Community based teacher training in rural Nepal
Fionna Heiton looks at how a new approach to teacher training is beginning to make a difference to the lives of children in a remote district near Pokhara.
The Syangia District
It’s not difficult to get off the beaten track in Nepal. Before the global pandemic shut down most of the world’s travel opportunities, the road to the Peace Pagoda near Nepal’s lakeside resort of Pokhara was plied by taxis taking tourists to this hill-top monument to peace. However, after the turn off to the busy car park, the number of vehicles falls away. The road twists and turns to a little visited part of Nepal.
For those who did venture there, they were delighted to find the Nepal of times gone by. Pretty roadside villages surrounded by rolling tree-covered hills, the Syangja district is inhabited by farming families producing vegetables and crops for nearby Pokhara.
From the town of Walling, a steep, seemingly insignificant tractor track rises up into the mountains. By four-wheel drive vehicle, this rough track in fact leads to innumerable mountain villages, some nestled above the clouds.
First Steps Himalaya
To the visitor it is a Himalayan idyll, but life is not easy. Educational opportunities, the key to sustainable, locally led improvements in living standards, are limited. Teacher training, as we know it in the West is in its infancy in Nepal where, until recently anyone could leave school and become a teacher without any formal training. The effect has left hundreds of thousands of rural children without the education they deserve.
First Steps Himalaya is a grassroots organisation working in disadvantaged rural communities in Nepal and is committed to raising local teaching standards as one of the most important factors for improving life opportunities. For the last two years teachers at many of the schools in Syangia have been supported by First Steps Himalaya’s Early Years Programme. Classrooms have been refurbished and teachers trained in contemporary teaching methods suited to the cultural backdrop of rural Nepal.
One remote school in Syangia set on a rocky riverbank, draws children from a wide area. Like many rural schools throughout Nepal, Himali School appears very basic and downtrodden, but led by an enthusiastic head teacher, the staff are open to change and keen to learn new methods, supported by First Steps.
Vhawana Khanal has been teaching at the school for the last five years. When she attended the first of a series of eight teacher training workshops, she quickly realised that teaching could be so much more fulfilling and enjoyable if the children were happy. She had never thought about supplementing the national curriculum with fun activities and her own classroom resources. Something sparked in her and she lapped up all the new ideas on offer with great enthusiasm.
Though she was excited about introducing some of the activities that she learnt there were to be challenges ahead. The traditional rote learning methods were so engrained in the school that parents were shocked to see their children having fun and playing games when they felt they should be writing and doing arithmetic. Nevertheless, her persistence and the support she received from First Steps started to bring about change.
“Community education is part of our programme” explains First Steps Director of Operations, Durga Aran, a Nepali who is passionate about making a difference in his own country. “Once the community saw the remarkable changes taking place in the children’s learning, behaviour and development, they became more inquisitive about what was happening in the school”.
Vhawana received regular visits from a First Steps Himalaya supervisor, to assess progress and support her in her professional development. At the next training course, she learnt more about teaching literacy and numeracy using child friendly methods. She started using big books and number cubes as well as introducing learning games in circle time. She created her own posters to decorate the classroom and put up children’s artwork on the walls. Her classroom has become a nurturing environment that children were eager to learn in.
But nothing is easy in Nepal and Vhawana sadly lost her husband just prior to the COVID- 19 pandemic. She is now a single mother with two young children of her own to support. The school has been shut since lockdown began in Nepal in March. Children in Nepal are now likely to miss out on at least a year’s education. Many girls will not return unless there is a concerted effort to reinforce the importance of education in these rural communities.
First Steps Himalaya continues to operate in these tumultuous times, running remote leadership workshops for head teachers and community leaders in rural Nepal. All children deserve quality early education, and we will continue to strive to make this simple goal a reality.
How you can help
This Christmas, you can help us transform the lives of thousands of children and their teachers in rural Nepal by giving a Christmas or New year card that gives back. Supporting the work of First Steps Himalaya by sending a charity gift card to your loved ones is easy, environmentally friendly and will make a real difference to the lives of rural Nepali children! https://www.firststepshimalaya.org/buy-a-gift
Fionna Heiton and Durga Aran are the founders and directors of First Steps Himalaya. Find out more about their story here: https://www.firststepshimalaya.org/our-story
All images kindly provided by First Steps Himalaya