In Sershul, the poorest and most remote county of Sichuan Province, there is a private primary school where 4 devoted Tibetan teachers are responsible for 91 diligent nomad children. The initial school enrollment was 14 students. Constructed in a simple traditional style, the school consists of two one-story buildings with thin walls separating student dormitory rooms, teachers’ residences, and classrooms. Despite its small size, poor facilities, and adverse conditions, the school is now known to have the best students in the county, just a few years after its founding.
Ponru School was built in 2001 by the Ponru Community and a local Buddhist leader. Grant funding was provided by The Bridge Fund. Before 2001, the only access to formal education in this remote nomadic community was a distant township school which no local children had ever attended. After construction, the new school recruited 30 students from surrounding families, who were initially taught by two passionate, self-sacrificing teachers, one a female teacher sent by the government, and another a monk from the nearby monastery, who voluntarily taught Tibetan language.
In 2003, when the students’ results on a set of standard examinations came out, sensational news spread throughout the county, and even to neighboring counties. With the highest class average, the young Ponru School topped all other 33 schools in the county, some of which were established, well-staffed and relatively resource-abundant. Ponru students had demonstrated their remarkable capacity for learning, due to both the dedication of their teachers and their own eagerness to study.
Partly due to this unexpected achievement, the residents of Ponru village have developed a stongly supportive attitude towards education, in contrast with more skeptical views prevalent in many nomadic areas on the Tibetan plateau. In 2005, the school was improved by building a teachers’ residence and a greenhouse. The Bridge Fund provided a grant and village leaders gathered donations of cash and stones from local people, so that an additional classroom and toilet could be constructed as well. The villagers’ initiative was in part motivated by their hope to resist government plans to relocate the school’s students and teachers to the distant township school. Following this demonstration of local support, plans to relocate the students and teachers were scrapped, and Ponru School continues to thrive as a local center of learning, although its future remains uncertain.