If you were designing education in a remote part of the Himalayas, what would you include? Yes, we would really like to know!
In Hangdewa, on the silent slopes of Kanchenjunga, the third highest mountain in the world, sitting on the borders of China, India and Nepal, the world can have the widest possible views and yet be a small place. What truly matters are domestic lives of roof over the head, food in the stomach, clean water to drink, family and community. But this can be an enormous daily challenge and so it is tempting to teach our 160 children in the Q. Learning School only the basics and focus on employability in the 21st century. And our teachers do that brilliantly. From four years old, all children are taught in English. Every child has several weekly sessions of 20 minutes on the 10 computers that the computer room has. Maths, science, geography, Nepali, history and cultural studies.…the list goes on.
But learning is more than subject specialism. In the UK, we have debates about competitiveness at schools but in Nepal there is a pragmatic approach to survival and flourishing that means the children aspire to greatness in many forms. Our children want to be doctors, nurses, teachers, engineers, footballers, and pilots. They want to break through poverty to shine and they are up for anything. When we took a telescope to the school, they turned up at night for a glimpse of the moon and the stars. When the school has a celebratory day, the children take to public speaking in English as the stars they are. When extra curriculum activities are offered, you can feel the excitement all the way over here in the UK!
Dipping their toe in the water, the school has gently started sending pupils out and hosting inter-school competitions with schools across the valley or 90 minutes’ walk away in the town of Taplejung. How sweet it is to win spelling tests, art competitions, and challenge others at chess! The concentration our children bring to the party at 8 or 10 or 12 years old is simply great practice for being future brain surgeons, or whatever they choose to be.
Coinciding with the Olympics in Rio, the headmaster, Tanka Bhattarai, created four school houses (red, blue, green and yellow) and the school had its own school sports day. Now bear in mind that the school sits thousands of feet up on a steep mountainside and although a playground exists, it is small. So the challenge was to devise sports that didn’t need much space. The tug-of-war, dipping for apples and good old fashioned treasure hunts really do help create teams and collaboration or competition. And the children loved having new clothes in their house colours.
As any teacher knows, teaching a full day is tiring (especially when the school week is 6 days, holidays are short and you might have to walk an hour each way home). So the school has started to welcome volunteers to help with some teaching support, extra-curriculum activities and to create sparkling classrooms (visual recognition of the work done by children). Anna and Nora are having a gap year before university and bringing their experience of school in Munich to Hangdewa. They have made a great impression on their hosts as clever, talented and good-hearted. The school has also made a great impression on them as a privilege of opportunity. This week, they are experiencing the Hindu festival of Durga Puja, last week they were making dumplings called momoos, and each week they play learning games with the children. In November, we have Elliot from London going out for four months. Elliot is a fashion designer with his own (brand) label. Whilst high fashion is unknown to the villagers, fabulous silk textiles, angora wool jumpers, jewell
ery (it is an area of semi-precious gem-stones) and carpet making are existing skills and all are under-promoted in the outside world….and yet this is an area desperately needing employment. The brain reels at the extra-curriculum activities that the winter months could bring!
Postscript: please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for volunteering opportunities at (or indeed if you would like to join us in sponsorship of) the Q. Learning school in Nepal.