Nobel Week Dialogue

Sonam Wangchuk

A engineer by education, and inventor of the Ice Stupa artificial glacier for storing water, Sonam Wangchuk works on education reform in the trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh, India.

A mechanical engineer by education, Sonam Wangchuk has been working in the field of education reform for more than 30 years. In 1988 he founded SECMOL (Students’ Educational and Cultural Movement of Ladakh), which aimed to bring reforms in the government school system in the trans-Himalayan region of Ladakh, India.

He was instrumental in the launch of Operation New Hope, a triangular collaboration of the government, village communities and the civil society to bring reforms in the government schools system. The programme involved formation of village education committees to take ownership of state schools, training of teachers in child friendly ways and re-writing and publishing localised text books for Ladakh.

For students who still failed in their state exams he founded the SECMOL Alternative School Campus near Leh, a special school where the admission criteria is failure in exams and not grades. As an engineer Wangchuk teaches innovation at the school, where together with the students he designed and built solar heated buildings that are low cost, made of earth and mud but maintain +15 C even when the outside temperature is –15 C in Ladakhi winters.

In order to solve the water crisis facing mountain regions due to climate change and fast melting glaciers he also invented the Ice Stupa artificial glacier which stores the wasting stream waters in winter in the form of giant ice cones or stupas and releases the water in late spring when farmers need water.

He is now extending this experience of learning by doing to higher education and is in the process of setting up a university which will follow the pedagogy of experiential learning.