Just as a young Sherpa asked Sir Edmund for a village school in the Mt Everest region in 1960, so George Band and his wife Susan were asked by the community leaders of the villages along the route to help with the schools in the Taplejung district when they were trekking to Mt Kangchenjunga in 2005.
Much of the Taplejung District today is in many ways similar to the Solukhumbu of the 1960s. Strikingly beautiful, but no roads, only footpaths. No tourism to speak of. There are government schools, but underfunded and in desperate need of support.
Given the success in educational training in Solukhumbu, in 2007, the Himalayan Trust UK initiated a programme to train 55 teachers at 11 primary schools in the Taplejung District of Eastern Nepal (“Phase One”). Another 19 schools were added in 2009 (“Phase Two”). We have set up a close relationship with Rural Education &Environment Development Centre (REED) who are implementing an agreed programme of Teacher Training, both in individual schools and through teacher workshops. To date, The Himalayan Trust UK is working with five Village Development Committees (VDCs) and has boosted the skills of some 155 teachers to the benefit of over 5,000 children in this most impoverished district of Nepal, a world away from the popular trekking trails.
There is no questioning the need for educational support in this area – literacy and attendance rates are low, and the schools poorly resourced. But the results of a review completed in December 2012 are encouraging, leaving little doubt that we are on the right track.
The main work has focused on teacher training, with the result that there is generally a much more positive attitude amongst teachers, and more interactive methods of teaching. Historically teachers would conduct lectures from the front of class, often with a stick close at hand. Today any form of corporal punishment is banned, and teachers reach out to actively engage with the students who unsurprisingly are more excited to learn. This change in practice, together with the introduction of child-friendly furniture, and the decoration of classroom walls, has created a colourful, vibrant atmosphere more conducive to children’s learning. We are currently focusing on developing the role of of key teachers and on increasing their confidence and capacity to pass on good practice and ideas to their colleagues. We are also encouraging Headteachers, through training and accountable systems of reporting, to drive improvement in their own schools with the support of the REED training team.
The results are being recognized in the home. In the past, when parents were requested to send their children to school, they would sarcastically demand for food to be provided to eat at home. Now the same parents visit the schools to check upon the students’ and teachers’ attendance. The schools are valued. And student dropout rates have plummeted, in some cases by as much as 50% over two years.