Education reform, interrupted

After having transformed Ladakh’s educational system, a grassroots reform movement is now struggling against vendettas spearheaded by those in the bureaucracy.

Ladakh has always held a unique place in India's political landscape. Physically cut off from New Delhi by the Zanskar range, and administered from afar by the Jammu & Kashmir state government, Ladakh struggled for decades with the effects of unresponsive governance. Nowhere were those effects more visible than in the territory's government schools. Students and their parents made do with absent teachers, inappropriate curricula and a matriculation percentage that sat firmly in the single digits.

In 1994, villagers, local education-department officials and civil-society organisations of Leh District came together, at the behest of the Students' Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh (SECMOL), to launch a movement dubbed Operation New Hope. The goal was to overhaul the territory's schools, and the time proved ripe for just such a large-scale reform movement. Test scores improved, attendance went up and local communities gained a critical feeling of involvement in their school systems. Suddenly, however, within a period of just months, all of these gains have become endangered.

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Himal Southasian