Mr.Sonam Wangchuk(right) with Mr. Gaurang Shetty, the chief organiser of the Maker Mela
It was the occasion of Maker Mela, a national level maker movement started by ‘riidl’, the incubation center of Somaiya college in Vidyavihar, Mumbai. And while there were various attractions by ‘makers’ from around the nation and also from abroad, the major crowdpuller had to be the speaker session by the man of the moment, Mr. Sonam Wangchuk.
For those who don’t know about him, he is the man who reformed the education system of Ladakh. He was recently awarded the prestigious Rolex award for innovative concept of Ice-Stupas by him and his students. There were 2344 candidates from as many as 144 nations. Besides, the character of ‘Rancho’ in the movie ‘3 Idiots’ was based on Sonam Wangchuk.
So, one of my friends told me that he wouldn’t be able to make it to the seminar, thereby requesting me to take a video of the entire session. However, I did not like the idea of holding the phone the entire time and not applauding the man for his achievements. So I took notes of the session on my phone, covering almost every part of his speech. And mind you, this was one of the best speaker sessions I attended in the past few years.
He started by telling us a bit about the region he came from:
- Trans Himalayan region
- Nothing grows on it just like the martian or lunar landscape
- Still green due to humans(How ironic!)
- Temp form -35 to 35 degree Celsius
Then he touched upon the following points explaining why he chose to follow the path of reforming the education system in the region:
- Nearly 5 percent passing result in all schools in 10th standard board examinations in 1999
- He said that for a child to understand F for fan in -25 degrees, T for train in a snowclad region and S for ship where there are no seas nearby is pretty tough.
- When he did his own education he realised all these things. He added that the people blame the students while the culprit is the system
- Students are often met with ridicule
- Adding a little humour to his speech he said that, the teachers from outside Ladakh said that in the mountainous regions ,due to the lack of oxygen they were unable to study.
- Seeing all this, he decided to bring reforms to the education system
And here’s what he did:
Re-wrote textbooks and trained the teachers to be compassionate. The percentage of students passing rose from 5% in 1999 to 75% in the year 2015. However instead of taking pride in this feat, even 1% failure is very sad if that one percent involves you. He believes that it is not the failure of the student, it’s the system that is failing in their ability to recognise them and their talents.
So he opened the SECMOL school for taking care of those who fail.
- Unlike other universities and colleges, the admission criteria for this school is ‘failure’.
- The purpose of this school is about living in a harmless and harmonious way. It engages students to become positive change agents.
- SECMOL institute is constructed from mud and is powered by Sun.
- Students are engaged in running and renovating the school themselves.
- They make their rules and their own system.
- It is being run like a small country where there is a Bimonthly Parliament. This Parliament decides the goals for the next two months. Different students realise different responsibilities. Some take care of gardens, cooking, etc, while some apply the knowledge gained by theoretical learning. Students plan and market products of their own. With the profits earned, they do a India tour and they come back and document it in their institute newspaper.
- The rooms are kept warm during the winter by using the greenhouse cycle.
The punishment for the students of this school is not waiting after school or suspension. Rather, the punishment is sending the students back to their homes for a period of two weeks.
- Contrary to what most people assume, the students visit their schools during the harsh winter vacations instead of the summers as there are ice hockey and ice skating arenas available during the winters.(Students there be like,”Winter is coming”)
- However the location of these naturally formed ice rinks are in secluded places away from the school. So the girls wouldn’t find it convenient to go to these places. And so, the students discovered a way of making an artificial rink that wouldn’t be affected by sunlight and could be made at a place of their choice. They built one just outside the girls hostel. The result? The girls represented India in the Asia challenge cup.
- The fees of this school is taken in what he calls the ‘Sweat equity’. They have to pay by providing man hours to various projects at the school. He says that kids who are treated as princes and princesses, often rely upon others to complete their basic chores.
So what does he plan to do with his newfound fame?
Using the fame he has recieved and the prize money of $150,000 (roughly 1 crore), he plans to green the desert and convert his institute into a huge green campus. He has started a crowdfunding campaign on milaap.org aiming for roughly 7 crores in funds.(The name of the project is HIAL)
His message for all the present day engineers and innovators:
- He said that these days, the students are intellectual but not practical. All you need to solve problems practically is High School level science. He said that along with this, the system should encourage application of theoretical knowledge.
His message for the rest of us people in the cities:
- Last but not the least he said that, the biggest danger due to the melting of glaciers is to the hilly regions of the Himalayas. But next in line would be the coastal areas of India due to higher sealevels.
Lastly he quoted, “Live simple in the cities, so that we in the mountains can simply live.”
After this session, Mr Sonam talked to the makers from all over the nation encouraging the 100 makers (teams) at Maker Mela to keep alive the maker bug in them and start solving real problems. During his session, he also explained in detail the innovation due to which he received the Rolex award followed by a question and answer session. Will put links on our website and our facebook page regarding the same. Stay tuned.