‘Redesign education to heal planet, people’ – Magsaysay Awardee Sonam Wangchuk

Sonam Wangchuk

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‘Redesign education to heal planet, people’ – Magsaysay Awardee Sonam Wangchuk

Inoue Jaena

Sonam Wangchuk, who initiates educational reforms in India, hopes the youth will apply knowledge 'to find practical solutions to real-life problems'

The 6 recipients of the prestigious 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Awards were officially recognized during the presentation ceremonies at the Cultural Center of the Philippines on Friday, August 31.

Among the awardees is India’s Sonam Wangchuk, who partnered with local governments to institute reforms that focus on “creative, child-friendly, and activity-based” education in the northern Indian state of Jammu and Kashmir. He also established the Students’ Education and Cultural Movement of Ladakh School.

Here is the full text of his speech, as provided by the Ramon Magsaysay Award Foundation.


Ladies and gentlemen, I humbly accept this award not as an individual but on behalf of all the students, teachers, and people of Ladakh in the Himalayas where we are a microscopic minority – not only ethnic, cultural, but also climatic and environmental.

This award is a recognition of our efforts in the last 30 years to make education meaningful and contextual and make it available to all – rich, poor, rural and urban. And our effort has been to engage young people in applying knowledge to find practical solutions to real-life problems in their own context. We need to find answers to challenges such as freezing cold winters and climate change causing our life-giving glaciers to melt away.

Unfortunately, the world is still stuck with an education system that is 300 years old when at the onset of the Industrial Revolution, the focus was on exploiting nature for human need or greed.

A kind of war was declared on nature to “conquer” it, and use its resources…and our schooling system somehow became a training ground for this plunder.

In this war with nature, we evaporated half of the forests on earth and half its wildlife vanished in just the last 50 years. Nature, too, has responded with equal fury by unleashing cyclones, storms, droughts, floods, and made our air unbreathable, water undrinkable, temperatures unbearable.

At our school in Ladakh, when we come up with measures to respond to climate change by sensitizing each citizen – building solar-heated green buildings, digging swales, trenches, and check dams to absorb the rains, and building seasonal artificial glaciers to refreeze the glacial melt waters – people laugh and ask how we will finance this and scale up globally.

Yet on the other hand, the world spends $1.7 trillion a year on defense. Defense in future will not be India arming itself against China or China against the US. It will have to be all countries pooling their resources to defend themselves from new environmental challenges and climate change. In just one year, India and China together lose roughly 5 million lives to air pollution alone – lives lost without a single bullet fired by conventional enemies across borders.

And once again, in declaring peace with nature, we will have to redesign our education system to heal the planet and its people.

I appeal to the leaders of the world to recognize this war and have a relook at the meaning of defense in the 21st century.

As a symbol of this peace with nature, I want to dedicate this award and the prize money to start an international school in Ladakh where government and community join hands to prepare our children for these challenges of tomorrow. – Rappler.com

Read the speeches of other 2018 Ramon Magsaysay Awards recipients:

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