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Unveiling The Real Meaning of Education

India today is a study in Contrasts- on one hand we have a population of which 75% is under 35 years of age, which is a huge resource for our nation, and on the other hand, we hold on to these antiquated ideologies and old ways of doing things. As someone once said, “We are running the software of tomorrow using the hardware of yesterday”– and if you think about it, our youth would fare better if we help construct the hardware of tomorrow. Today, children everywhere in India – a beautifully diverse country, both geographically and culturally – need more than just basic academic skills to survive a world that is changing far too fast. On one hand technology has advanced in leaps and bounds in the last 20 years, on the other hand, we’ve created a system of consumption that cannot be sustained given the rate of population and consumption growth, not just in India, but at a global level. Here, educating younger generations to build a sustainable and resilient future presents a viable solution.

One such architect of tomorrow is Mr. Sonam Wangchuk, an engineer, innovator and education reformist. He believes that changing the current education system in the country to a practical-based learning environment with targeted and tailored education for students based on real-life applicability of skills is the way to bring about change. Moving from the 3 Rs’ system of education – Reading, wRiting and aRithmetic- to incorporate a practical learning system of the 3 H’s – bright Head, skilled Hands and kind Heart will help create a sustainable future. His aim is to create an education system that piques curiosity, builds capability and fosters compassion in children and young adults, a system that is different from what we have been doing and following so far. He is the Founding Director of Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), a non-governmental organization that started in 1988 as an educational catalyst for school children in Ladakh. Given that they live in one of the most fragile ecosystems on the planet, a standardised curriculum is unable to fulfill the skills needed to live in the trying terrain of Ladakh. Hence, the objective of SEMCOL is to reform the government school system and curriculum to better reflect the natural environment and culture of Ladakh as well as teach children essential skills.

Taking this ideology forward, Mr. Wangchuk founded Himalayan Institute of Alternatives Ladakh (HIAL), which is an alternative institution that promotes the combat of environmental problems faced in Ladakh through  sustainability. An institute designed to help students who live in the Himalayas to learn via practical application of knowledge, one of the aims of HIAL is to tackle educational, cultural and environmental issues faced by those living in the mountains. The larger vision of HIAL is to create an engaging, practical and relevant model of education at a higher-studies level.

Targeted education for environmental sustainability is an urgent requirement today. This need becomes even more imperative in regions like Ladakh, where life and vegetation struggle persistently to thrive with meager resources in extreme weather conditions. Even a simple technological solution such as the Ice Stupa has emerged as a game changer innovation in enhancing the quality of life and livability in such geographies. Ice Stupa is an innovation by the students and mentors of SECMOL that uses water from melt-water streams of glaciers during winter months when this water is in excess and otherwise goes waste, to create ice structures 35 – 40 meters in height that can hold about 16 million liters of water, to feed the populace during water scarce summer months of the region. This concept is not just an attempt at greening deserts but will also play a pivot role in seeding the campus development of HIAL now. Such contextual answers to complex challenges fueled by alternative education systems to create a better future is the catalytic shift that we need now.

Future Institute – a not for profit multidisciplinary applied research platform that enables and undertakes initiatives towards shaping India’s sustainable future – has partnered with HIAL in conceptualizing the vision and master planning of the pioneering institute of alternative learning in India. The vision for HIAL is a manifestation of the concept promoting an alternative education system through practical knowledge and situation-specific learning environments with a self-sustainable lifestyle for students. The co-founder of Future Institute Mr. Ashish Bhalla – an Urban Designer and Development Professional with over 20 years of experience – believes that “New paradigms of planning, architecture and design are the only way to shape a sustainable future for India.” Mr. Wangchuk firmly believes that institutes like SECMOL and HIAL can be catalysts of an ‘Education Revolution’ that can spread across our country – and the world – to help next generations create such paradigms to enable a better future for all.

The future of our planet truly depends on how we change the way we use our resources, on our gentleness in interacting with our environment and on being harmonious with the planet we inhabit. Maybe investing in our young is a great starting point!