The one thing more entertaining and challenging than teaching children is training their teachers. Perhaps because it includes an unusual mix of Irish dancing, cornflake crispy cakes and the promise of a prospective husband being brought along to the next session.
During my 3 months volunteering, somewhere between delicious servings of dal bhat and endless fun with the Umbrella children, I got to spend time in 4 different government schools. Nepali teachers’ experience and expertise varies considerably, and the obstacles they face are significant. Although Umbrella provides excellent volunteers teaching English to their students, it was hoped a teacher training programme would provide long-term improvements for the staff. With friendly smiles and kind words, my colleague and I were welcomed warmly into every school, and also the teachers’ homes for more cups of tea and tasty treats.
Our journey began in the small village of Gurje, just within Shivapurva National Park. Their school, beautifully placed with magnificent mountain views, was extremely basic with nothing but a tatty old blackboard and broken wooden desks in the classroom. Or even out of the classroom, in the case of Grade 2 students for whom there was no space indoors. We worked closely with the English teacher who, although almost fluent, was eager for ways to support the youngest children master their early literary skills. Several fun phonics sessions later, it was great to see these delightful students make progress with their spelling and to observe a teacher increasingly confident using new strategies to make lessons more engaging and interactive.
A 9-hour bus ride from Kathmandu and a 2-hour hike later delivered us next to Gatlang, a village nestled into the stunning Langtang National Park with incredible views of the Langtang peak itself. Umbrella has been involved with this school for over a year and real improvements have been made, most strikingly the transformation by two previous volunteers of a dirty room into a bright, attractive library. However, we soon realised this was still seldom, if ever, used and suggested to the teachers the numerous ways this wonderful facility could be utilised by both students and staff. An official launch for the new library has now been planned, and Umbrella will show our support by making the gruelling journey next month to join the school for this special day.
From Gatlang we travelled to Sukute, in the region of Sindapalchok. Overlooking a glistening river within a lush green valley, this was perhaps the best-resourced school we had visited so far, and simply having floors in the classrooms and paint on the walls was a definite advancement on Gatlang! The teachers here expressed concerns that their lessons were not active enough for the students, so we provided training sessions that focused on using educational games in class and other practical methods to teach a range of learning objectives.
Back in Kathmandu and the school most Umbrella children attend, the primary teachers willingly gave up their holiday to attend our programme and we had a fantastic time working with them. As many were moving into different classrooms at the start of the new term, they were keen for arts and craft activities to use with students in decorating their rooms. During these sessions, Umbrella volunteers and children also joined us in making educational display posters. We were also delighted to invite a visiting international school teacher to lead a special music session for the local staff which was thoroughly enjoyed by all, although receiving their certificates in the final training session appeared to be the true highlight of their day.
Sadly I have now come to the end of my time in Nepal, but this is merely the beginning for Umbrella of the teacher training initiative. As well as supporting our existing government schools, we have been invited to several others keen to raise their teaching standards. Such enthusiasm and desire to improve, even when faced by the most challenging of circumstances, is a trait common in this country, and so perhaps it could well be the rest of us who have something to learn after all.
Clancey Chronnell (UK)