The demography of Dadagaun is typical of many villages in Nepal. About 300 people live here (34 children) and 530 in neighbouring Dullal gaun (200 children). Bal Vikas Samaj is the local primary school for both villages with an enrolment of 70 students from 28 families. On most days about 60 children attend the school from pre-school to Year Seven. There is also an orphanage recently relocated to Dadagaun and it has 42 extra students to cater for.
The main income in Dadagaun and Dullal gaun is from small scale agriculture. Vegetables are sold locally. Some bootlegger barley wine is also made. The average monthly income is 2,500 rupees ($AUD37). There is one tiny shop selling a few foodstuffs and other groceries. Dadagaun is on a hillside (the name means “mountain village”). Roads pass at the top and bottom of the village but only a handful of people own a motor bike. The village is separated from Shivapuri National Park by Army barracks, making electricity accessible.
Budhanilkantha is the closest township, approximately 10km away. This is a bustling market town on the perimeter of Kathmandu with an expensive private college, Hare Krishna centre, the famous Reclining Shiva, a Buddhist monastery and a nunnery, several elegant ex-pat homes, sprawling tenements, plus various cottage industries and services. Buses go from here into Kathmandu, 40 – 50 minutes away.
Bal Vikas Samaj Pre-elementary school is a happy place. Nepalese people are generally happy. However, the villagers of Dadagaun are poor and mostly uneducated and unskilled: they look to the school to provide a better future for their children. Many children come to school wearing torn, dirty uniforms, some with clean faces and combed hair, others not. A lot of children get themselves off to school independently as Mum and Dad have already left for the fields or markets. Some kids don’t make it to school because they have to help carry a load of produce to the market, 15 km or more by foot.
The school is severely under resourced and maintenance needs are obvious. The desks and whiteboards are in poor condition, the walls are dirty and lack any stimulus like posters or children’s art. There are no teacher’s desks. Only the kindy room has some secondhand, threadbare carpet, despite winter temperatures of around zero degrees. There is no running water in the classroom block or warm water in the toilet block. A cupboard of coloured pencils, recorders, scissors and glue etc. is under lock in the staff room and the teachers don’t seem to have the imagination to develop creative activities. Rote learning from government supplied textbooks is the norm. A Japanese foundation has donated exercise books and pencils. The Nepalese government supplies wages for about half the teachers. Electricity was only recently connected to the school.
Lunchtime is more a play break than a meal break – some children may have a packet of dried noodles or beaten rice or a handful of plums. They play soccer during breaks or share a single tyre swing. They are on a roster to clean the traditional hole-in-the-floor toilets, sweep classrooms and ring the bell. They look after their younger siblings. They don’t have free access to books (some torn, old, donated, often inappropriate ones exist in a locked “library”). Some are keen to learn, some are disinterested but enjoy the social contact school provides. Some have obvious learning delays for age.
The teachers are caring but notably underskilled, undertrained and lacking in creative ideas. Free periods are usually used to catch up on reading the newspaper rather than plan interesting lessons. The kindergarten teacher has had some Montessori training but does not have the skills, support or confidence to implement anything new in her classroom. The little kindy children are loosely supervised as they play with a couple of broken puzzles or other little thing of interest they may have found. There is little development of imaginative play, manipulative skills, exploration or other early education concepts. Thus the children are notably understimulated. Occasional counting, colours or alphabet are about it!
However, