Considered by many as the inspiration behind the character of Rancho in the famous movie – ‘3 Idiots’ – Sonam Wangchuk continues to remain a character surrounded by intrigue & fascination. Famous for his radical technological ideas, revolutionary ways & reformative missions, this educationist & engineer is an institution in himself.
In a recent educational conference held at Amity University, Noida, Wangchuk upheld the scope & logical supremacy of a skill-based system of assessment over the age-old examination procedure most institutions of the country are following even today. The 52-year-old said that the key to changing the traditional system of written examinations is first changing the pattern in which job interviews are conducted or entrance tests to various institutions are held. He says that this will levy pressure on schools to change their stereotypical ways.
Wangchuk believes that learning a foreign tongue or adhering to foreign ways of education is an additional burden on the young minds. Learning in the mother tongue, at least in the initial stages of education, create a greater impact on the child’s mind. Similarly, all learning is aimed at the development of skills. An engineer excels in one skill-set & a musician is a master of another skill-set. This is why all kinds of assessments should be made based on skills.
Wangchuk himself was taught by his mother in his mother tongue till the age of nine due to the unavailability of schools in the region he was born. Later he completed school in Srinagar & Delhi and went on to pursue engineering from REC, Srinagar.
He undertook the responsibility of bringing about a change in the education scenario in the Ladakh region in 1988 by founding the Students’ Education & Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SEMCOL). The SEMCOL campus, unique in its own way, is an image of what human skills & science is capable of doing together. Internationally recognized through numerous awards, the SEMCOL school building is a representation of the skill of Earthen Architecture, Wangchuk had studied in France. The whole school that runs on solar energy is designed out of mud. The system keeps that students warm even in the Himalayan winters when temperatures run in the minus. This concept developed by Wangchuk can be applied in all mountainous regions of the world.
He also played a key role behind the origin of Operation New Hope that brings together local communities, schools & the government to bring about reformations in the educational scenario.
During Mytra Talks, Wangchuk stressed the fact that a child learns concepts faster if taught in the child’s mother tongue. Proud to be a misfit in the traditional system of education, he says that skills rather than language should be given importance during the educative process.
Wangchuk is currently developing an alternative educative process that prioritizes learning by doing. In his school, students ‘learn by living’, that is, they learn various skills by making them a part of their daily lives. From growing their own food to storing water in the form of ice stupas, the students of Wangchuk’s school do it all themselves. They are not dependant on external agencies for their amenities. The SEMCOL school is like one micro-country that functions independently. Not only do the students learn important life-skills in this way, but they also learn concepts like governance, leadership, dialectics etc.
Considering the fact that Ladakh is one of the regions in the country with high school drop-out rate, SEMCOL’s members also voluntarily teach local communities to help them cope up with school education.
Like SEMCOL, Wangchuk is all set to establish his university – Himalayan Institute of Alternatives – by the next year. Though Sonam Wangchuk’s concepts might seem radical, they have the capability of giving the world a more sustainable way of education & life.