Monday, 31 December 2018

Laptops for students


The Rotary Club International grant for this project included funding for two suites of computers; laptops for the primary aged students and desktops for the secondary students.

Porters arrived one morning carrying huge loads of these computers on their backs, having walked up the valley, two days from the end of the road.
The porters, looking amazingly cheerful, having carried heavy
loads of computers up the valley for two days.
What a difference these computers will make!

If you had lived all your life so far, high in the mountains, imagine the impression a computer would make.  Most of the children at the school have never left the valley. They had never seen a car, bus, truck or motorbike.  Suddenly, with the arrival and use of these computers, a whole new world will open up for them, and on the screen will be photos and video of things they could only imagine before.

The laptops are already loaded with a wide range of support material for the Nepali curriculum, which is simple to access.  There are practise exercises in Nepali, mathematics, science and English, and they are graded for each year group.  I spent time reviewing the English material which provided a range of different exercises; listening, choosing the correct answer to a spoken question, matching words by dragging, adding the correct word to pictures etc.  The students will love using these exercises, and won't realise they are actually working.

The package from the Nepali company supplying the computers also included extensive training for the teachers to enable them to use the computers in lessons and link the subjects they are teaching to the practise exercises on the laptops.  This was an essential part of the package as some of the teachers had not used a computer before!

I shall look forward to seeing these computers in action in lessons next autumn when I visit the school again.

Teachers undertaking training for the use of these computers

Sunday, 30 December 2018

Traffic Jam

Although there are no wheeled vehicles in Phillim, and the nearest road is two days walk down the valley, this morning on my way to visit a primary school I encountered an unusual traffic jam.

Leaving the village, and walking down the steep steps to the suspension bridge to cross the river, I was passed by a train of unladen mules. These arrived at the bridge just as a large flock of sheep began to cross from the far side. 

Also crossing were numerous students, dressed in blue uniform shirts, on their way to school at Buddha Ma Vi.

The mules made their way onto the bridge and met the sheep about three quarters of the way across. After some pushing and jostling both sets of animals reached their intended side. The students were able to deftly weave their way between the animals, more confidently than I could.

Looking across to the other side I saw more queues waiting to cross. Flocks of sheep, at least three, had converged on the bridge from different directions and their shepherds were holding back before allowing their animals to cross. 

Two trains of mules were also queueing on the steep rise to the bridge entrance, enjoying the chance to browse for anything to eat amongst the surrounding vegetation whilst waiting.

Mules can be seen on the far side of the bridge queueing to cross, whilst a second flock of sheep have begun their crossing.

Generally I would wait for the bridge to be clear before attempting to cross. Laden mules can inflict a serious injury especially in a confined space like the bridge. However this morning I was keen to resume my journey to the school. Having allowed the first flock of sheep to cross, I left the safety of the Phillim side of the bridge and began the walk across. The few stragglers from the flock were not a problem, but the next flock began their crossing before I was halfway across. Then the muleteers, impatient not to be delayed, began jostling their animals through the sheep. These mules were laden, on both sides, with bags of cement, almost filling the width of the bridge. I had to lean right into the side to give the mules room to pass without incident.
Once I reached the far side, at the first available place I climbed through the broken side of the bridge, onto the rough ground and out of the path of the mules. Ten minutes later all the animals had crossed over the bridge and gone and it was safe to continue the journey to school! 

New equipment for schools


Since my last visit to Phillim at the end of 2017, I have been raising money to buy essential equipment for the primary schools we visited there.  These schools had all been devastated in the earthquakes of April and May 2015, and had no teaching resources.  In one mathematics class I visited, where the students were learning how to measure angles, not a single student had a protractor and most didn't even have a ruler.
Equipment for one school, laid out to show what was being supplied.
Before the journey up to Phillim in October 2018 I spent a few days in Kathmandu with the sole purpose of buying educational equipment using donated money.  Rajan, the Vice Principal of Buddha Ma Vi School met with us and we managed to order and pay for a range of equipment for these primary schools.  We also had to organise and finance this new equipment to be transported, by porter, up to Phillim.

