I have been avoiding visiting the classrooms with the littlest children. They have had teachers and assistants and paper to write on. A rug to sit on. Songs to sing. But I want the children to have that focus I see with my granddaughter when she is trying to zip up her coat – and finally says ‘I did it!’ I want to see building blocks that teach them motor skills and how 2+3=5. I want to see hands covered in paint and paints turning to the same grungy brown as time goes by but a face on the paper taking shape too. But that is not what happens in Nepali schools.
In the UK, we take for granted that a school will have a budget for resources and CPD. In Nepal, no such expectation exists. And so learning is most usually by rote, with text books perhaps. And it is very difficult to change the norm. For years, I talked about building a science lab and met with a puzzled lack of interest. Then I discovered that I should have referred to a practical science room. I discovered that when I visited the secondary school for 500 teenagers in Bhaktapur, just outside Kathmandu, a couple of years ago. There, I went into a practical science room: it had three walls (one had been lost in the earthquake a year before), a couple of sinks, a Bunsen burner and a glass cupboard with a few chemical jars. This is what passes for inspiring children to learn science. Back at our school, I and some friends took out some resources to teach about electricity….loved by the children but not integrated into the curriculum.
It was then that I decided someone else in the world must know the next step. And they did. Junu Lama at the Montessori Teachers Training College in Kathmandu put her hand up to train some of our teachers in engaging children in learning. Three of our teachers (and little daughter Sophia, aged 2 – Dad went along as baby-sitter, organiser and encourager) travelled by jeep for a day, then flew to Kathmandu. I received a selfie of them by the plane via WhatsApp. How was the flight? ‘It was a little scary flying for the first time!’ Did you see Everest? ‘Yes, the sky was clear and we flew right by it.’ They stayed at Moti’s house for a month and commuted for an hour each way to college by bus through the throngs and traffic. There is no escaping noise, colours, smells, hustle and bustle anywhere in Kathamandu – the opposite of Hangdewa. They adapted to city life. They learned and they passed and were awarded their certificates. Now we have a wonderful Montessori school….with as many resources as they could carry back from Kathmandu and as I could afford excess baggage for. In the spacious new classrooms, we have three teachers per class and children focused on learning…..and now I can’t wait to visit!
Meantime, I am on the case for practical science. I have had an offer for help via YouTube and web chats, and I really hope we will get somewhere. Others are looking at developing some help for coding and ‘project management’ skills. These educational programmes exist out there and so they too can be brought to Nepal: somebody out there will be able to help. I look forward to the day when teachers pester me to build a practical science room. Imagine if we can develop a culture of using information to achieve learning rather than information itself being the goal. Because that is what our schoolchildren need, it is what will get them jobs or help them create enterprises.
As a village, we are taking our first baby steps into developing tourism. Visitors will be able to discover local life with Limbu culture….a hand-held experience from plane to house, from treks on the slopes of Kanchenjunga to temples, and from shopping in the bazaar to tasting honey from next door. We are building a Limbu house as a template: planks of wood sawn from tree trunks cut down on site, cement ground from rocks hewn from the mountain, bricks brought up from the valley. With a balcony to lounge on whilst sitting on thick rugs and silk cushions, looking out at the Himalayas and nibbling at local foods, this luxury boutique, ‘slow and sustainable’ tourism will provide (particularly) our girls with rare employment opportunities. We hope to train some in front of house, food preparation and service, marketing and accounts. Nepal’s office of tourism has promised help. And, eventually, we hope this will provide important revenue for our school. We launch in August…stay tuned! Get ready to come and visit.