The Oda Project

Essential healthcare and education - giving Nepali communities in extreme poverty a fighting chance

A Morning in a Government School in Oda - Reflections from Education Fellow, Lucy Martin-Patrick

“They suspect 50 kids will attend school today” Dawit Gurung, a Program Manager for the Oda Foundation, translated from the conversation he was having with the acting principal of the ‘up school’. I nodded having understood a little of what the principal had said, but thankful for the clarification. The school has 377 registered students.

Oda has two schools. ‘Up school’, which is situated on the middle of the third hill of the Oda village and the ‘down school’, situated at the top of the first hill. Dawit and myself headed to the up school with a purpose to find out how we can develop tuition classes provided by Oda to correspond more with what is being taught in the local government schools and find out what the status of the school is right now with regards to how many teachers and
students are actually showing up day after day.

When I arrived at the school Dawit showed me to a large staff room. As I entered the room the first thing I noticed was how many plastic chairs there were, each neatly placed against the wall and a large wooden table in front of them. At the back of the room were two desks, one which had a large office chair, I assumed this was the principals desk. As we took a seat on one of the wooden benches near a desk at the back Dawit turned to me and said, ‘so many chairs, but they never get sat in’. And I knew what he meant. He was referring to the fact that one of the biggest problems at the school was no teachers were showing up. On the walls were white posters with pictures printed on them and large sheets of paper all written with a scripture that’s still very new to me. We had a short conversation with the acting principal, finding out about the number of students attending and he also told us of other issues he felt were influencing the school. The conversation was cut short as we wanted to see the assembly.

The assembly was when you could really see how very few kids were attending school. In Nepal assembly involves kids lining up in around the same age group. The kids do a few simple exercises and at the end the national anthem is sung. I see it every day with my nursery and kindergarten class students but this time it was very different. The kids were showing no enthusiasm and their monotone voices murmured through the lines of the song. It was very clear that they were experiencing no joy in being there. Three of the kids in the lines I already knew due to their mums being our kitchen aunties. Dawit told me how the oldest of those three kids always shows no interest in going to school and always needs to be convinced by the Oda staff, but now I could understand why he didn’t want to be there.

At the end of the assembly Dawit came over to me after having a few words with the teacher and informed me we were going to stay and take a class. At first, I was a little surprised. I hadn’t prepared anything at all and teaching is still a very new concept to me. I was expecting to only stay for a meeting and to chat with a few students, but by the time we were leaving a couple hours later I was so glad we had stayed.

We entered a small classroom in the middle of the school. It had bare grey brick walls, the type that crumbled when you ran hour hands over them. The far wall held three small windows with their wooden shutters closed. The room was very dimly lit with two more windows on the opposite side of the room and the open door. The floor was covered in dust, dirt and scrap building materials such as pieces of roof and wooden posts. Filling the
room were thin, graphited wooden desks that were far too long for the small space, leaving no room for a walkway to get to the back desks, resulting in kids climbing over the tables and each other to find a seat. At the front of the room was one rectangular white board, coloured a dark grey from where previous work had been rubbed away. It hung from two wires attached to nails in the roof and swung slightly as we scribbled onto it. We were told that the class would have students in class 7 and 8, but when I spoke to the students I soon realised there were kids from classes 4 to 10, the youngest I knew to be 10 and the oldest 17. The lack of kids in school also meant that they only took up the first few rows of benches, marking their seat by placing down their text books and notebooks, which were often held together by tape on the binding.

The Oda foundation has been providing English tuition for the last few years, but now we are reforming tuition. We have noticed a huge need for tuition in other subjects too, including maths and science. The first part of our lesson was asking our students what subjects they would want to have from tuition. “English” one voice called out eagerly. Maths and science then followed. We found out these three subjects were in highest demand. But something else we found was that many of the kids also had a desire to study health and social classes. When we asked the kids why they wanted to study these we were told it was because they hadn’t had a teacher show up for these classes the whole year, and I believed them.

As Dawit started leading the class I was writing some notes into my diary when I felt someone stood behind me. I turned around to find the only 3 teachers who were at the school that day stood watching our class, they remained observing the class, despite the fact they had students waiting to start learning in the surrounding classrooms. They remained for a while, curious to see what we were doing with the class. After spending a little time talking to students about tuition Dawit informed me the kids wanted me to take an English class. I was a little surprised. I looked around the classroom and saw 20 faces staring back at me. How was I meant to lead a class off the top of my head with no resources for kids of such different abilities and ages. I took everyone outside to a small clearing in front of the school and did an energizer with them that I had also lead at a government school I visited in Kathmandu for a class 6 and 7 tuition session. The game involves saying some simple sentences in English e.g ‘I have a sister’, ‘my favourite colour is blue’ etc. It was at this point that I realised just how different the level of English was between that school and this one. The kids really struggled with the game and lacked a lot of confidence compared to the previous school, which was really disheartening to see.

I then decided to take them back to the classroom and for the remaining time reviewed the statements that had been made through the game, checking the kids understood the spellings and sentences. We did this for around 30 minutes until Dawit returned from talking to one of the teachers about our tuition programme, and began a math class to assess the level of the kids. This was when I decided to explore more of the school. The school has around 8 classrooms, two of which were being occupied by classes. The first thing I saw when I came out of the class was two of the teachers sat outside of the school, one laying in the sun. I walked around a little to find empty classroom after empty classroom, all with the same uninviting environment. I came across one class with around 15 younger students, probably class 1 to 4. When I peeked inside I found there was no teacher and they were scribbling some drawings into their notebooks. As I headed back to the classroom where Dawit was teaching I felt my frustration growing more and more. If we
hadn’t gone today I don’t know if any of the kids would have been taught a lesson, but as I stood at the front of the class I always had the attention of the kids, eager to listen and learn.

Anytime I have been walking through the village since arriving in Oda we were always stopped by previous students and asked when tuition will begin again, and my experience at the up school today has given me a whole new understanding of why Oda’s work here is so crucial and why kids are so desperate to attend the tuition classes. The long-term solution to improving education here is rooted in these government schools, as they need to start
taking more responsibility. Yet as we work to bring about change within the mind-set of the different stakeholders including; local government, teachers, students and parents we are faced with challenge after challenge. I came away from that place with a mix of sadness, frustration and anger, but also determination. I am determined now more than ever to form a great tuition programme as well as a youth group. I see now how important providing a safe space and learning environment is for these kids, and how much of a need we really have for it here.

Going to school in a place like this is not easy, especially for the girls here. Yet they still come to an environment that’s so uninviting, where they know that it’s unlikely they will have a teacher turn up at all, because they are still hopeful that they have an opportunity to open the textbooks and will return home having learnt something new.