“Some…are More Equal Than Others”
Here is an update of our work so far.
Jeevan Jyoti School is a joy to support. Teachers have accepted us into their school family. Progress is being made in teaching and learning, critique, raising minimum standards, pupil engagement, use of resources, leadership and teacher reflection. Each time we visit, relationships get stronger and the training becomes more targeted. This visit saw a group of self-funded teachers
from Darton College get involved and deliver the requested subject specific training. Next time, we are moving onto curriculum planning, coaching and forming partnerships with community schools. Although not ‘perfect’, this visit has shown that WWEP’s work in Nepal continues to be purposeful and the collaboration with Lincs2Nepal must continue.
Then we moved on to Chitwan…
Trying to compare Chitwan Community School with Jeevan Jyoti is like comparing the worst ‘requires improvement’ school in England to Wellington College. In England, if you attend a poor school like your parents before you, you have slim (but not zero) chances of developing prosperity. Those who can afford a first-class education rarely do too badly in life. Watching ‘The Island with Bear Grills’ last night, one contestant (Jordan Turner) was described as “an unemployed graduate.” Interviewed in the grounds of her grand looking house, intercepted with shots of her horse riding, doing yoga and feeling sorry for herself because she didn’t have a job. Rich parents can do wonders for cushioning such blows. My cynical mind went leaping to the comparison between the unemployed in my village (most don’t have a Master’s in Oceanography) and this young lady. If you are rich, such unfortunate circumstances seem not to take away your ability to enjoy life. If you’re poor, you’re screwed.
In my observations, lower classes Britons see education as being done to them – not for them. In Nepal, the same is true. What’s the point in wasting your time in school when your family need you at home and the lessons have no meaning to your real life? If you add a treacherous two hour walk to school, high levels of poverty, parents who need their children to work, monsoons that destroy your home each year, teachers who do not get paid so often leave unexpectedly and a school that has no resources, what are your chances of giving education a shot? Just providing an education – any education – is not enough.
Children walk up to two hours to get to school. This is the main road. The jungle is far more treacherous. Ropes across rivers help to guide their path. In the village where we stayed, they now have electricity. Many children here still live in caves.
The World is Not a Level Playing field
Equality is something humans do not do well. The top 1% sit on their billions, wasted resources with little purpose other than to create more capital for the capitalists, while others starve. Money tied up in a single work of art could pay for Chitwan’s education. Why educate the poor when you can hold your wealth in a ‘treasure’ asset? Nepal has a Caste system that, while awful and unfair, is at least honest. The West claim equality but our systems are not so different.
Jeevan Jyoti School promote equality through their collaboration with Lincs2Nepal. Higher and lower caste students study together in harmony.
Recently, a Tharu teacher has been appointed to the school. One of the lowest castes in Nepal, she will be an inspiration to the village children that have beenchosen to attend this school. Their education will be excellent and this will give them at least a chance to move beyond their current luck. Education can thrust them forward through the system but what good does that do the community they leave behind? Once they rise to the ranks of doctors, lawyers or teachers, do they begin to look down from their elevated position? Or are they truly educated?
We live in one world and yet, the power of division created by seas, mountains or maps leave many unlucky enough to be stuck in hostile birth places. This same luck leaves many children in Nepal’s community schools unequal in their future chances. Jeevan Jyoti School serves both rich and poor but does not serve all… Yet! WWEP will begin to support the schools in the community that surrounds Jeevan Jyoti through outreach work. JJ’s teachers will be developed to collaborate and deliver training to their neighbours, sharing the knowledge. This school get outstanding results, not through its buildings but through its people and their culture. Through Lincs2Nepal and WWEP’s support, we can create a better life for all through the right education.
What about school’s that aren’t so close? Schools like those in Chitwan.
Chitwan was an eight hour jeep ride followed by four hours on a bus away from JJ School. As part of WWEP’s teacher training programme in Nepal, Chitwan was a research mission during the April visit. Having heard about their struggles to get children into school, Lincs2Nepal have been providing school
dinners over the past year; this has raised attendance. However, teachers have little training, resources and money. Can WWEP now support through teacher training in Chitwan too? What difference can we make in this remote village community? With any overseas training, you cannot assume that your practice is going to work for them. You must observe and understand before you can support with any purpose. Three days of
Volunteers ran an enrichment day, allowing us to get to know the staff and pupils (while also throwing in a little T&L inspiration).
observation and getting to know the community helped to evolve an idea for something special to take place here.
Education should be purposeful for the community it serves. The goal of education seems to be to lift individuals away from their current circumstances, leaving the less lucky behind. Pupils who can pass exams may have a chance of a better job in a better place. Where does that leave their community? In the same place it started. If we improve standards enough, more school graduates will be able to move away, perhaps unwittingly causing resentment in the unlucky few that remain. Education does not need to be like this; it can be purposeful for all! We need to stop, think and plan for this to happen. The desperate need to ‘improve’ standards quickly in England has led to chaos and depression for many. We race to beat our brothers and don’t have time to assess the damage we are doing to ourselves. A lack of quality education keeps our country in its unequal state.
Teachers in communities have the expert knowledge of their students’ needs; they live in the area, suffer the same issues and know their people. Chitwan are currently crammed into a system that does not serve them well. “What is the point in your students walking two hours to get to school?” I asked the teachers of Chitwan Community School. Their responses? To learn to read road signs… To learn to add up their family’s money. I woke up at 5am, showered from a well in the street and did that horrendous walk before school began. Believe me, those reasons would not get me into school, especially if the likelihood was I was not going to achieve anyway due to poor training and a lack of resources. Thank goodness one teacher rose up and added, “Lower caste workers are treated like property. If they are educated to have their own voice, they will be able to see this as wrong.” True education can give you the key to your prison.
True education is not all about reading, writing and mathematics. A doctor can be uneducated in the same way that a farm worker in the mountains is kept ignorant. A truly educated person cannot be manipulated because they recognise the methods being used against them. They can free themselves of control and become independent.
Not all men are equal and, until the system comes crashing down, the fear that keeps the few holding onto their capital as well as the many in their place will continue to divide rich from poor. Working within this system and educating with purpose means building a curriculum that can free the lowest from their chains without thrusting them up and away from their family, forward into the elitist system that has kept their community in poverty. They will know their place and purpose, even if this is out of town. Chitwan can become a place where man works to support man, education improves relationships, opens eyes, increases production and lifestyle while avoiding crushing cultures (passing tests will be an easily achieved bonus). Education can make lives better, not simply make one man better than the rest. This can happen anywhere. However, Chitwan is WWEP and Lincs2Nepal’s next stop.