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Educator Awarded Fulbright to Study Tibetan Students in India

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Nawang B. Phuntsog has received a 2017-18 Fulbright-Nehru Academic & Professional Excellence Award to conduct educational research in Dharamsala, a city in the Indian state of Himachal Pradesh — and home to Tibetans living in exile, including the Dalai Lama.

Tibetans have been living in India since the 1950s, when families fled the occupation of Tibet by China. The Indian educational system has allowed the creation of a separate schooling system for Tibetan children to ensure that it is educationally relevant for Tibetan people living outside their homeland, noted Phuntsog, associate professor of elementary and bilingual education. This educational system has grown from serving 50 children in 1960 to around 24,000 students in 73 schools scattered all throughout India.

“This is an astounding achievement for a community that has lived displaced for over six decades,” said Phuntsog, whose host institution is the Library of Tibetan Works and Archives.

In school, children learn about Tibet history and culture, and recite the Tibetan national anthem to evoke patriotism and nationalism, Phuntsog added. These teachings and rituals are reenacted to ensure that Tibetan identity is “sustained in the hearts and minds of these school children.”

As a research fellow, he will explore dispositions, skills and attitudes associated with the cultivation of a “compassionate schooling culture,” taught to Tibetan children, and how this may lead to “altruism,” described as the need to embrace others “as more precious than one’s self.”

“This study is based on the premise that when compassion becomes the foundation of socialization, social justice matters are addressed empathetically and responsively — from local to global levels,” Phuntsog explained.

Phuntsog leaves July 1 and will spend about six weeks interviewing teachers, principals and education ministers. The second phase of the study, to be conducted in June 2018, will involve classroom visitations, artifact collection, student interviews and additional teacher interviews.

In 2011-12, Phuntsog received a Fulbright award, where he studied the effects of heritage language on math and science achievements of sixth-grade Tibetan children in India.