I am in Phaplu, a small mountain town, which is more developed than most other towns in Solukhumbu. There is an airport, and a road that reaches the town. This is also where Sir Edmund Hillary, who was among the first to reach the summit of Mt. Everest, has set up a hospital.
A little downhill from the hospital is a new school - Grades 1 through 8, and I taught the students for a couple of days. The school aims to provide low income kids in Phaplu with as high a quality education as in Kathmandu. It is set up as somewhat of a magnet school. Children go through a selection process, and attend the school free-of-charge. Already, the school has made a name for itself in the community, with parents clamoring to get a seat for their child.
The school is a participant in the One Laptop Per Child program and the language of instruction is English. A new complex being built with help from the Zeke O’ Connor foundation will have laboratory space.
Even in this relatively infrastructure-rich school, instructors say that teaching is extremely challenging. Students have very few role models around them. Parents, most of them without an education, are in no position to guide their children through the process.
While there are no school fees to pay, the opportunity cost of an education is high. The kids had just returned from winter break, and when asked to share what they did during their vacation break, they talked about taking goats to graze, or readying fields for planting potatoes.
Having time to complete assignments at home is a luxury, as many of them have other duties to fulfill. A homework assignment I gave was completed by less than half the class, and that is not a surprise here.
“The kids don’t see how their education will help them in their lives”, says the principal Bhim Bahadur Rai. “Even parents make the calculation: the road from an education to a job is not so obvious, but if the kids learn how to be a trekking guide, for example, they could make a comfortable living.”
Setting students up for academic success in such circumstances is not easy. The principal has made it his job to instill in the kids the value of an education, and talks every morning, preacher-style, encouraging students to take charge of their own learning.
For all its challenges, the school is a ray of hope to this community. There are young, dedicated teachers who care, resources that are enviable amongst schools in the area, and an opportunity for low-income kids to learn English, a language they have to master if they are to have access to good job opportunities.
Photo © Ang Phurba Sherpa