New textbooks

In the past, the government schools in Ladakh used Urdu medium for Ladakhi speaking children for all subjects up to 8th class, and then all subjects changed to English medium. Most students ended up semi-literate in both Urdu and English, and virtually illiterate in Ladakhi. Because the all-important matriculation 10th class exam is in English, students could not express their knowledge in the exam. The results of this policy were evident in the 95% of Ladakhi students from the government schools who used to fail the exam every year and were thus deemed uneducated, and denied higher education. Under ONH, primary school classes started with English from 1994 onwards; but the available textbooks were still full of alien images (like ships, elephants and mango trees…), making it difficult for small children to learn a new language. Therefore ONH created new textbooks specifically designed for Ladakh.

A team of local government school teachers, SECMOL staff and experts from other parts of India developed materials including textbooks, storybooks, games and charts. Eleven textbooks and four supplementary bilingual Ladakhi/English storybooks were produced, as well as pre-primary material and posters. The 4th and 5th class science and social studies textbooks are still the standard syllabus in government schools accross Leh District.

The books produced under ONH have simpler English than the previous textbooks. Although mother-tongue subject textbooks are not yet a viable option for several political and cultural reasons, at least children should learn the necessary foreign language through familiar images. All these books depict Ladakhi children, culture and environment that students can identify with, and retain their confidence and interest. When children learn about unfamiliar places, it is in comparison to their existing knowledge.

Other initiatives

ONH also included:

Designing and building a solar heated residential school in Changthang. This Government High school solves many problems faced by Ladakhis in remote villages after primary school. Remote villages had middle and high schools that were too small to function properly. This school combines their resources and provides board and lodging at no cost for students. A mark of its success is that the Government decided to make similar residential high schools in other far-flung parts of Ladakh. Another mark of its success is that by 2008 the enrolment and retention of children in that part of Ladakh had increased so much beyond expectations that the problem in the school was overcrowding!

Resolutions were taken to improve the system of teacher transfers, which causes serious disruption for both the teachers and the students. However, this aspect has proved very resistent to reform. Teachers are still transferred to a different village every three years.

Activism: in addition to the planned activities, SECMOL also seized every opportunity to influence policy, expose violations, etc.