We have no personal agenda, it's all for the Himalayas: Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche on educating Ladakh

The Naropa Fellowship, just a year old, is delivering students who want to work for society and do not ask for a skyscraper of a salary
Co-founders of the Naropa Fellowship, Dr Pramath Raj Sinha and His Eminence Drukpa ThuKsey Rinpoche (Pic: Prajanma Das | Express)
Co-founders of the Naropa Fellowship, Dr Pramath Raj Sinha and His Eminence Drukpa ThuKsey Rinpoche (Pic: Prajanma Das | Express)

When the mission of the Buddhist monks to deliver high-quality education in Ladakh crossed paths with an expert serial educationist like Dr Pramath Raj Sinha, the man behind Ashoka University, excellence is something of a foregone conclusion. And that is what they hope to deliver with the Naropa Fellowship. Envisioned by His Holiness Gyalwang Drukpa and co-founded by His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche and Dr Sinha, the Naropa Fellowship completed a year this month as it bid farewell to the first batch of 52 fellows who graduated in the chilly climes of Ladakh. Excerpts from an intense discussion with the co-founders about education, post-Article 370 Ladakh and what reforms Indian education needs:

What was the inspiration behind setting up such a fellowship here?
His Eminence Drukpa Thuksey Rinpoche: We started the programme with a prayer to do good for the Himalayas and the people here. We did not have a specified target as the companies and institutions have nowadays. We will give it our best. We have His Holiness's blessings with us. We do not have any personal agenda. It's all for the Himalayas. Yes, we had faced our fair share of challenges but here we are today after a successful year. In one year our fellows have found their way, and all of them are about helping the environment, society and humanitarian work to help people.

Dr Pramath Raj Sinha: There was always a strong mission and purpose that they have always had for education. It was inevitable to not join forces to build this programme.

Education and Beyond: The Naropa Fellowship and the Druk Padma Karpo School are trying to impart education that has more impact than just passing exams
(Pic: Prajanma Das | Express) 

Be it the Naropa Fellowship or the Druk Padma Karpo School, the programmes are very unique and stand apart from the formal education system that we are used to in India. How much impact do you think it has had on society?
PRS: The Naropa Fellowship is still new and we can only hope that it will have the impact. But even in this nascent stage some of the fellows who graduated are showing promising signs that they will do good for the society. All of them have empathy for the issues here. Some of them have committed to solving some of those issues here. How much impact will that have is difficult to predict now but if running programmes like these have taught me anything its that these are not one-offs. You can continue this (the fellowship programme) there will be a whole carder of people who will go on to become champions for the region. The school too has had people who have done great work for the region. 

TR: As he said, it is difficult to know right away. But we all have hope that we can at least make them understand the basics of the gift of life and the plight of the society around them. In the school, we follow the same curriculum that the other schools teach but the only difference is we talk to our students more, we interact with them. The teachers take out time for interaction with the students rather than just teach them what the books say. They talk about appreciating the basics that they enjoy — like the fact that they are in school and a thousand others are not should inspire them. We also talk to them about issues like anger — I have seen so many students who get angry at the drop of a hat, we teach them how to manage that. We also talk to them about appreciating the food they eat, the water they drink. And this has had an impact that you can clearly see. other schools have problems of drug problems, youth going wayward etc with their students who are in Class 10 or are graduating school. We do not have a competitive environment here. We would rather keep our students grounded.

PRS: Most schools, colleges and parents will tell the kids to become the best in the world. What we are saying is become the best for the world. These people might not always be the toppers but they are surely the ones with a sense of compassion, with an urge to do good for society. When I met them (the monks) it felt like I had to work with them. I was bringing the expertise of a different kind but they had the mission to do good for the people.

The draft NEP has been a hot topic of discussion for the past couple of months. What are your views on it?
PRS: A lot of the ideas we have been talking about are there, but remember, it's just a draft. And policy is not an act or a law — it is just a suggestion of what would be good. It's like saying, 'I would like all human beings to be honest.' But how you make that happen is a whole different ball game. There were good propositions in the previous policy as well but very little of it was implemented. The problem with our country is that we know all the answers but we don't know how to implement it. I take opportunities like this to build a programme. I could have gone to the MHRD and pitched this to them but then it will never see the light of day. And I do not have the patience. There is no doubt they neither of us are doing it for the money or any personal agenda. Today the government should be coming to him and proposing a university here. But instead, they will create problems for us.  

Talking about morphing into a university. Do you think it will be easier to scale up now that Ladakh is set to be a UT?
PRS: I think that if you are doing anything of quality in India you have to scale up. You cannot say that I will give this to only 52 people. You have to think big. Not because you need to expand but because there are so many more people who deserve it. What form that takes — does the school become a CBSE school or the fellowship becomes a university — I don't know but it needs to be made available to as many as possible but obviously without diluting the quality. There's no point in becoming big for the sake of becoming big. 

The higher education scenario in Ladakh is very bad at present. What do you think should be the first step that should be taken in the education sector once Ladakh becomes a UT?
PRS: The situation is bad across the country but here there are no options (to opt for a good university). I don't think we need a run-of-the-mill engineering college or medical school. India already has too many of them and you can go there if you wish to. We need a more relevant and contextual education. Which is what the school (Druk Padma Karpo) and this fellowship are trying to do. We need to upgrade the type of institutions so that we can unlock the potential of the people. I would give freedom to high-quality institutions to set up base here. The best example is the newly-bifurcated state of Andhra Pradesh. (Former CM) Chandrababu Naidu had said that he will get special provisions for anyone who wants to set up a new institution but it cannot be the same engineering college or a medical school — it has to be of a certain calibre. Climate change is important, Buddhist studies and cultural studies are important — focus on those and make it really engaging and not become another IIT. 

What is the greatest take away from the Naropa fellowship?
 These students have been with us for the past year and have gone through an immense change. When they first came I had asked them what they wanted to do in life and none of them had a clear idea of the path they would take. But what fills my heart with joy is that in a year they have plans and they know exactly what they can and cannot do. Moreover, they are happy. They have found a purpose. 

PRS: What a year of the fellowship has brought out in the fellows is amazing. Imagine if they have had a 16-year education like this. My belief really gets strengthened when I see the outcome of this fellowship. we need to give our children the space to discover and talk about the relevant issues. We have become more career-oriented. When they came here they did not have a hint of how this will shape them and now they have the sense of responsibility for society — that is the take away from the fellowship.

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