By Abdul Ghani Sheikh, Stawa 12-19
Children in the classroom in a school in Leh, Ladakh
August Herman Francke was a man of many talents. He was a writer, musician, painter, and above all, a good teacher. Apart from two monumental books on Ladakh, he also wrote 150 articles on diverse topics related to Ladakh. He had a busy schedule. He also edited a local newspaper in Ladakhi called Ladakh ki Akhbar. He published text books and brought out a collection of stories in Ladakhi from the Bible. Dr. Francke spent a total of 12 years in Ladakh.
He was in favour of adapting Hindustani as medium of interaction and wanted his colleagues to learn it. At the time, many wives of clerics at Moravian mission also took on teaching and some local girls started to join the school. In 1894, the Moravian Mission opened a school at Khaltse; Dr. Francke moved to Khaltse along with his family. He visited every household to persuade parents to send their children to school. Initially, parents were reluctant to send their children to the school like the people of Leh and Shey.
However, Dr Francke's efforts bore fruit and the number of students increased to 30. The youngest was six-years-old while the oldest was 60. The latter was the village headman who was eager to learn to read and write. While the attendance remained high in the winter, it suffered in the summer when children took livestock to graze. Francke tried different innovations including a prize for the student who attended classes regularly and was punctual in attendance. Initially, the monastic community of Lamayuru monastery opposed the opening of the school in Khaltse and it was temporarily closed in 1900.
In 1903, two neo-Christians Chhombel and Stobgais visited the Dardic villages and recommended the opening of a school at Dah village. However, an influential person from the village opposed the proposal and stopped water for irrigation to the person who had given his land to build the school building. Eventually, the group mellowed and the school building was built.
In 1903 and 1904, two new primary schools were opened by the government. In 1908, Primary School in Leh was upgraded to a Middle School and one more teacher was appointed to it.
Khwaja Abdul Wahed, a citizen of Leh, has written about a Maktab (Muslim elementary school) in Leh during the 1920s in his book, Islam in Tibet and Tibetan Caravans. Like other Muslim children, he attended the Maktab to learn recitation of the holy Quran and prayers before joining the Government Middle School in Leh. Both boys and girls attended the Maktab, which was run by an elderly person named Lassa. Khwaja Wahed learnt Urdu and Arabic from another elderly person Akhon Ghulam Mohammad. In 1920, the Moravian Mission started a girl's school in Leh and within four years, its roll rose to 44 students.
In 1926-27, the Dogra government approved the proposal to open more schools in rural areas but was unable to implement the plan due to the lack of a candidate who had passed middle school.
In 1930, the Primary School in Kargil town was upgraded to a Middle School. The Primary School in Skardo had already been upgraded. In the same year, Shia Muslims in Leh opened a primary school in Leh called Imamia School. The roll soon increased to 34, including 21 girls in the first year. A handicraft teacher was soon added to the two teachers who had already been appointed at the school.
In due course, the Dogra government sanctioned scholarship for meritorious students. On 20 December, 1931, the Kashmir Raj Bodhi Mahasabha submitted a memorandum to the Glancy Commission on behalf of Ladakhi Buddhists. The Glancy commission had been constituted to look into the problems faced by the people of J&K and to recommend solutions to alleviate their grievances. In the context of education, the memorandum included the following points:
The Glancy Commission did not act on any of the demands made by the Kashmir Raj Bodhi Mahasabha. However, a Ladakhi student named Sonam Norboo was sent to study engineering along with six others from Kashmir valley and Jammu province in the light of recommendations by the Glancy Commission
In this period, literacy rates remained very low in Ladakh. While Buddhists received advanced training in Bodhi language, Ladakh remained deprived of modern education facilities. According to the 1931 Census, only 83 people out of 40,000 could read and write Urdu. Only three could write English. A total of two people out of every 1,000 attended primary class and only three had passed Middle School examination between 1900 and 1930.
In those days, when someone in Leh received a telegram or a letter in English, he or she would have to visit the clerics of Moravian Mission or local scholar Joseph Gergan to understand contents of the letter or telegram.
There were 26 Buddhist government employees in Ladakh region according to the census report. None of them were gazetted officers. The literacy and employment rate amongst Muslims and Christians was only marginally better.
In July 1933, some Ladakhi Buddhists constituted an educational organisation called Ladakh Buddhist Education Society. Ladakhi king Jigmet Dadul Namgyal was elected as its President, Kalon Lobzang Tsewang as its Vice President and Tsetan Phuntsog as Secretary. A Hindi writer named Rahul Sankar was in Leh at that point in time. On a request from the Buddhist leaders, he compiled three text books for students. Rahul Sankar was not satisfied with the performance of the members of the educational society. The state government had sanctioned six scholarships for Ladakhi Buddhist students for higher studies. However, the funds earmarked for a scholarship would often lapse as Buddhist students rarely travelled to Srinagar for higher studies.
Meanwhile, other parents started to send their sons to Srinagar for higher studies. This included Khwaja Abdullah, Khwaja Abdul Wahed, Eliezer Joldan, Danyal Dana and Sonam Norboo. Kh. Abdullah completed his Masters in Arts from Aligarh University. After partition, he migrated to Pakistan and served as the Pakistani Ambassador to Nepal and Libya. J. Dechen, a Christian from Leh, was the first graduate from Ladakh. He served as Deputy Commissioner in Ladakh in the 1950s. Mohammad Iqbal from Drass and Wazir Mahdi from Baltistan were pioneers in this regard from their areas. Both of them completed their MA and LLB from Aligarh University before independence. In 1917, Jamila Khanum from Kargil and Iris Dolzin became the first lady teachers in Ladakh. Dr. Otzer and Dr. Tsering Landol were the first doctors from Leh in post-in-dependence Ladakh.
On 1939, the post of Education Officer was created for Ladakh and Shri Dhar Kaul Dullu was appointed as Assistant Inspector of Schools in Leh. He remained in Ladakh till 1948. He was a talented and competent officer, who contributed to the steady rise in educational standards in Ladakh. On the eve of independence, there were 46 Primary Schools and three Middle Schools in Leh, Kargil and Skardo tehsils of Ladakh.
The Ladakh region witnessed a revolution in the field of education after independence in 1947. In 1949, the state government declared free education till the post-graduation level. In 1950, education was made compulsory for children till the age of 14 years. Leh Middle School was upgraded to a High School. In 1950, the government sanctioned scholarships for border areas based on academic merit and economic considerations.
In 1961, the male literacy rate was 15.4% and female literacy rate was 1.0%. The total aggregate literacy rate was 18.3%. By 2011, the literacy rate had improved considerably in Leh district to 77.2% (male: 86.31% and female: 63.56%) and 71.34% (male: 83.15% and female: 56.30%) in Kargil district. In contemporary times, there is a network of schools and higher educational institutions across Ladakh, including private and government facilities.