Buddhist dialectics

– and other good news from the exiled Tibetan community in India 

The exiled Tibetan community in India, like everyone else in the country, is also affected by COVID-19 lockdown. A reopening is currently underway, but it is uncertain how and when the exiled Tibetan school system will be able to function normally

For more than 15 years, CICED has, with assistance from DANIDA, supported the roll-out of basic education policy in the exiled Tibetan community. The current project phase is in its second year. Below are a few stories about the efforts before COVID-19 put a temporary halt to the activities.

Buddhist dialectics

– young people must learn to think and argue rationally

The young Tibetan exiles need to learn how to argue. Through rational thinking and dialog, they need to become better at identifying what is true and false, good and bad. They need to develop as independent thinking individuals. Therefore, they need to be taught and trained in Buddhist dialectics.

Buddhist dialectics – or dialectical pedagogy – is central to the exiled Tibetan community’s ‘new basic education policy’, the implementation of which is supported by CICED through funding from DANIDA.

It is dialectics in the sense of ‘the art of conversation’ and as a method of testing opposing viewpoints and developing rational and logical thinking. Modern Buddhist dialectics is rooted in the monastic teaching practices of Gelugpa Buddhism. (Gelugpa = ‘the virtuous’, popularly known as ‘the yellow hats’, is the branch of Buddhism that recognizes the Dalai Lama as a spiritual leader).

Before the coronavirus shut down India earlier this year, the Department of Education (DOE) of the Central Tibetan Administration (CTA) was able to conduct the first round of Buddhist dialectics courses for student mentors. As mentors, students will support teachers in practicing dialectical pedagogy in their daily teaching.

Strengthen Tibetan language in education

– teachers may also need to improve their native language skills

‘There is an alarming decline in the appropriate use of the Tibetan language. There are far too many students and young Tibetans who are unable to write and speak Tibetan at an appropriate level. There are too few language teachers …… and there is a widespread perception among students and their parents that Tibetan has no relevance when it comes to pursuing higher education (which will be in Indian universities) or getting a job’.

This is part of the challenge of preserving Tibetan language in a CTA strategy paper prepared for the ‘five-fifty’ conference in September 2018. The strategy paper and its recommendations have given direction to Danish aid for education in the exiled Tibetan community.

Strengthening teachers’ knowledge and use of the Tibetan language is one of the six components of the ongoing 3-year CICED-CTA project.

The first workshop was held in the summer of 2019 and recently a second workshop was held with 17 teachers working through an intensive program.

Montessori tools for preschools

– IT in schools and a new playground in the schoolyard

The exiled Tibetan community has a particular fondness for Montessori pedagogy as the basis for all institutional early childhood education.

Montessori principles that ‘the child should respect and learn to respect the world around them – not just other people but just as importantly respect the nature and environment around them’ fits like a glove with the philosophical underpinnings of the ‘new basic education policy’.

Montessori education needs to be supported by educators with the right training and materials. Danish aid supports both areas. Recently, sensory-enhancing toys have been purchased for 20 preschool classes in 14 schools.

Basic education policy balances between revitalizing Tibetan educational tradition, such as Buddhist dialectics, and modernizing the content and form of education. Like everyone else on the planet, information technology is a key part of modernization. The Danish aid includes the establishment and expansion of IT in schools.

And just before the corona closed the schools, the children in Peteon model school got a new playground in the schoolyard

Photos: Teaching Buddhist dialectics inside and out. Teacher training in Tibetan language. IT training. Montessori toys. Newly renovated schoolyard.

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