Changing the face of a community school in Nepal: A case
This article explores commonly existing problems of community schools in Nepal. Then, it presents some of the best practices initiated by teachers at their personal level to solve these problems, in particular, building school-community-students caring chain, creating positive teaching-learning school environment, expanding its infrastructures and safety, and adopting modern technologies, and adopting a participatory approach in the classroom.
Teachers are the change agent. They can bring change in the classroom as well as to school even in the society if they want. Keeping this mantra in mind, we started a collaboration with the fellow teachers and school administration. Eventually, we got the success in our campaign to raise the students learning achievement level, to increase the number of students to be enrolled in schools, to increase the parental involvement, to adopt ICT based teaching learning and expand the infrastructures as well.
It is a challenging task to change the existing environment in community schools and the mindset of community stakeholders. They feel that their responsibility is fulfilled by sending their children to a school. Parents hesitate to pay for their child’s education, but the support provided by the Government to schools can barely cover managerial costs and the costs for learning materials. Some of the biggest challenges faced by teachers and school leaders can be listed as political instability and interference, irresponsibility of teachers and their commitment to the school, insufficient parental involvement in schools and Physical facilities in few schools.
First, political instability and interference are sensed too much in community schools for lagging behind from ascertaining quality education. Mostly teachers are the members of political parties, and they are accountable for their leaders and not for the students and parents. Sometimes there is an instance that the primary teachers politically become so powerful to transfer the head teachers even more education officers. Individual interest is given priority rather than laws and policies. Rules and regulations have been misinterpreted and misused so that school has been turning to be chaos. Furthermore education system is being a failure due to the political instability in the country. Different political parties call on the strikes and Bandha due to which schools remain closed, and teaching learning activities get severely disturbed.
Second, the irresponsibility of the teachers and staff and their commitment to the schools have been proved to be a failure of the education system. Everyone prefers to be government job holder. They have a stereotypical concept that no one terminates from the job, so he or she seem to be irresponsible in fulfilling their duties. As I have observed some of the community schools, most of the teachers do not go to the classroom. Even if they go to the classroom, they leave classes early. Teachers are found without planning. How much portions of prescribed course has been accomplished, whether the students achieved their expected level of achievement or not are not followed up to date.
Third, insufficient parental involvement to school and its activities is another problem of the community school. Unlike in private boarding schools, the parents seem to be indifferent to their children’s progress in a community school. As a result, teaching staff and school administration alone cannot bring change in or out of school. The evidence shows that only thirty percent parents hardly present even on the day of the result when they are invited to attend compulsorily. Moreover, they do not inquire the school’s and children’s progress. The reason might be so due to the lack of awareness among the parents.
Fourth, physical infrastructures and availability of resources are insufficient in most of the community schools. The fund allocated by the government does not seem to be utilized properly. Although there is the provision of enhancing school with ICT and science lab, these are not brought into practice. Rarely, the students studying in community school get the opportunity to experience these things. Teachers have been found blaming the authorities that they have not been provided professional support and materials they require.
Lastly, the government policies and programs are excellent in the paper but not in action. The government is not stable for reviewing the policies to fit them in this modern competitive world. Even if they bring the policies, they are not reviewed timely. Monitoring is not effective in their line agencies. The problems of policies regarding school reform program have not been solved immediately. As a result, community schools are lagging behind in comparison to private boarding schools. Moreover, they have been producing an entirely different class of people in the society.
Realizing the fact that we should take some initiatives to bring the changes, we had frequent meetings with administration, staff, parents and students and pinpointed common problems of the school which we could intervene. After all, we took the following moves.
Building School-Community Caring Relationships
Many of today’s leaders in education, business, and community development are coming to realize schools alone cannot prepare our youth for productive adulthood. It is evident that schools and communities should work closely with each other to meet their mutual goals. Schools can provide more support for students, families and staff when they are an integral part of the community. On the other hand, agencies can make services more accessible to youth and families by linking with schools, and they can connect better with and have an impact on hard-to-reach clients. Appropriate and efficient collaboration and teaming are seen as key factors to school community development and learning.
School-community partnerships can interconnect together many resources and strategies to enhance communities that support all youth and their families. They could improve schools, strengthen neighborhoods and lead to a noticeable reduction in young people’s problems. Building such partnerships requires visioning, strategic planning, and creative leadership. We have taken the initiative to tighten the knot strong with the parents and community. When school launched the program to involve community into school, the concern of parents and social leaders increased dramatically. They unconditionally set up different scholarships for the poor and needy students in schools. The number of scholarship for students crossed fifteen in numbers. What’s more, we became successful to expand its infrastructure with the help of the community.
