Sikkim is all poised to become a fully literate state by the end of this year, the second state in the country to achieve this feat after Kerala. However, almost a century back, achieving such a feat might have seemed an extremely formidable task, if not impossible. In this piece, I have endeavoured to briefly trace the journey of modern education in Sikkim.

Education in Sikkim before Sikkim’s merger
Sikkim’s tryst with formal education, alarmingly enough, started a great deal later than the propagation of modern education by the British in India in the first half of the nineteenth century. As surprising as might sound, it was the British administration which introduced modern system of education in Sikkim, too. The then landlocked, quasi-theocratic kingdom of Sikkim could not keep itself aloof from the policy of expansionism and revanchism doggedly pursued by the neighbouring kingdoms, particularly Nepal and Bhutan. The British, with their ever-increasing lust for power and trade, sucked Sikkim into its vortex colonial design after the Treaty of Titalia in 1817, after which the British influence in Sikkim only increased with each passing day. The advent of the British in Sikkim and their subsequent ‘interference’ in Sikkim’s administration paved the way for modern education in Sikkim; with JC White, the first Political Officer opting to educate the royal prince and the children of influential families. However, the object of the British administration behind introducing the system of modern education both in India and Sikkim, to the greatest extent, had been to serve their own purpose, and the benefit of education for the Indian and Sikkimese populace was, thus, purely incidental.
Prior to the advent of the British and the subsequent introduction of a modern system of education by them, Sikkim’s educational contour was quite smooth and even, with only the traditional Lamaistic system of education in place. This traditional Lamaistic system of education was intended to benefit only those preparing for the religious order. It can thus be safely surmised, then, that up until the first half of the twentieth century, a vast majority of the Sikkimese people were unlettered. Formal education in Sikkim remained outside the state’s affairs right up to the concluding decades of the 19th century as the efforts towards it were made only by some private enterprises.

Serious efforts for education in Sikkim were made under the patronage of Chogyal Sidekeong Tulku. It was he who, as he was influenced by Western ideas after having had his education in England, initiated a slew of reforms in education in Sikkim. Most importantly, he is credited to have made education accessible to the common people. Through the resolutions drawn by the State Council, he opened vernacular schools at Namchi, Rhenock and Pathing in 1909 under his personal supervision. Education in Sikkim gained momentum under the ‘liberal’ rule of Maharaja Sir Tashi Namgyal. A plethora of reform measures was undertaken under the direct supervision of the Maharaja, prominent among them being setting up of ‘Board of Education’ which initially consisted of ten members. The two boarding schools set up earlier, viz. the Bhutia Boarding School and the Nepali Boarding School were amalgamated into ‘Tashi Namgyal High School’ in 1925.

Where Sikkim stood in education in the first half of the twentieth century can be gauged from the fact that barely 2.98% of the people could read and write in 1917. The early 1950s is considered as the period of rapid development of education in Sikkim. However, the literacy rate was not very encouraging even in 1951 with less than 7% of overall literacy rate and only 1 percent of literate women while India’s literacy rate around this time hovered just above 18%. As if the Chogyal administration and the people of Sikkim suddenly woke up to the grim situation, Sikkim witnessed an unprecedented upsurge in education during the mid-1950s, which was marked by the creation of the Department of Education for the first time in 1954. With just 70 Lower Primary Schools, 14 Upper Primary Schools, 2 Middle Schools and 2 High Schools in 1954, the figure rose to 117 Lower Primary Schools, 47 Upper Primary Schools, 13 Middle Schools and 5 High Schools. Apart from the proliferation of schools in Sikkim the 1950s, the state also set up the following educational institutions buttressing the incipient modern education in the state –

  1. Teachers Training Institute
  2. The Namgyal Institute of Tibetology
  3. Government Institute of Cottage Industries
  4. Tashi Namgyal Academy (1964 *)

Education in Sikkim post-Sikkim’s merger With the merger of Sikkim into the Indian Union in 1975, the state witnessed a renewed impetus in education, the central government pumped in a lot of ‘development fund’ thereby increasing manifolds the share of fund spent in education. After the merger, the education system in Sikkim was streamlined and dovetailed with the Indian system of education and as such, all the national programmes on education were introduced in Sikkim as well, resulting in a steep rise in literacy and rapid development of educational institutions and infrastructure across the state. With 56.94%, Sikkim breezed past the national average in literacy in 1991, which was 52.21%. This spike in literacy rate from 17.94% in 1971 to 56.94% in 1991, apart from the reasons mentioned above, was also largely due to the introduction of non-formal, Adult Education and Rural Functional Literacy Programme in Sikkim. Adult education and Rural Functional Literacy Programme became popular among the adults of the state and was known as ‘Night School’ as teaching used to happen after sunset. Started in the year 1978 under National Adult Education Programme, Sikkim registered an unprecedented surge in the adult education centres, with 424 centres established that very year where 11,000 adults enrolled, which was almost 10% of the total male population of that time. Separate adult education for female was also set up by the state in the year 1980-81 which was known as the State Adult Education Programme. By 1984, Sikkim had a total of 648 adult education centres with 12,961 learners. In the same year, i.e. in 1978, there were 378 centres under Non-Formal Education with 10,000 adults benefiting from it. Thus, Adult Education together with Non-Formal Education played a significant role, apart from a boost informal education, in the rapid increase of literacy in the state after the merger.

Sikkim’s obsession with education
Notwithstanding the vision of Chogyals Sidkeong Tulku and Tashi Namgyal and the amount of fund pumped into the state by the Indian government after the merger a fairly good share of which was directed towards education, it was the Sikkimese people’s obsession with education that actually propelled the development of education in the state. It is quite evident from the fact that almost all of the schools in rural Sikkim were initially established by ‘village committees’ and not by the government, which were later recognized by the government. It is these committees which deserve special commendation for establishing numerous schools across rural Sikkim by donating their land and collecting money to be paid to teachers. Every successive government in Sikkim has prioritised education. The LD Kazi government, more than taking new initiatives, seems to have worked more towards dovetailing Sikkim’s education with India’s – a priority necessitated by the merger. While the Bhandari government must be credited for laying down the infrastructural foundation for Sikkim’s education, ensuring phenomenal growth in literacy in the state which finally overtook the national average in 1991, the SDF government’s initiatives towards education in general and higher education in particular have readied Sikkim to take second place in the country to become a literate state, after Kerala. I find it pertinent to mention here that in 1971, Sikkim’s literacy rate was the lowest in the country (though Sikkim hadn’t become a state yet) at 17.74% while Kerala’s was 69.75%. Outperforming every other state of the country in education in just around four decades is a feat well worth celebrating. However, this phenomenal surge in our state’s literacy has its own flip side, too. Today, almost every family in Sikkim has at least one graduate or post-graduate and most of them are unemployed, often called ‘educated unemployed’. The present government has the formidable task before it of tapping into the potential of the educated human resource of the state such that the demographic dividend that Sikkim is all set to receive doesn’t turn into a demographic disaster.

Planning Commission of India
NITI Aayog
Gazetteer of Sikkim, 2013
Sikkim Human Development Report, 2014
Education in Sikkim, Dick B. Dewan, 2012

About the Author: Santosh Subba is by training a software programmer with deep interest in literature and politics. He can be contacted at | Twitter: @sonupondhak

NB: Views/Opinions expressed in the article or write up is purely of the author or writer. For any queries or contradictions the author can be contacted in his/her email id.


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