In 1960, a young Sherpa asked Sir Edmund Hillary to help found a school in his village. Nearly 60 years later, the need for schools remains paramount in the villages in the Taplejung district located away from the popular trekking trails.
The area is strikingly beautiful but has no roads or tourism to speak of. A few government schools exist, but these are underfunded and in desperate need of support. We are currently working with five local wards, boosting the skills of teachers and head teachers at 30 schools to benefit the children in this most impoverished district of Nepal. There is much more to be done.
Our aims and objectives are simple – to improve the education provided in our project schools, to give children the tools to go on to further education and to better serve the communities in which they live.
Our education work trains local teachers to deliver inspirational lessons and capture young imaginations. We do this through a series of training camps and by providing ongoing support in the classroom. We want to recognise and support those teachers who have shown exceptional skill and adaptability in the classroom and help them become educational leaders and role models.
We aim to work alongside head teachers to train them in school management techniques and enable them to take a pro-active approach to their role and take full charge of their school’s destiny and direction.
We want to work with the wider local communities to make sure they understand the importance of sustainable education and to encourage them to become involved in the development of their schools through school management committees and mothers’ groups. We are also dedicated to providing accessible adult literacy classes to help parents and family members support their children’s learning at home.
Finally, through discussions with all interested parties, we want to recognise the essential needs for each school and, through dynamic funding, endeavour to satisfy those needs on a priority basis.
Our main work in education has focused on teacher training with the result that there is generally a more proactive attitude among teachers, with improved facilities across many schools. We now have a first generation in Taplejung who are all literate and want to learn!
We are focusing on developing the role of key teachers to increase their confidence and capacity to pass on good practice to their colleagues. As part of this work, we have established a close relationship with the Rural Education and Environment Development Centre (REED), who are implementing an agreed programme of teacher training via individual schools and teacher workshops.
Corporal punishment is now banned in the local schools and the attitude towards teaching techniques has shifted alongside this change in policy.
Teachers are more imaginative in their approach, actively engaging with their students who, unsurprisingly, are more excited to learn. These changes, together with the introduction of child-friendly furniture and decorated classroom walls, has created a colourful, vibrant atmosphere more conducive to learning. Clean, fresh drinking water and improved toilet facilities also ensures higher levels of personal hygiene and health amongst teachers and pupils alike. All of these developments have been instrumental in boosting the achievement levels to above the national average, increasing it from 42% when we started to 58% to date.
We are encouraging head teachers too, through tailored training and accountable systems of reporting, to drive improvement in their schools with the support of the REED training team. Both teacher and pupil absenteeism has been greatly reduced since our schemes have been introduced and many schools have benefitted from brand new ECD (Early Child Development) centres aimed at introducing children to education at a younger age.
Now is not the time to rest on our laurels. Rather, we must consolidate the work achieved so far and further the confidence of teachers and staff to help their schools move on to even greater things.
We now need to ensure that continuous appraisal of classroom techniques take place, as well as performance assessments of both teachers and pupils to promote best practice and a happy working environment. As our work progresses, so the need for key teachers and head teachers who are committed to success and pro-active in ensuring that progress continues on all fronts.
We expect to see, in the coming years, an improving trend in academic results as pupils come towards the end of their school career and start to think about further education. Our supported scholarship schemes will help children from poor backgrounds pursue further education and secure independence without having to worry about financial implications.
We plan to help schools gain better access to the outside world by supporting local road-building projects, mobile telephone services, increased access to electricity and support with teaching lessons in English. As new technology becomes available to local communities and schools, we want to train teachers to help them use the resources independently and effectively. We would also like to develop a network of volunteers to support the work of teachers in the classrooms, particularly in English, Maths and Science.
Finally, we will work with families and mothers’ groups to sustainably support the children in schools through such initiatives as providing them with cost-effective snacks in the middle of the day to help them focus on their work without feeling hungry.
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Following the devastating earthquakes in 2015 we launched an appeal to “Building Back Better” and focused our efforts in three zones – Solukhumbu North, Solukhumbu South and Taplejung. The programme included building earthquake resiliency into building design. Our aim was to rebuild more than 150 classrooms in 47 schools, serving 7,500 students and to equip the schools with sufficient toilet blocks and provide new water supplies. The global Himalayan Trust family, global partners, Government officials, engineers, accountants and the local community made this aim a reality at the beginning of 2018.
As with all our projects, community contribution is a key principle for us. Between 10-25% of the cost of each classroom has been donated by the local community. We have strived to achieve full compliance with the laws and regulations of Nepal and have worked very closely with the Department of Education. Each design was created to ensure the schools are best placed to support the state provided education system.
Our Education programme will continue to work with the schools in Taplejung to improve the education in the area. The improved facilities will help in motivating and encouraging both staff and students resulting in improved attendance and a higher pass-rate.