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Letters without Borders

Letters without Borders

seraA typical day for a teacher begins at as early as 7:30 am with the morning assembly, sometimes stomach empty yet hands filled with students’ notebooks. Having lived a life as a teacher for a long time, I am very much included in this category. No matter what the society says, I respect and love my teaching profession as I look at it as one of best professions in this world.




FB IMG 1502992037077Just as the fingers on our hand are different, there are different types of teachers. There are teachers who always go some extra mile. These teachers and persons should be duly acknowledged so that they can further move ahead. If your teaching becomes your passion, then there will be no problem. Just like the way runners in cross country race develop second wind, many teachers have been experiencing this kind of second wind and they can easily go some extra mile without much effort.




IMG20170822094655 copy 2Among many teachers who have similar stories to share, here is an English teacher in a far-flung south India who has started a letter exchange program among nearby Sambhota school, TCV school and Sera school. At a time when most of us are adept in sending quick messages using gadgets, she let her children exchange letters with the students of these two schools. It may be difficult to handle the delivery and other formalities but she is fully committed to give this true learning experience for her students.




FB IMG 1505570809597Letter exchange may not be always restricted within the school, it can go beyond and one should be ready to go little extra as a teacher provided that whatever you are doing is for the benefit of your young children.


   Tenzin Dhargyal (TPD)

Personal Opinion on TPD

TCV-School-Suja-Activity-06It has been almost four years since the official inception of Teacher professional Development programs in Tibetan schools across India and Nepal. This program has been initiated by the Department of Education, CTA after a thorough research done as per the recommendation from the Education Advisory board and undergoing many discussions in various levels, with the sole purpose of raising the standard of school education given in the Tibetan schools.  Likewise a lot of money has been invested in installing Teacher Reading Corners, procuring books, workshops, activities and projects related to this Teacher Professional Development. A special website for the educators www.tibetanteachers.com was also launched on 5th September coinciding the teachers' Day. The Department had also published one Guidelines and Framework of Teacher Professional Development for the educators and accordingly given workshops for the school heads. Thus, it has become the first priority among other mandatory programs in all the Tibetan schools.  Today, despite all the inconveniences and hectic schedules, all the Tibetan schools have been implementing this project according to the suitability of respective schools and it’s a success story compared to earlier past; when of course there were teacher collaborations but not at this vigorousity. It still needs to be improved and strengthened as success has no limit.

d90619965e61460e9ee1bcb00bcaab23Effective professional developments definitely affect students. The students’ learning and achievement increase when teachers engage themselves in effective teacher professional development programs. In any educational institution, teachers’ own professional development programs need to be given priority so that it practically sets a model for the students to develop love towards learning. Apart from the people who are purposely appointed in respective schools to facilitate and monitor the progress of Teacher professional Development projects, the school teachers as well as the school heads play very important role in executing these indispensible projects successfully in their respective schools.




Attitudes of the Teachers:  Growth mindset; always eager to try new things

The teachers play very important role in building of a future generation. The quality and the strength of our future generation depend upon the education given in the school. Having felt the important role teachers play, the teachers need to be learning all the time. The more the teacher learns, the more effective his/her teaching becomes. Rather than looking at these projects as extracurricular, the teachers as well as the school heads need to look at these projects as means to develop themselves professionally. There are teachers who have good things to say about these projects. By participating actively in these projects, they see themselves developing both individually as well as professionally. As a saying, “Whether you think you can, or you think you can’t—you’re right.”—Henry Ford, it depends upon how you look at such new initiatives. A person with a growth mindset will always welcome new initiatives and moves forward no matter what but the person with fixed mindset will find reasons to avoid these and eventually cause negative vibes in the community. Days and days of lecture on importance of learning mean very less as compared to few hours of practical demonstrations by the teachers in passionately engaging in these professional development activities. A big question arises, are we really doing all these out of passion or as one of the mandatory activities of the school? If the answer is “Yes”, it’s great and if the answer is “No”, it’s high time now.

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Attitudes of the school heads: Supportive and motivating

The school heads are equally responsible for the successful implementation of these projects in their respective schools and they do have been working so hard in making this effective. There has been lots of progress and developments in schools but since the success has no end, they must put more focus on it. In spite of all the administrative work which devour most of their time, they should find time to motivate their teachers in developing their genuine love and interest in such activities. Rather than looking at these new initiatives as some mandatory programs in each calendar year, they should take these as indispensible for teacher’s professional growth and convinced their teachers. Developing professionally needs to be the only priority for any professional. If there is no professional development, there will be no new change towards progress. The school heads should love their teachers and always be concerned about their consistent development either as a person or as a teacher. They should occasionally meet their teachers and talk about their TPDs so that the teachers feel its importance. Instead of having one particular day to present all the projects, they can also fix some school hours where the teachers as well as the school heads talk about these and give guidance. They should also regularly visit the teacher reading corner and encourage others to read books from that corner as well.