"Can you find Nepal?"

We had talked with a couple of the teachers last year about what basic equipment they really needed, so we had a shopping list!
Key things were a class set (30) of mathematical measuring equipment for each school, teaching clocks, a globe, magnets and instructional posters.

Look at the photos of this equipment put to good use.

Finding that the yellow magnet attaches to the metal frame.
"Make your clock say 11 o'clock."

Learning to draw a circle with a new pair of
Using an alphabet poster in an English lesson

In primary classrooms in UK extensive use is made of small individual A4 size whiteboards.  I had found during my VSO placement that home-made versions of these were very popular with Nepali teachers. I had not been able to find any for sale in Nepal, so had brought out around 100 small whiteboards in my luggage from the UK.

We also bought a laminator, so that teaching materials, made by the teachers could be covered and preserved.  This was a new concept for most teachers.

Look how high I can jump!
One thing I had noticed last year was that in the schools, whereas boys had footballs or volleyballs to play with, there was nothing to encourage girls to take part in active play.  This year we brought with us three dozen skipping ropes and some badminton sets, so that we could encourage the girls to play.  What fun they had, as you can see from the photos.

Learning to skip

Thank you to everyone who contributed to enable me to buy these resources.

Tuesday, 16 January 2018

Back to Baglungpani


It was two years since the end of my VSO placement and I had been looking forward to returning to Besisahar. My plans to visit some of the schools I had worked with around Besisahar were however scuppered by the Nepali election. Sadly, the time I had set aside to spend there just happened to be the days around the election.  Schools in Nepal had been allowed to close during this time so that teachers whose homes were elsewhere in the country could travel home to vote.

I contacted one headteacher whose school I was keen to visit. He messaged me back to say “Come today as it is the last day before the school closes”. (See an earlier blog entry from March 2014 "Mountains in the Sun" about this school and community.)
My hope of catching a jeep up to the school faded, when the ticket seller told me that the next one would be leaving during the afternoon. Much too late for visiting the school, so the only option was to walk. I knew from past experience that it was a long hard walk; three hours with the last hour being up steep steps that clung to a cliff edge. The overall climb was around 1000 metres, similar to climbing Ben Nevis! My legs were aching by the time I reached the top!

Just before I reached the village it was lovely to meet Samjhana, one of my Nepali colleagues from Global Action Nepal. She was just leaving after one of her community visits. I knew she was working ‘in the field’ and had not expected to meet up with her.

When I arrived at the school Bil, the headteacher, was teaching. As I was very hot from the long stiff climb it was good to sit down in the shade and take in the surroundings. Everything looked so similar. The view was as I remembered, with the snow capped mountains of Manuslu towering in the distance behind the school. The atmosphere of the school was quiet, everyone was working hard.

After the lesson I was greeted as a friend by Bil, the Headteacher. He was proud to show me some of the recent improvements he had made to the school, both as a result of my suggestions and guidance, and from his own initiative. 

I was delighted to see classrooms with learning aids displayed on the walls, something I had been keen to see introduced in the schools that I worked in. In some classrooms students work was displayed too. An English lesson I observed had Tulsi, the young female teacher I had helped train during her first week of teaching, confidently questioning the students and asking them to write answers onto the whiteboard.

During the midday break I was impressed with two things. Firstly in the computer room groups of girls were clustered around the computers researching for their schoolwork. Two years previously the boys had dominated the computers, and the girls seemed to be lacking in confidence in this area.

Also the school library was in use this break time, with girls obviously enjoying reading the books there.

Secondly, Bil showed me the new dining area, which had been created just outside the school perimeter. Benches had been set up under a corrugated iron roof.  Here two village women cooked for the youngest students, to provide food at lunchtime. During my visits to the school two years ago, I had discussed with Bil how I felt the younger children suffered a loss of concentration during the afternoon, possibly due to lack of food and hunger. 
The school dining area.

