Twenty years is no age….

...for radical education reform

(reading time approx. 7 min)

Danish support for better education for Tibetans-in-Exile is now entering its twentieth year. It was back in 2003-04 that the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Denmark sent the ‘old’ CICED to Dharamsala in India to develop the framework for a long-term Danish support for better schools and education for Tibetans in exile in India.

By then, the exiled Tibetan administration had realized that something radically new needed to be done with school and education services. Life in exile was largely motivated by the struggle to preserve Tibetan culture. School and education are the backbone of every culture’s efforts to reproduce and evolve. But even in a friendly Indian society, where the government paid for much of the schooling for children and youth, and where various internationally funded school schemes were established for many others, it was the preservation and renewal of Tibetan culture and language that was extremely difficult. This could be seen in dropout and exam statistics, among other things.

Therefore, the Central Tibetan Administration and parliament had decided to develop an education policy to try to redress the imbalance. The Basic Education Policy for Tibetans-in-Exile from 2005  is the framework and justification for the Danish aid. In response to the challenge of both preservation and renewal, the policy aims to implemen “A system of education having traditional Tibetan education as its core and modern education as its essential co-partner”.

We are now just over halfway through the fifth phase of Danish support to roll out this education policy, which is moving forward in a dynamic balance between the traditional and the new. Along with this movement, a new challenge has gradually crept onto the scene. The influx of new members to the exiled Tibetan community has stopped and is actually in decline.

Firstly, there are almost no new citizens from Tibet. Secondly, the birth rate among Tibetan exiles in India is below 1.5. As has also recently emerged in debates about population projections in Denmark, the birth rate needs to be around 2.1 if the population is to maintain its size without immigration. Thirdly, many well-educated and successful exiled Tibetans leave for places like Europe and the US.

Against this background, the current phase of Danish aid involves adapting the school structure, continuing to develop the quality of education in a balance between tradition and innovation, and strengthening the Tibetan language.

In the following, we present examples with photos of the past year’s work. 

Happy students at Peteon School in Dharamsala

School consolidation

Consolidation means, first and foremost, adapting to the shrinking student numbers. This means that some schools will be closed, and others will be merged. Functions and student numbers change in many schools, and physical changes are needed.

Toilets for students have been built for the students of STS Mewoen Tsuglag Petoen School in Dharamsala. The newly constructed restrooms provide access to hygienic restroom facilities and privacy for both genders. During the same projects, the school has provided chairs and desks for students to ensure a good and comfortable learning environment.

Quality in education

The success of the new education policy and, thus, the higher quality of education depend on a wide range of facts ors. School leaders and teachers need to know and understand the new ambitious policy in depth. New curricula and teaching materials need to be developed, and teachers need to improve.

However, when the ambition is education with millennia-old tradition at its core and modern science as its partner, particular didactic approaches are needed to succeed. The unique grip is called riglam.

Logical thinking, riglam

Riglam comprises the words rig = reasoning/reason/logic and lam = the way to. In other words, Riglam is the path to logical thinking and is at the heart of what is also known as Buddhist dialectics.

According to a fairly common understanding of dialectics, it can be understood as a method of achieving higher or deeper realization/understanding/knowledge. In this sense, dialectics is a method of conversation that moves through the making of claims (theses) and counterclaims (antitheses) toward new and deeper realizations (synthesis).

Riglam, or the Buddhist dialectical method, has been practiced in Tibetan monasteries for centuries. It is seen as an effective method for achieving a deeper realization of Buddhism through argumentation and counter-argumentation.

Riglam is, therefore, seen as the core method for fostering independent, logically reasoned and creative thinking in students. (For a fuller introduction to riglam, click here)

A week-long conference on dialectical methodology was held at the Tibetan Homes Foundation (THF) in Mussoorie, bringing together students from 15 different schools. A total of 129 students, 54 men and 60 women, actively participated in the event. (Click on riglam to read a longer article on this particular form of Buddhist dialectic, which is at the very heart of exile Tibetan education reform).

A 14-day assembly was also conducted at the Drepung Loseling Monastery for 42 students, 22 men and 21 women. The workshop focused on the importance of engaging in dialectical debates, promoting rational discourse and techniques and giving students a platform to exchange their knowledge with the other participants and the monks of Drepung Loseling. There were many registrants for this workshop, but due to the limited number of seats, participants were selected by testing their dialectical skills.

Practicing the dialectical method
The Tibetan language

Mastering the Tibetan language is a particular challenge in teacher education and training.

