Written by Heather R.

Have you ever stroked a globe? If you like to rub the ridges of the Himalayas, then your finger is on top of Nepal-home of breath-taking summits, diverse terrain, friendly people and rich history.  Nestled in between China and India, the two largest economic powerhouses of Asia, Nepal’s recognition has been limited to the news of its recent earthquake. The main reason being that they have little to offer to the free market. Agriculture accounts for one-third of Nepal’s GDP, but employs 70% of its workforce. Remittances (money made in another country, usually by a family member, that is sent home) account for a quarter of their GDP. Tourism, which is only profitable during a part of the year, has fallen significantly since the earthquake in April. Industry in Nepal has potential for further development, but political uncertainty isn’t attractive to foreign investors. Political uncertainty stems from the shaky transition from a monarchy (which fell in 2008) to a republic.

An interesting feature of Nepal’s government is its commitment to education. They have in recent years, promised to finance eight years of school. Most children attend kindergarten-10th grade. Plus 2, 11th and 12th grade, are optional and resembles community college in the United States. After Plus 2, if a student’s family can afford it, they’ll go to university. But then what? Their economy is ill-prepared for generations of educated citizens even though that’s exactly what it needs to improve its infrastructure. Graduates usually try to go to India or come to the United States. Nepal is leaking its investment in education. The only option for the educated Nepalese who stay is teaching.

So why did I suddenly become interested in this South Asian country?  In 2013, I went on a mission trip to Nepal. It was like no other place I’d been before. I found an affection for this brand new to me place that previously was unknown to me. Mission trip stories will continue to be cliché to listeners and meaningful to those who went like a map is just a picture until you attach memories to places.

But this isn’t about my trip in 2013 or me. In July of this year (2015) I had the opportunity to go to Far-West Nepal to be on a team leading teacher-training conferences. We got the word out to eleven schools in the surrounding area and had 130 teachers show up. Our conference was three days long. The first day was a Q&A panel discussion that allowed us to hear from teachers and allowed them to get to know us. The second day we had nine breakout sessions on specific topics they had requested prior to our arrival. On the third day we repeated popular sessions, heard feedback from teachers, and had a final ceremony.

Visiting a country for a second time brings more insight. I had already experienced culture shock and learned customs once, so I was gaining nuanced understanding. This time around I got a very up close view of the education system greatly aided by the panel discussion on first day of the conference. I got to hear about frustrations the teachers faced. Along with issues American teachers have (e.g. class management, talkative students, etc.) they had very limited resources and were over crowded. There’s hardly room for creativity with the bare necessities. Nepali teachers are also trapped by tradition. They use out dated methods of rigid structure. There’s been a big push in the United States to incorporate more activities into curriculums that appeal to different learning styles. Nepal is a little behind the curve. Classrooms in Nepal are one size fits all. Kids with short attention spans don’t want to sit still for hours, so we taught them new ways of thinking about lessons that could engage more students.

I can only imagine the annoyance and maybe even resentment of these teachers when their most immediate problems are economic, and strangers from America, a place of bottomless wealth as portrayed by the media, are coming and giving advice instead of magical solutions. We are bringing our romantic ideas about teaching from a country that far surpasses most in funding and support for schools. I cannot make education in Nepal as it is in the United States. We also learned that teaching isn’t seen as a profession because it’s the job that educated people are stuck with. What one of the teachers said was something to the effect of:

Even though teaching isn’t what I want to do, I’m doing it so I treat it like a profession.

We had several invitations from proud teachers who wanted to show us their school. We were only able to visit two. Now at this point I should probably explain that we only reached out to private schools. There are government-funded schools in Nepal, but they have a reputation for having complacent teachers who only want a salary. Parents prefer to send their kids to private schools. These schools are run like a business. The principal or head master fronts the initial cost. At the first school we visited, the head master’s home was on the property. By not having the support of the government, running a school becomes a much greater personal investment. We noticed a great deal of pride and care displayed by the teachers. Small though they were, classrooms were always clean. The teachers’ uniforms were spotless. What they had was valued and treated that way. They did their job not perfectly (which never is the goal) but diligently. It takes faith and hope to teach in an economy that looks so bleak. I think you also have to believe that education does more than just improve prospects of future earnings.  Learning improves the individual, which improves the whole. Educating Nepal’s children is not a waste! Things will improve; industry will develop. In the mean time, dedicated teachers are sticking out the mess and making a worthwhile investment.

“Whatever you do in the world will be insignificant, but it is very important that you do it”