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Sonam Wangchuk
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PostPosted: November 10th, 2009, 4:01 pm 
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After working in Ladakh for 20 years and spearheading a government school reform movement called Operation New Hope (ONH), in the past one year, I have been on an advisory assignment for MS Nepal for the Education for Freedom Project (EFP) in partnership with BASE Bardiya. In Ladakh, apart from curriculum reform, teacher training and community mobilisation, I have been designing low-cost passive solar-heated school buildings. In Bardiya I started working on naturally cooled schools for the Hot Terai belt.


Sonam Wangchuk measures temperatures in the first school built partly with the new climate responsive technique.
Schools Constructed in Bardiya:

In EFP at BASE Bardiya, among other things we have been involved in school infrastructure support. Last year we decided that we should try and build models of Low-cost Climate Responsive Buildings (that are cool in summer, warm in winter and less noisy in the rainy season) that can later be replicated by the government if found suitable. It is a well-known fact that the current school buildings are found to be too hot in the Terai and too cold in the Pahar. We have also observed that the classroom temperature directly influences the attendance of the children in winter and summer.

As Nepal is set to build 50,000 schools by 2012 under Education for All (EFA), we thought it would be good to share the experience with other stakeholders in EFA. We are mainly focussing on using construction methods that make maximum use of environment friendly locally available materials and skills and yet give structurally strong earthquake resistant Climate Responsive buildings at a low cost. After building one naturally cooled school with conventional materials, now we are starting a new one with Compressed Stabilised Earth Blocks (CSEB), while also exploring another similar method called 'rammed earth technique' (traditional in the Himalayan range). CSEB is fast developing globally as a modern eco-building material consisting mainly of local earth, mixed with 5% cement and then compressed (with 15 ton force) in a press machine - ­­­resulting in bricks/blocks that are much stronger and cheaper than country fired bricks. We shall be using passive cooling/heating principles along with CSEB technology as promoted by the reputed Auroville Earth Institute in South India( ), which also holds the UNESCO chair for Earth Architecture. According to estimates the use of this and other techniques like Ferro-cement green roofing could bring the cost of construction down by roughly 30% compared to conventional beam-pillar-slab structures.

Other benefits:

Apart from being environment friendly CSEB technique and rammed earth technique are very labour intensive which means that a massive school construction movement can create tens of thousands of local jobs. Where funds are a constraint and community is expected to contribute it also means that the community can contribute a very significant amount in labour, a resource that no part of the country can claim they don’t have. Since earth/soil, the other important resource in this technique, is already free what the two factors together mean for the government and donors is that you get almost two schools from the budget of one conventional school, without taxing the community in resources they don’t have.

What results is nothing substandard also. These are structurally strong eco-friendly earthquake-resistant school buildings of global standard that are designed to be naturally cooled in the hot Terai areas and solar heated for the cold Pahar/Himal regions. With five ring beams and numerous vertical ties the building method is certified as earthquake resistant by the governments of Gujurat and Tamil Nadu in India and Government of Iran (All earthquake/tsunami affected regions because the method is widely used for rehabilitation work there).

Besides a good building, choosing techniques that are labour intensive adds another interesting dimension. Although where funds are not a problem this can mean local employment, even the shortage of funds can be a great opportunity rather than a problem - for mobilising the community to contribute all the unskilled labour as their share of contribution to the project. Apart from 'two schools for the cost of one' you also get a bi-product that could perhaps be even more valuable than the school building itself. What is this bi-product? Bringing the community to participate and volunteer labour will call for work on community sensitisation around education. If this is done properly then the resulting sense of ownership would positively influence what happens in the new school long after it is built – in terms of community monitoring of quality, general accountability etc. On yet another plane when common voiceless people (voters) start giving priority to education, the beauty of democracy is that the elected governments also start giving top priority to education, thus bringing life and sustainability to the whole process of education of the poor. You may read the article that I wrote about this theory based on experiences form Ladakh



About Sonam Wangchuk:

Born in Ladakh in India. Though a Mechanical Engineer by education, Sonam has been working in the field of education reform for the last 20 years. He has been on the National Governing Council of the Sarvashiksha Abhiyan (EFA) in India and have supported the Hill Council Government in Ladakh as an advisor for education.

Awards & Honours:

India Real Heroes Award by CNN IBN Channel 2008

Green Teacher Award by Sanctuary Asia Magazine 2005

Ashoka Fellowship by Ashoka: Innovators for the Public, 2002

Man of the Year by the Week Magazine India, 2001

Governors Medal, J&K State Government 1996



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