Sonam Wangchuk has worked towards improvement and betterment of education in secluded areas like Ladakh. He has been striving to provide more job opportunities to Ladakh’s young individuals as well as to get them to be involved in all the other areas too.
After completing his study in engineering in 1988, with the help of his brother and some friends, Sonam established an organisation called “Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh” (SECMOL) to bring improvements in the education system in the snowy desert of Ladakh. Through this, together with the government education department, he launched “Operation New Hope” (ONH) in 1994.
For many years, SECMOL made efforts to improve the education system in government schools. SECMOL centre, in fact, developed into an alternative school. This centre has been completely eco-friendly, where students, teachers, and volunteers live, work, and learn together. This is not a traditional school. However, it has become a place that follows practical, environmental, social, and traditional knowledge, values and expertise, which is mainly managed by the students from the school.
Some characteristics of SECMOL:
The school buildings in the centre are mostly made up of a blend of mud and clay, due to which the temperature in the winter remains around 10 degrees while the external temperature goes below -40 degrees. The campus is situated in the southern side, so that the sunlight can be utilised fully. Here, the water for bathing is heated using a solar panel. A simple method has been employed that utilizes sunlight for cooking. In this method, sunlight is consumed in the kitchen which is reflected by a concave mirror that has been mounted on a particular angle. Apart from this, when the weather is cloudy, biogas is used on the campus for cooking. The responsibility of cooking meals is distributed among the students.
Organic farming of various fruits and vegetables is done by the students of the school. These fruits and vegetables are consumed by the students, and the remaining is distributed among the local population. The students are also trained to cook the traditional recipes of Ladakh.
Solar panels have been set for electricity requirements in the school. These also have batteries attached to them to store up energy, and this comes in handy during the cloudy weather. The students are trained to handle and change the batteries for any crisis that may arise as well.
On a regular school day, the students are engaged in a discussion session for about half an hour, in which they are taught languages and are encouraged to have dialogues and conversations with each other. After this, there is a half-hour computer class. Following with an hour of project activity along with the classes of subjects of their choice. Then a class for an hour about the history of Ladakh, and many other subjects. After lunch, all the students are encouraged to work for their two-monthly job, in which they engage in farming and agriculture, animal husbandry, and cooking along with their regular schooling. Some students are elected and are given responsibility of looking after the entire process while monitoring all the other students.
In these two months, a report is made about the responsibilities performed by the students and the various kinds of challenges faced by them. This report aids in the process of identifying the areas of specialties of these students in the coming days.
All in all, the students of this school are educated completely, considering every aspect of life. Apart from their academic studies, they are prepared to become responsible citizens of the real world. They are equipped in a way that they’re able to solve problems around them at any point in their lives through their own ideas and reasoning. These students, when asked, say that they’d prefer staying in Ladakh and help improving it further.
Wangchuk wishes to change the syllabus of the school, and make it more empirical in nature. According to him, there is a great need for change in the education system of our country, in which students’ intelligence and worth is determined by what kind of marks they score which determines whether they pass their exams or not. He thinks that the current condition of the education system is the reason why there is not enough employment opportunities available for the youth of this country, while on the other hand, the industries lack decent employees.
Wangchuk is planning to set up an alternative university by pushing these ideas ahead of his campaign to improve the teaching system. The university will be open to all kinds of students, where the students shall learn through practical mediums rather than mugging up information.
Apart from this, Sonam Wangchuk has also discovered “Ice Stupa”, which has made farming easier by preventing water crisis in areas like Ladakh today. It is a big step towards water conservation. He was recently honoured by the Ramon Magsaysay Award for his invaluable work.