At Tibetan Children’s Village Day School in the Tibetan refugee settlement, Majnu ka Tila, English is not introduced until Class IV. This is because the Tibetan language and script is at the centre of learning at the 105-student school, which has three kindergarten classes, and Classes I to V.
The aim, teachers say, is preservation and perpetuation of the language, identity and culture of the community.
On a weekday, children sit at low desks on carpeted floors, and chant after their teacher. Younger ones from kindergarten are more mobile, scribbling while lying on their stomachs, occasionally wriggling out of their classrooms.
The curriculum in the school is different from that in others in the city. From kindergarten to Class II, children learn Tibetan language and script, mathematics, Tibetan songs, arts and craft, and Riglam — a traditional study of logic meaning “path of reason”.
In Class III, the curriculum expands to include science, social science and computers, and in Class IV, English is introduced.
“His Holiness the Dalai Lama and our government-in-exile are very focused on the younger generation as they are very important for our Tibetan cause. As a refugee community with a small population, not just in India but wherever Tibetan people have settled, it is very important for us to protect our language, identity and culture. At the primary level, none of the Tibetan schools in India introduce Hindi and English because language is the most important foundation. Even the teaching of science and math is based on the Tibetan script. It is very important for our situation,” said Migmar Tsering, the school’s headmaster.
Every Wednesday, teachers and students attend school wearing traditional clothes, and children are served a Tibetan lunch — a departure from dal, chawal, sabzi served on other days.
“When we first introduced this Wednesday custom, many children were surprised. They didn’t recognise the clothes others were wearing as children come wearing traditional clothes from their particular region or village. They find out about the diversity of their homeland this way,” said Tsering. Amdo, Kham and U-Tsang dances are also taught to the children starting from Class I.
The year 2019 will mark the tenth year of this school in its current avatar. Until 2009, it was under the central government, extending till Class VIII, where Indian and Nepalese children also studied. However, Tibetan parents approached the New Aruna Nagar Residents Welfare Association with a demand for a separate school to protect their culture.
In 2009, it became a branch of the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) under the government-in-exile’s education department, which has branches across India. The branch in Majnu ka Tila is the only one in Delhi. After completing Class V, students go on to study in TCV residential schools in Dharamshala.