Traditionally children eat dhal baat in the morning before leaving home for school, and then again in the evening before bed. That left a long time between meals, especially for children who had around an hour to walk to school before lessons. Bil had enlisted the aid of a kind woman from Germany, Mrs Verena Schlemier, who happened to pass and visit the school.  She agreed to donate and fund raise to finance food for these children at lunchtime each day.

There were a couple of visitors at the school that day, from the Gurkha Welfare Trust, and so the school held a welcome ceremony at the end of the afternoon for the visitors. Garlands of flowers were presented to each person, and Bil explained to the students, sitting on the grass, why these visitors were important to the school. Despite me being a last minute visitor, I too was presented with garlands.  After school finished I was lucky to be given a lift back to Besisahar in the Gurkha Welfare Trust jeep, instead of the long walk back.

Saturday, 6 January 2018

Working with teachers


Much of the teaching I have witnessed in rural Nepal has been where teachers expect pupils to learn by rote. In these lessons there is very little pupil interaction or individual contributions and instead frequent use of whole class chanting to encourage pupils to learn by heart, rather than an emphasis on understanding. Although I agree that learning some things by heart is essential, involving pupils in active learning is also important and effective.

Through sharing skills and showing Nepali teachers different ways of working with pupils, teaching volunteers from Western cultures can help them to become more confident to try different methods in their lessons and help their students to learn more effectively.  This is the aim of our work with schools in the Sirdibas area.

My colleague playing with ECD children on the floor.

There is no culture in Nepal of learning through play and most classrooms for the youngest students (called Early Childhood Development -  E.C.D.) appear to have little or no play equipment.
By modelling playing with and without structured equipment and by playing simple learning games, it is possible to show teachers how much more involved their pupils become and that they do actually learn too.

These small children concentrate when a puppet is used to
help them learn.

"Point to ..." I'm teaching vocabulary in an English lesson
for 10 year olds with a game of Simon Says.

We found some ECD equipment in a store room and showed teachers how to use these resources as part of their lessons.  The use of puppets enthralled the younger children and they enjoyed the picture story books the teacher read to them.

Games like 'Simon Says' and 'Hangman' can be played with no special equipment in an English class and encourage the children to think and learn in a different way. Students laugh and have fun and don't realise they are learning and practising what they have learnt.

Letter cards in a game instead of just writing on the board.
By providing card and felt-tip pens, and showing teachers ways of using these to make flashcards and simple games to support their lessons, we hope to encourage them to be more adventurous in their teaching. This can be a quick and easy way of involving pupils in their learning.

There is much more we can do to help these teachers, but it takes time to build trust.  Hopefully during the next three years we will see teachers become more confident to try the new methods we have demonstrated.

We know that not all teachers will change their practise, but, with support, those that do will find that many of their pupils learn in a different and more enjoyable way.

Wednesday, 3 January 2018

Old and new classrooms


Part of the project in the Sirdibas area is to work with five of the primary schools in the surrounding villages.  These schools teach local children up to the age of about 9 or 10, after which they transfer to Buddha Ma Vi, the secondary school.  These villages are not close, the nearest being a walk of about one hour. 

Pangsing village is across the valley from Phillim, perched high on the steep mountainside, about 2 hours walk away. 
Pangsing village on the steep hillside.
The school was expecting us, as we had phoned beforehand.  Before we arrived at the village some excited pupils came out along the track to greet us. It wasn't every day they had foreigners visit their school.

Temporary classroom for more than 30 of the youngest children.
The school was badly damaged by the earthquake of April 2015, and since then students have been taught in temporary classrooms.  When we visited, the older classes were now housed in brand new classrooms but the younger three classes were working in a lean-to shed with a hole in the roof.  These young children have to clamber down a stack of large boulders to reach their classrooms. It is hard to imagine how the teachers and the students have managed in such dirty, dark, cramped and cold conditions for two and a half years!  

The staff room and office.

A hole in the roof!

A new classroom.
(Notice the teacher with her young daughter on her back.)

Two new classrooms have already been finished and are in use. 

More new classrooms are now being built by a charity called Samaritans Purse, and they will hopefully be in use in the spring. 

Foundations laid for the new classrooms.