Conclusion: As said earlier, this important project which is formerly initiated in Tibetan schools with the sole aim of improving quality of education for the students needs to be given the first priority in all schools. The more vigorous these projects are, better and more effective pedagogy, the school experiences. As such, there should be support and co-operation from all sides so that these programs go effectively in all the Tibetan schools uniformly. Even if there is no substantial or concrete result in the end; which of course is not at all true, but at least there will be whole lot of new learning and interaction among the teachers through the process.

Tenzin Dhargyal

Are we teaching languages the wrong way?

Are we teaching languages the wrong way?

A debate on language teaching in Tibetan refugee schools



In the last couple of years, probably for the first time in the history of Tibetan refugee education, Tibetan educators in India came into close contacts with education experts associated with the National Council of Educational Research and Training (NCERT), India’s apex educational resource organization. I have been involved in these conversations from the very start. These interactions started in May 2013 when two English language teaching workshops were given by the NCERT to more than 60 language teachers of Tibetan schools. Since I was the coordinator of these workshops and attended many of its sessions, it provided me with a rare opportunity to listen and observe these dialogues and exchanges, without the emotive compulsion of being a participant. Around the same time, Prof. Krishna Kumar, renowned educationist and the former director of NCERT, became a member of Tibetan Education Advisory Committee and attended its first meeting held in June 2013 in Dharamsala. Later, he became the chief advisor for CTA Department of Education’s Early Grade Reading Project. Likewise, Dr. Latika Gupta, chief editor of the NCERT’s graded reading series “Barkha” got involved in the same project, and they both facilitated the Early Grade Reading workshops to a large number of Tibetan primary teachers. I had the good fortune of attending some of the sessions as an observer. Most recently, Prof. Krishna Kumar interacted with the members of the TCV Education Development Committee (comprising of about 30 principals and headmasters led by the Education Director) on the issue of reading at the primary level.


I have been associated, either directly or indirectly, with these interactions between NCERT’s education experts and Tibetan educators. The privilege of being an observer, not a participant, in many of these dialogues has presented me with a unique vantage point to reflect on the issues under discussion without the burden of personal involvement. These interactions have raised some very fundamental questions about the nature of reading pedagogy and culture that exist in the early grades across Tibetan schools. In this short write-up, I attempt to present a summary of the dialogue for further reflection and deliberation. I must confess that I have no professional education, training, or experience in the area of language teaching or primary education.


What is language?

During the course of these interactions, one of the key emphases was on understanding what language really is. Is language just a school subject, like science or math? Or is communication the primary function of language? NCERT experts have spoken passionately that the language is much more than a ‘subject’ and that it is the key to the development of a child’s thinking capacities. Prof. Krishna Kumar said that ‘the child needs language to hold the world in his mind”. Language is seen as a part of human intellectual apparatus and important sense-making or meaning-making tool, besides being the medium of all learning.  This broader definition of language was a revelation to many Tibetan educators who were accustomed to treating language as a ‘subject’ and a medium of communication.


Phonics versus meaning

In Tibetan primary schools, teaching of language at early grades places a great deal of emphasis on phonics (sound). In fact, in Sambhota Tibetan schools where Basic Education Policy of Tibetan Government in Exile was first implemented, teaching of English as a second language begins with the “Sound Way Program” requiring drill and memorization of 45 sounds (phonemes) that comprise English words and the 75 ways there are of representing these sounds on paper (phonograms). It takes several months to teach the phonics. Though less rigorous, other school systems like Tibetan Children’s Village and Tibetan Homes Foundation also have a fair share of emphasis on phonics. However, the NCERT experts perceive this as a highly problematic approach. They consider this singular focus on phonics as a meaningless exercise, and argue that language is acquired when attention is focused not on language form, but on the meaning of messages. It is through regular exposure to comprehensible and meaningful inputs that children acquire language that is deployable or usable in real times. At some of the occasions, few Tibetan educators defended their current practices by saying it is working well with their children. It is at least good to see educators thinking, reasoning and engaging in a dialogue. But the question is how do we know if it is working well? Their defense was primarily based on ‘gut’ feeling, rather than any research evidence or data.


