My final week in Nepal was a bit of a disappointment, as I spent most of it sick. Everyone told me you will get sick at least once in Nepal, but with only two weeks left I thought I was going to prove that didn't have to be the case. But my sickness had merely waited for the end of the trip and much of my final week was spent in bed, not the goodbye I had anticipated!
It meant I couldn't say all the goodbyes that I wanted to, which was really hard as there are so many people I really wanted to thank for their help. Not only Saran, our ever hard working Nepal coordinator, but so many others who give up time to help us, or are always ready a bit of advice. So many people who have just always been a friendly face, who I didn't manage to say goodbye to. Although it was a massive shame not to see them before leaving, I will look forward to catching up with them all on my next trip to Tansen.
Of course, the person it was hardest to say goodbye to was my wife. I would have laughed at anyone who told me I would come back from Nepal as a married man, but I couldn't be happier to be wrong! For me this will always be what I remember the trip for most of all.
A few final thoughts on the schools in Nepal. Everywhere I went I was welcomed warmly and enthusiastically by both staff and students. Teachers always talked keenly about wanting our advice and training to improve their own teaching, but sadly they have great difficulty putting this into practice. Much of this difficulty is down to the Nepali education system. A typical class in Nepal consists of the students sitting at their benches in rows, facing the teacher at the front. The teachers reads a few lines from the text books, the students passively repeat it. Most of the class continues like this, before answering a few 'find and retrieve' old comprehension exercise type questions. The students understand little, if any, of what they have read. They do this not only in English lessons, but social studies (including history, geography, PSHE), Nepali and science as well. Maths lessons are no better. The children learn very little but it does prepare for the 4 sets of exams they will sit each year at school, starting in nursery all the way through their education. Teachers have been de-skilled to point they need virtually no subject knowledge, all they have to do is follow the book. They create little, if anything, for themselves. As I looked at these lessons I wondered how anyone could possibly think so much rote-learning with de-skilled teachers and a huge emphasis on exams, with no regard for actual learning, was a good idea. Then I remembered Michael Gove, and couldn't help wonder if he would find this an educational utopia.
This culture clearly presents a challenge to Manisha UK moving forward, as for much of what we would like to do in schools to work the teachers must come to view their roles very differently. Much more training is needed and overtime we can change the focus to being on what is learnt, rather than the exam scores. There are signs of change from some teachers already, who are adapting their lessons to make them more interesting, are changing their questioning to develop higher order thinking skills and are making use of the resources Manisha UK has provided. It will be a long battle to get more teachers on board, but every teacher won over will teach 100s of children, some of whom will go to be teachers themselves. Little by little we are making the change and will continue to do so.
Nepal, it's been an amazing experience, and I will be back!!