Sonam Wangchuk

Ashoka Fellow

Citation

This profile was prepared when Sonam Wangchuk was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 2002.
The New Idea
In the pan-Himalayan region along India's northern border, national and state governments dictate educational policies with little consideration of the differences of language and culture among the students. The result is a state of cultural colonization, which delivers to minority groups an inferior and unfair education in an alien culture.
Responding to what he sees as a critical need to involve local communities in educating their children according to their own language and way of life, Sonam has organized citizens across the region to monitor and participate in school activities. His approach to changing the education system is gradual and nonconfrontational. Rather than beginning with an assertion of cultural rights, an approach that can create a deep divide between local people and authorities, Sonam has mobilized citizens to monitor schools, train teachers, and develop an educational system appropriate to their own language and culture.
As a result of citizens' advocacy, the government has changed the official language of instruction in Ladakh schools from Hindi to English, the second language of the people in the region (Ladakhi is the first). Meanwhile, by publishing and distributing the first Ladakhi magazines and teaching materials, Sonam is playing a significant role in establishing a modern written Ladakhi language.
As a part of the Himalayan Mountain Forum, Sonam has identified other citizen organizations in the Himalayan region, especially along Indian-controlled border areas in Sikkim, Bhutan, and Nepal, that he believes would benefit from exposure to his work. Twenty schools in the politically sensitive region of Kargil along the Pakistan border have adopted his model.
The Problem
The Strategy
The Person

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