IANS, a major South Asian news service, carried a story last week about the innovative features that have been built into the Druk White Lotus School in Ladakh. Located in the village of Shey, about 15 km southeast of Leh, Ladakh’s capital, the school building has been built using many path breaking, green technologies, according to the news story.
The building is constructed of local sandstone, willow, and poplar, as well as glass, steel, and solar panels, and it is reinforced with seismic rods and steel support structures to help it resist earthquakes. Approaches to the design of the building attempt to meld “sustainable” educational concepts, traditional Ladakhi Buddhist philosophies, and modern ideas about schooling. It has won numerous awards for its innovative design features.
The school building attempts to utilize and control sunlight, with glass building blocks, windows that face east to capture the morning sun, overhead light shafts to filter in the mid-day light, and glass panes facing west to capture the late afternoon sunshine. Solar panels outside the building generate electricity. That area of Ladakh receives over 300 days of sunshine per year. Trombe walls trap the heat from sunlight, releasing it slowly. Visitors to Ladakh are encouraged to reduce the carbon imprint from their flights in and out of the region by contributing to the cost of the school’s solar electric generator, which was installed in 2008. Also, the building has composting toilets.
Founded in the mid-1990s, the school has grown to the point where it now enrolls over 500 students, 260 boys and 246 girls, in nine grades, nursery through Junior Class 6. It plans to keep growing to include the higher grades of education. Instructors in the nursery levels teach with the Montessori system, while older children in the Junior School are taught with a more structured approach. The curriculum includes English, Hindi, Bodhic (a local language), math, social studies, information technology, and the creative arts.
The school was founded by, and continues to be a project of, His Holiness the 12th Gwalyang Drukpa, the head of the Drukpa branch of Tibetan Buddhism in Ladakh. Local villagers had asked him to establish a modern English school for their children, and he heeded their pleas.
Maureen Songhurst, a former principal at the school, provides a sensitive description of the school on the institution’s website. “The mission of Druk White Lotus School,” she writes, “is to enable the students to have the confidence and competence needed to succeed in the modern world, together with a sound grounding in the Ladakhi language, culture and traditions.”
She describes the programs the school offers, the nature of its residential facilities, and the attempts made by the school to foster an appreciation for the natural environment of Ladakh. All of these programs and approaches to education evidently spring from the vision articulated by His Holiness when he founded the school.