In the Quest of Making a Difference

Originally published on 28th June, 2015.

The teacher smiles and recalls the time when even though he scored 85.5% in the SLC from one of the elite schools in Kathmandu, he still couldn’t muster the courage to step out of his own comfort zone.

Whilst majority of class 10 students in Nepal are already busy preparing for next year’s SLC, something more, something different is happening at Columbus International School in Maligaun. Instead of sticking to a schedule that focuses only on rigorous practice on just the 8 SLC subjects, you’ll see that the students are challenged to be better at communication, reasoning as well as in their vocabulary and delivery of ideas.

And whilst you may contemplate that it’s the same case with the other elite schools as well, please note that this school is not among the elite- well at least not in terms of exorbitant monthly fees or infrastructure that boast of swimming pools or gymnasiums.

The ‘Smart Class’ as it is referred to, begins each day with a ‘WHY’. The teacher enters the class, spells out the lesson plan for the day but before getting into it, feels that the students should first be convinced that the particular class is actually worth 50 minutes of both of their time. If there’s a test scheduled for the day, the class will probably begin with a debate on whether a test is actually valuable. It’s the same with homework assignments.

I asked the teacher if doing so was a risky affair. After all, wouldn’t that make students a bit of a rebel? Challenging the status quo, challenge authority and likewise. But he smiles and says-“Exactly! Let’s not confuse ourselves with someone who is rebellious and some who is ill-mannered. We need more people to challenge the existing status quo or else, Nepal will be stuck in this state forever”.

So if change is deemed necessary, what have the kids been up to? For starters, they’ve been told that life is hard and that just by getting 85% in the SLC will not guarantee them success until and unless they are trained to adapt to the tough market. That they will be competing against thousands of other students who perhaps, they will never even see. That until and unless they are smarter than the one trying to deceive them or bully them, they will just turn out to be average. And for these kids, that battle starts with choosing a college after SLC itself. The goal is to make the kids smart enough to at least be able to evaluate two or more colleges and make it hard for the admission counselor to sell the college to him/her.

On recalling, the teacher despises an awful incident from a couple of months back. He speaks of the time he was asked to train a bunch of kids from another school to emcee their parent’s day show. “I told them on their face- you can’t train these kids of grades 7,8,9,10 to be great at speaking within 5 days. Speaking in front of a mass requires rigorous practice and commitment”.  The teacher remembers the school management promising him how it was just a start and that they were committed to all round development of the children. 4 months on, as the teacher tracks the progress of the kids there (apparently it’s easy since they really liked him and added him on Facebook on the last day of their speaking workshop) they complain that they have been forced to focus on just their SLC academics and are rarely involved in any of these sort of speaking drills.

So I asked the teacher- is getting a distinction everything? What does it measure? The teacher smiles and recalls how even though he scored 85.5% when he appeared for the SLC in 2063, that too from one of the elite schools in Kathmandu, he still didn’t have the confidence to find a new college or at least to step out of his own comfort zone and therefore, joined +2 in the same school. “It’s just a measure of one’s ability to recall repetitive information and nothing more. Schools are cashing in on this awful trend of making students rote learn from old question papers which offers nothing more of a challenge than memorization and working under pressure. Life is so much more than just remembering information. You’ve got to be smart enough to learn, un-learn and re-learn. The ability to receive information, interpret and give meaning to create something from one’s own ability is sorely lacking in the schooling system in Nepal” he says- slightly agitated by whatever is going on.

This is where the effective speaking classes have been creating an impact. Creating an English speaking culture in a lower grade school is often hard with not all students having access to resources like the internet. However, like mentioned earlier, the idea is to poke into the minds of these young kids and instill a sense of how important it is to be able to speak and write better in English to be able to compete with students from other elite schools. Not just speaking and writing, but the mechanism the teacher is trying to build is based on the idea that one has to become a better listener at first, analyze the information received, take the variables from the environment into context and then go on to make a decision to present in front of the stakeholders.

The curriculum designing and delivery of the classes are based on the same philosophy. Is it working? Well. Only time will tell. However, as it is with every other product or service, the ones volunteering to try them out are the ones best suited to give a remark.

‘”I want to be better than you.” says one.

” I’m committed to making the most of this opportunity that has been offered to us”. says the other.

” I used to ridicule others who spoke in English and dared to be different. Now I think I’m turning into one of them”. 

 Based on what the last 10 days suggest, the students seem to be warming up to the idea of a teach focusing on ‘WHY’ over what and how, constantly asking for feedback and confessing that long lectures alone will do nothing to improve the average performance of a class that is used to being taught in a primitive educational method dominating the Nepali education scene.

As for me personally, I’ve always lamented the theoretically driven Nepali education system. I’ve cursed the system for not doing enough to bring out the best from the inquisitive minds of the young children. I’ve shunned the schools that focus on memorization of text books just so that the students offer better marketable opportunities through the SLC results. I’ve been upset at schools for not doing their part in developing a child in an all-round manner. I’ve complained all along. But one day I asked myself. What have I been doing to change that?

I’m the teacher.

 (The author would like to thank his colleague and good friend, Mr. Ashish Silwal, the Vice-Principal of Columbus International School for trusting him with the partnership role in this pilot project.)

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