No factor is more important for positive school outcomes than the children’s perception of the teacher’s attitude toward them. When students believe that their teachers care them, see them as competent, respect their views and desire and their success, they tend to work toward fulfilling those high expectations. Unfortunately, many schools have not fostered such positive student-teacher relationships. The case of Lab was not different from that. When the teachers are devoted towards students’ all-round development; they get respect from them. The students start loving and trusting their teachers. Eventually, learning takes place. The lab has tracked it recently. It has established many student-oriented clubs and extracurricular activities. School and classroom have become student friendly, and they are free to develop their potentialities in a fearless environment. The disciplinary problems have been cut off heavily after the students were made responsible for their learning. They make school and classroom rules, they maintain the garden and surrounding themselves. They are not only doing their classroom activities and learning for the exam but also they are simultaneously developing their personality, leadership skill, teamwork and being prepared for the future.
Creating a Rich Academic Environment
To facilitate English language learning, we have recently started English medium classes up to the third grade. The move taken by the school has remarkably increased the number of students to be enrolled in primary classes. Although the teachers and students have not got into the to complete the methodological process of ‘English for the medium of instruction (EMI)’, it has been believed that the foundation of students will be formed well for their further studies. It can also support to minimize the gap between community and private schools. The culture of supporting each other is replicable for all. The teachers share their expertise and skills each other so that primary teachers do not feel difficulty in delivering the subject matters interactively in the classroom.
Another significant move the school has taken is embracing Information Communication Technology (ICT) in school and classroom. Multimedia, TV and DVD player have been set up in pre-primary classes. So that students learn with fun. The school has launched its website to connect all Laboratory alumni, teachers, students and parents and to enrich discussion and to share amongst the stakeholders. The computer lab is another revolution for the school. That has taught basic computer skills to the students. Students are getting the exposure of vast treasure of knowledge through the computer and the Internet.
Focused Group study is another replicable practice of our school. Besides the workshop seminar and training provided by the government agencies, the school also conducts professional development training regularly. Subject teachers including pre-primary to higher secondary have formed their study group to share their best classroom practices, common problems, findings of action research and book reviews. They prepare their strategic teaching improvement plan and implement together.
The use of the library and developing a reading culture among students and teachers is another important part of the academic environment in school. Observation shows that most of the students in Nepal do not have a reading culture. Even if they read, they read for exams. Realizing the fact, we set up a library in the school. Though the library is not so rich in regards to varieties of books, it can certainly develop the reading culture.
Expansion of Infrastructures and Resources
The third main constructive thing that the school accomplished is expanding physical infrastructures. It is said that if there are good policy and program, funding does not seem to be a significant problem. We have proved it in our school. With the support of guardians, students alumni and other donors from home and abroad we collected some amount of money and constructed meeting hall, bought computers, connected internet, set up the science lab and LED Monitor for primary and pre-primary classes. During one year, we became successful to maintain the garden with different plants and flowers.
The fourth component that I would like to mention here is the new participatory approach to learning. The government is implementing the policy to hold different meetings, and donors are spending an enormous amount of money training the human resources. After all, the recipient of all in the grass root level is the child. In another word, the child is the center of all. So the important thing to understand here is children’s learning. How we involve them in their lifelong learning process. The approach that we follow is participatory learning. The concept we firmly believe is that students do not only learn from the teachers. They learn from the environment, from their friends and their experiences. So we mainly focus on participatory learning. Next, creating an environment is the due responsibility of all teachers, parents, stakeholders, and community leaders. We should become role model ourselves, and they learn from their observation.
Changing the face of community schools and making it child-friendly is the role of all. We can bring the change and create positive school environment if we all are committed to it. Besides having a bundle of problems, such as the low presence of students, political instability and interference, low infrastructure and resources, low parental support, and without the governmental monitoring, we can bring positive changes for better learning place in the community schools of Nepal. We need to have teamwork; visionary and accountable leader; enthusiastic, professional and honest teaching and nonteaching staffs; supportive guardians with a positive mindset. This will create a positive child-friendly environment.
(* Mr. Gobinda Puri has completed his MED in English language teaching from Tribhuvan University, Nepal. He is an executive member of NELTA Sunsari branch. He has experience of teaching English language in Community schools for 13 years in rural as well as urban setting. He has also served as an instructor of US Embassy English Access Microscholarship Program, Sunsari, Nepal. He has presented the papers at home and abroad in difference ELT conferences.)