Many teachers have their high school and teacher training from Indian schools and universities where, for good reason, Tibetan is not spoken in the classroom. At the same time, all communication outside the exiled Tibetan community is in non-Tibetan languages.

Eighteen primary school teachers (5 men and 13 women) attended a Tibetan language course at Drepung Monastery, and 21 social studies teachers (8 men and 13 women) attended a two-week course to prepare them to teach Tibetan.

Finally, eight young men and five young women are enrolled in an 18-month program at the College for Higher Tibetan Studies to earn a bachelor’s degree in Tibetan language.

Like all languages, the Tibetan language is constantly being renewed. However, the traditional Tibetan language as a language of instruction has primarily lived on in the monastic world. And more is needed to embrace and communicate modern society and science. Therefore, Danish aid also includes extensive work on developing and standardizing new Tibetan words and concepts in all modern academic fields, such as law, natural sciences, modern medicine, economics, and social sciences.

The Terminology section has once again put a lot of effort into designing new terms and ensuring the necessary quality in standardization. The responsible committee meets two to three times a year, including in 2023, and has standardized a total of 1860 new terms, adding to the more than 16,000 new words and concepts that have been developed and adopted over the past 15 years of Danish aid efforts.

As part of an awareness program for the new terms, the team conducted a session for the staff of the STS Petoen School and the publications team of the Tibetan Library and Work Archive. In addition, 48 episodes of “Terminology Introduction” have been broadcast so far on the official news channel of the CTA (Central Tibetan Administration).

The 225. (!) edition of Phayul Sheja Bangzoe magazine is published. The magazine is for middle and high school students and features ongoing stories, short stories, student poems, and interviews with teachers and students. New terms are presented on the cover of each issue. Primary school students are enriched with the comic book magazine Gangjong. The Sherig Video channel on YouTube has a wealth of cartoons and other features for children and young people.

Throughout 2023, DoE has been collecting essays and stories written by students. The best stories are about to go to press, along with an update of classic Tibetan stories. This applies not least to the publication of Tibetan opera stories about the brothers Nangsa Woebum and Chungpo Dhonyoe. For those who are more interested, there are many posts about Tibetan opera stories on the Internet.

CTA/DOE TV program on new Tibetan words
Spread awareness of the Basic Education Policy.

Although BEP has been around for some years now, rolling out the policy takes time in a divided school structure and in a geography where schools are very far apart. Therefore, school leaders, teachers and parents must continue to be informed and engaged in the BEP rollout.

Forty principals and teachers from Sambhota schools (one part of the diversified school structure) in the North East attended a workshop on BEP’s basic idea and objectives. The workshop explored important topics such as ECCE, teaching and learning in the classroom, student assessment, language, and continuous professional development. It was held at Sambhota Tibetan School in Darjeeling.

Another BEP workshop was organized by the Ministry of Education for the teachers of STS School Shimla, and 35 (16M/19K) teachers participated.

In addition to training, exchanging experience across schools and teacher groups is essential for implementing BEP. Some schools have been at the forefront of new educational thinking, and it’s natural to use their years of experience.

A group of 11 teachers, consisting of 2 men and nine women, specializing in early childhood and primary education, participated in a 12-day May exchange program where they immersed themselves in the teaching and learning environments of STS Petoen, TCV Upper and TCV Gopalpur schools. There were great opportunities to explore different pedagogical approaches, classroom management strategies, student engagement methods and curriculum improvement techniques, among other valuable topics.

Group work on Basic Education Policy
Curriculum and teaching material development

As we all know, knowledge is not a static entity. Therefore, curriculums and textbooks need to be updated regularly. Sometimes they need to be redesigned from scratch, as when teaching must be organized according to a radical new approach laid out in the Basic Education Policy. Danish aid, therefore, also includes extensive support for curriculum development and teaching materials.

Based on new curricula from 2021, the third and fourth grades will get new textbooks in Tibetan, and a new book on ‘Tibetan language and culture’ has been prepared for the entire primary school from kindergarten to grade 4.

Maths teaching materials are also undergoing a comprehensive revision to match the principles and vision of the Basic Education Policy. The year has brought new textbooks for 8th grade and a new illustrated math book for young first graders. The same exercise has been carried out for a new social studies textbook for 8th grade. Science materials for 7th grade are in process for completion by spring 2024.

Finally, we would like to mention the continuous updating of the website It’s in Tibetan, but it’s worth a look to see what the Department of Education in the exiled Tibetan administration is accomplishing.


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