Transmitting Culture

In exile, Tibetans have built over three hundred monasteries and close to a hundred schools. These are sanctuaries of our culture. Even though the dream of a free independent Tibet may not be very realistic at this time, many Tibetans feel that what is even more precious and certainly more realistic, is trying to keep the distinct Tibetan identity intact and then making efforts to transmit our culture with its spiritual values down to the children.

In this field, the Tibetan refugee schools in exile have played and continue to play a significant role. Tibetan schools in exile operate within the broad framework of its host countries in Nepal and especially in India. Yet, within those contrasts, Tibetan educators and administrators have striven and found ways to use the school system to help transmit the culture to the children.

Early in the nineties, Tibetan educators adopted a policy that may be termed as the Tibetanization of education. Simply put, Tibetan educators decided to switch the medium of instruction from English to Tibetan at the primary school level. Realizing the importance of transmitting our culture to the children, this was a conscious effort to use the schools to help in this task.

This switch entailed developing our own curriculum and printing books in all subjects in Tibetan and then training teachers to teach in this medium. This was no small task for an exiled community, but spearheaded by the Tibetan Children’s Village (TCV) group of schools, Tibetan educators embraced this policy and we’ve made significant strides. In time, aside from textbooks, colorful children’s literature has also been developed. Check out this beautiful collection from the Sambhota Tibetan Schools, Society, Dharamsala, India:

Most of the larger Tibetan schools in exile are residential boarding schools. These invariably have a religious teacher who grounds them into our spiritual tradition. Buddhism is so steeped into Tibetan lives so that sometimes it is difficult to separate Tibetan and Mahayana Buddhist cultures.
Tibetan schools also have Tibetan Music, Dance, and Drama as part of their school curriculum. Performing Arts is an important part of our culture. In exile, Tibetans have tried to recreate some key cultural institutions. One of them is the Tibetan Institute of Performing Arts (TIPA). Based in Dharamsala, TIPA artists have been showcasing Tibetan performing art across the globe. Many of the teachers who teach Tibetan Dance and Music in our schools are graduates of this amazing institution. More information on TIPA is available at
What seems essential to help the Tibetan Dance & Music programs to succeed is the availability of the traditional musical instruments and the really colorful dance and drama costumes. Transmitting the Tibetan culture to the children in exile is a challenging task. In India, Tibetans are surrounded by a billion Indians and India has vast powers of assimilation. In the past several invaders had come to conquer the land, only to be ultimately assimilated into the mosaic of India. So a hundred thousand Tibetans can so easily be swept away in this tide of assimilation.
There are many things that Tibetan children find attractive in exile – Bollywood, Hollywood, and Youtube are huge attractions. So, in a way, our cultural programs are competing with these attractions for our children’s interest. That is why we have to try and make our programs as attractive as we can.
Fortunately, it does seem like when programs are run well with the needed resources, they are successful. At Kyitsel-ling Tibetan Children’s Education Center, N India, the children enjoy them. They like to rehearse their dances, learn the traditional musical instruments and when we have TCEF groups visit them, they put on wonderful concerts for us. What is perhaps most important is that the children really seem to be animated and happy during these performances.