Siddhartha School Project

Notes on Government School Education in Ladakh by scottcronenweth
May 21, 2010, 1:56 pm
Filed under: Education in Ladakh | Tags: , ,

Due to its geographic isolation, sparse population and other factors, education in Ladakh has long been problematic. Traditionally, formal education was available only in the monasteries. Monks learned Tibetan in order to read the sacred texts.

Right up through the 1990s literacy was very low across the region, for both men and women. (Today it’s about 60% overall.) Indian government schools at that time had enormous shortcomings. Teachers had little training, and taught mainly through rote memorization. Teachers were rotated to new assignments every two years, which often left them feeling demoralized and far from home in remote Ladakhi villages. Often they would simply not show up to teach.

A further problem was the absence of community participation in education. Local people weren’t familiar with how schools operated, and could offer little support to teachers or students.

Perhaps worst of all, students were taught in Urdu up to 8th grade, and then suddenly switched to English for grades 9 and 10 (the end of compulsory education in India). The result was semi-literacy in two “foreign” languages and complete illiteracy in Ladakhi.

The all-important Jammu & Kashmir state matriculation exam is given in English, and most students couldn’t express what they knew well enough to pass. Failure rates for Ladakhi students from government schools averaged over 90%. All those who failed were denied higher education, and with it access to government jobs and other gainful employment.

Today, thanks to educational reforms such as SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh, begun in 1988), children in government schools begin studying English in the primary grades, using Ladakhi/English storybooks and all-English textbooks, along with games and posters, all with culturally appropriate images and references. Teachers are much better trained and community involvement is greater. Subject texts in Ladakhi are still lacking, in part because there is no standard, written form of colloquial Ladakhi (often called Bodhic).

Indian government schools are distributed throughout Ladakh, but two-thirds of them provide only a primary school education (through grade 6). Only about 65% of Ladakhi children attend school regularly, and absenteeism among both teachers and students is still high. Children of nomad families face particular challenges attending government schools.

Among those comparatively few children who stay in government schools all the way through grade 10, the pass rate on the state exam has risen as high as 50% in Leh District (it is lower in Kargil District). More recently, however, the pass rate has once again dropped below 30%. Even among those who pass and go on to intermediate college (grades 11 and 12) only about half manage to qualify for college. On the bright side, there is now a government degree college in Leh, so Ladakhi students need not leave Ladakh to pursue higher education.

In a future post I’ll relate this topic to private school education in Ladakh, and to the curriculum at Siddhartha School.

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