Jeevan Joyti School, Nepal In March 2015, we launched our first life-changing project in the slums of Kohalpur, Nepal. Through liaison with our fabulous partner charity, Lincs2Nepal, we had already investigated many of the struggles that teachers and pupils of Jeevan Jyoti School were facing and had planned a programme of training for the teachers and community that would begin to address some of these issues in the long-term. Jeevan Joyti School sits at the edge of one of Nepal’s most impoverished shanty towns, where children live in alarming conditions. Many of the children’s homes are destroyed each year by the monsoon season and a lack of clean drinking water and understanding of basic hygiene leads to high mortality rates amongst the children. Through the tireless work of Lincs2Nepal, the school opens its doors each day to 180 pupils, with ages ranging from 3 to 11. But attempting to educate some of the country’s poorest is not the only thing that this school does. Jeevan Jyoti School is the first ever “mixed-caste” school in Nepal. Nepal has a deeply ingrained “caste” system, whereby those inhabitants considered to be of the “lowest” caste are rejected entirely by “higher castes.” There exists a disturbing culture in which “higher” caste people are afraid to come into any form of contact with “lower caste” people and will not even share a space with them. However, because Jeevan Joyti school is now receiving committed, long-term support from Lincs2Nepal and expert assistance and training, it has, incredibly, attracted attention from wealthier families who have unexpectedly allowed their children to mix with children from the slums in order to benefit from the unusual level of education that the school is beginning to offer. This means that for the first time ever, children of different castes are now sitting and eating and learning and playing together – a phenomenon that was hitherto unheard of in Nepal. It is a heart-warming and ground-breaking development that shines a little light of hope for the future.
When we arrived at Jeevan Joyti, we identified a number of very significant barriers to learning. The individual needs of children were invisible. Teachers turned up, delivered information through lengthy lecture or simply required pupils to complete written tasks with little or no teacher input. Children who struggled to understand or to learn by rote were ignored or left behind. Staff lacked basic behaviour management skills and many children struggled to concentrate on long periods of teacher talk. Some teachers were still resorting to corporal punishment to keep large classes of children under control – caning young children if they failed to settle during “sleep time”, for example.
After our expert trainers, Wendy Brown and Lisa-Jane Ashes, delivered the initial phase of teacher training, the first improvements in teaching and management were already visible and heart-warming. Together with the staff of Lincs2Nepal, they helped to transform classrooms from empty concrete shells into irresistible and stimulating learning environments. Simple behaviour management techniques involving visual and auditory cues allowed teachers to conduct assemblies in an atmosphere of absolute hushed attention, and positive discipline strategies helped to support Lincs2Nepal’s own strict banning of corporal punishment as a condition of providing on-going support for the school. We intensively trained staff in the teaching of phonics and began a programme where this was taught to parents in the community so that learning will be supported and developed at home. Teachers were shown how to develop their pupils’ understanding – so that children were not simply chanting information that they did not understand or know how to apply in context. Learning through play was introduced for the 3 – 5 year olds and staff were shown how to make use of the outdoor areas to enhance learning – bringing practical science into the curriculum as well as simply reading, writing and mathematics. Teachers were shown how to seek evidence of understanding across a class, planning and using techniques which allowed all pupils to demonstrate their learning at once – with the help of individual mini-whiteboards and other useful classroom resources donated by us. The concept of collaborative work was introduced, where, rather than simply repeating words, phrases and numbers, the pupils were required to think deeply and work together – together as both higher and lower castes. Classes were newly organised so that teachers were able to circulate during independent work, actively supporting those pupils who needed further help, as well as stretching and challenging pupils who quickly completed the task. Young children who arrived too early at school were no longer told to wait outside, they were welcomed in and engaged with a useful learning task. Countless practical techniques and resources were introduced to enhance the teaching of literacy and numeracy and even the teachers’ faces as well as the pupils’ shone with excitement and wonder at the new options open to them!
In April 2016, ITL’s Ian Gilbert made the journey out to Kohalpur to begin a programme of work with the school’s head teacher, providing training in essential management processes so that he can support the development and improvement of the staff and school over the next 3 years and beyond. There is still much work to do at Jeevan Jyoti school to ensure that change is sustained, and in the aftermath of the earthquake, whilst the region of Kohalpur was not hit, we know that many of the children have lost their only wage-earner from their families and help is needed now more than ever to continue to offer opportunities and hope to this communities.
We are now working with the brilliant Lisa-Jane Ashes (AKA The Learning Geek!) to develop a community Empowerment Programme for a group of schools in Chitwan whose villages were destroyed by the earthquake. What we need is to give these children a fresh start and a fighting chance to free themselves from a life of poverty. Reach Out 2 Schools is supporting the nutrition project there as a way of ensuring that the children have enough food in their tummies to learn. The teachers in these schools have no access to professional development or training, and they lack the basic equipment and furniture necessary to do their jobs. As well as supporting at classroom level, we also need to support the schools’ leaders and equip them with the skills they need to ensure that the impact of our work has a lasting impact for years to come. Stay tuned for further information on this project!…