three hills

The Radio Zanskar remote schooling project is designed to improve education provision in the isolated Himalayan kingdom of Zanskar. Freeplay Energy had a great role in keeping the flame of education alive in the winter months.

The isolation of Zanskar – it is cut off from the outside world for almost seven months every year due to the high passes that surround it being blocked by snow – means that schooling in the valley is at best patchy. Some very good schools exist, and there is a strong culture of valuing education. But the isolation of winter tends to generate an exodus of teachers seeking to avoid being snowbound, creating a hiatus in schooling of three or four months every year.

To address this issue, Tanzin Norbu and Paul Howard are developing a scheme to adapt the remote schooling techniques developed by the famous 'Schools of the Air' in the Australian outback for use in the valley. In collaboration with existing schools in Zanskar, the aim of this project is to use radio communication, disseminated via Freeplay Energy Ltd's Lifeline solar-powered and wind-up radio, along with written course materials distributed throughout the summer, to keep at least the flame of education alive in the winter months.

The first stage in the development of Radio Zanskar is to visit Zanskar in winter via the Chadar, a trip funded by the Royal Geographical Society through its annual Neville Shulman Challenge Award. This trek along the frozen Zanskar river valley, in temperatures as low as -30ºC and through a gorge deeper than the Grand Canyon, has been the only winter link between Zanskar and the outside world for a thousand years. Indeed, without the Chadar, extreme as it is, life in Zanskar – permanent habitation – would not have been possible.

Now, though, the Indian authorities have begun construction of a road through the Zanskar river gorge. Upon completion, in approximately five years time, Zanskar will have a permanent connection with the outside world for the first time. The benefits of such a link are many and profound – improved healthcare, access to a wider range of goods and services, for example. There will, quite literally, be a whole new world of opportunity.

But the risks associated with such a traditional culture becoming exposed to the modern world are also pronounced. Just the physical presence of the road itself, which will continue right through the Zanskar valley, is a challenge. To many Zanskaris, having it pass directly through your village might seem a good idea; to those few who have experience of traffic, and of tourist buses and Indian army troop trucks rattling past the front door, the benefits of such close proximity are less clear cut.

As always, the answer is to provide people with sufficient knowledge for them to be able to make their own, informed decisions. Hence the Radio Zanskar project. Hence also our journey, to record the Chadar trek as a symbol of the unique Zanskari culture before it becomes obsolete and, in doing so, to raise awareness of the need to help Zanskaris confront the future on their own terms. Please visit the other pages on this site to discover more about the project, about our journey along the Chadar, about our supporters and about Zanskar itself. Thank you for your interest.

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