Generally, if we are to take into account the language competencies (both Tibetan and English) of Tibetan students graduating our schools, the situation looks rather grim. This means that there must be something wrong with the language pedagogy and other conditions that are necessary for development of language skills. Yes, early emphasis on phonics may produce deceptive fluent readers at the initial stage, who can decode or read fluently and ‘correctly’. But the question that is of far greater importance is whether the child is able to comprehend or find meaning in what he/she is reading. It is highly plausible that he/she may be just parroting. It is, however, important to add that most of the Tibetan primary schools use a variety of methods simultaneously like storytelling, independent reading, etc. aside from the phonic approach.  


This is an example of worldwide debate, which is sometimes described as reading war. The two sides somewhat represent the two dominant theories in education – Behaviorism and Constructivism. Phonic approach derives its logic primarily from the behaviorist thinking, which is now relegated to backyard with the advent of the constructivist pedagogy.


Culture of correction

NCERT experts have openly critiqued the ‘culture of correction’ that is widespread in many schools in the Indian subcontinent, including Tibetan primary schools. They argue that the ‘correction’ is highly problematic and destructive, especially at the level of early grades (grade 1 and 2). Children at this age are extremely tender, and to expect a certain degree of correctness from them is developmentally inappropriate. It is true that there is a predominant culture of correction in our schools, emphasizing ‘correct’ pronunciation, ‘correct’ spelling, ‘correct’ handwriting, ‘correct’ answer, etc. Correction and uniformity discourages creativity and development of free thinking. Such culture of correctness is widely prevalent in schools where performance supersedes the developmental aspect of child’s learning and growth. The NCERT experts argue that correction, in accordance with the dominant standards, can begin only in the upper primary grades. This is a major dilemma for Tibetan educators, many of whom seem to believe that early correction is beneficial. One of them wrote on our facebook group page: “aren’t we letting children to go in the wrong direction if we don’t correct them on time?” Here it is helpful to take a recourse to first language acquisition. Children perform this amazing feat of acquiring oral competency in the language(s) he/she is exposed to from the birth, without regular teaching or correction. This shows that if they are provided with comprehensible and meaningful language inputs, they will, in due course of time, correct themselves and acquire oral competency in the language.



After speaking to TCV EDC Meeting, on our way back in car, Prof. Krishna Kumar suggested few books to study these issues further. These books are - Frank Smith’s Comprehension and Learning, and Understanding Reading; James Britton’s Language and Learning; and Joan Taugh’s Development of Meaning, and Listening to Children Talking. It would be safe to say that there is no one correct approach to teaching reading to early graders. However, we need to rise above the current practices, and explore and embrace new ideas and approaches. Perhaps the best way to do so would be to read these books with an open mind.


Written by: Kalsang Wangdu

Time for Collaborative practices and Individual PGPs

book-towerThe month of March, which is normally devoted for the teachers to decide and choose their collaborative practices and Individual Professional growth plans is almost at its final phase. It is hoped that all the teachers have already chosen own professional development practices and submitted the same to their school heads.

Teacher professional development project is a very important move forward towards developing better Educational standard in Tibetan schools. The project came into being in 2014 with the recommendation of the Tibetan Education Advisory committee under the Department of Education, CTA Dharamsala. It started in 11 pilot schools and gradually replicated in remaining Tibetan schools in exile. A lot of emphasis and funds had been incurred towards its successful implementation because the quality of education depends upon the effective teaching and methodology used by the teachers.

Under Teacher Professional Development guidelines and framework, the teachers are entitled to engage in two professional developments:

Collaborative Practices: A group of teachers work together to do Book Discussion, Lesson Study, Lesson Observation etc.

Individual Professional Growth Plan: A teacher chooses one simple goal related to his/her professional and work to achieve the goal within his/her own time span.

Catching The Reading Bug

Reading is a pleasurable pursuit. Reading is also the foundation of learning, and our success in school and career depends a lot on our reading habit. In the book Power of Reading, Stephen Krashen wrote that no single literary activity has a more positive effect on students’ comprehension, vocabulary knowledge, writing ability, and overall academic achievement than free voluntary reading. Reading is not only crucial for academic success, it also plays a key role in nurturing our emotions and value-orientation. But often in schools, teachers and children find it difficult to cultivate reading habit or find joy and pleasure in what they were reading as part of the curriculum. In this short write-up, I would like to throw up some practical tips for you to catch the reading bug.