The CTA launched the Basic Education Policy (BEP) in 2004. Under this policy, all subjects are taught exclusively in Tibetan until grade 5 in STSS schools. English as a second language is only introduced in grade 4. Under BEP, Tibetan education system is viewed as a bird with two wings. The goal is to produce academically proficient students with deep-rooted Tibetan values: students who are truly bilingual in Tibetan and English. Professionally, the hope is that students will be equally committed to career and the Tibetan cause.
The Tibetan education system in exile consists of five different school administrations: Sambhota Tibetan School Society (STSS), Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV), Tibetan Homes Foundation (THF), Central Tibetan School Administration (CTSA) under the Government of India, and schools run by Snow Lion Foundation (SLF) in Nepal. The schools operate autonomously with STSS being directly under the guidance of the CTA’s Department of Education (DOE). As of August 2020, 55 schools under CTSA have been transferred to STSS with 6 more schools remaining.
As of August 2020 there were a total of 64 Tibetan schools and around 16,500 students, 1,414 teaching staff and 740 non-teaching staff. Monthly teacher salary ranges from INR13,000 to 26,000. Effective Tibetan literacy rate is 82.4%. Annually 1200 students graduate from Tibetan schools. The DOE provides 500 new college scholarships annually. Another 160 scholarships are provided by TCV and THF annually.
Five Primary Challenges
- Declining student enrollment. This is due to declining fertility rate, unprecedented level of migration to the west, dramatic decline in new arrivals from Tibet, and too many schools. Dharamsala region alone has 11 schools for less than 3500 students.
- Diminishing quality of teachers and difficulty attracting and retaining good teachers. Teaching is not viewed as an attractive or prestigious profession, shortage of quality teachers, very low teachers salaries, and poor quality of teacher training.
- Tibetan students unable to compete with their peers. Most students are unable to get admissions into Tier1 and Tier 2 colleges in India. Key reasons are poor proficiency in English, weak and inadequate counselling, and poor quality of education in general
- A fragile Department of Education that oversees a scattered school system. The lack of coordination and collaboration amongst the various school administrations leads to duplication and variance in outcomes.
- Significant challenges in translating BEP policy goals into practice particularly at the classroom level. A major factor is the low level of proficiency in Tibetan language both amongst teachers and students. A 2017 study found that only 26% of grade 2 students in Tibetan schools could read a grade level text book with adequate competency.
- Consolidation of schools so that the focus can be on quality of education, better support for teachers, improved and streamlined infrastructure between the different school systems.
- Bolster the Department of Education and increase its capacity to provide quality and value education to Tibetans. Nurture deeper sectoral expertise amongst the department’s staff. Boost the department’s ability to also extend language and cultural programming to Tibetan children residing in the West.
- The scholarship program needs to be redesigned from an entitlement into an investment to meet human resource needs of the Tibetan community. Support for Tibetan students pursuing college and advanced degrees should be both through grants and education loans.
- In-service teacher and school leadership development programs need to be approached and implemented differently. Teacher salary should be increased. A dedicated in-service teacher development unit should be established within the DOE.
- Vocational education needs to be firmly embedded in the curriculum for students in grade 6 and above so that Tibetan students graduate with employable skills and some can further specialize in the chosen vocational field to provide students with diverse career options rather than just the traditional post-secondary education.
- A review and assessment of BEP is needed and a plan developed to further strengthen the policy and its implementation. The concept of secular ethics as espoused by His Holiness the Dalai Lama needs to be deeply integrated into the BEP.
KAYDOR’S FIVE INITIATIVES
- School consolidation. The number of schools will be consolidated to focus on quality of education, increase support for teachers, improve infrastructure, and better coordination and collaboration among the different school systems. Work towards having a total of 15-20 high quality schools.
- Restructuring the Education Council. The Education Council will be restructured into a semi-autonomous body with more experts. Its scope will be expanded so that this body can help revise, formulate and provide oversight on policies related to BEP, teacher and principal recruitment, curriculum development, scholarship and counseling policies.
- Establishing high quality centers of education. Two or more existing schools will be converted into high quality and competitive centers of education that will also draw Tibetans students from the west. These schools will have good infrastructure, strong STEM, English, Tibetan culture and values curriculum, active parental involvement, more autonomous management, and will have tiered fee structures. A related initiative will be the establishment of an intensive summer school for Tibetan youth (especially from overseas) to study Tibetan history, politics and the CTA (in both English and Tibetan). Academically gifted students will be identified early and provided continuous support from high school to beyond college.
- Establishing a new eLearning and ICT division. This new division within the DOE will design a comprehensive eLearning program for Tibetan students, teachers, school administrators and parents from grades 4-12 in India and Tibetan children everywhere.
- Creating an Early Childhood Development (ECD) program. The ECD program will cater to children in the ages 0-5 years. Current pre-primary education will be folded into the ECD program. Some of the schools in the settlements will be converted into ECD centers. Towards this end a Next Generation Fund will be set up to invest in the education and wellness of young Tibetan children.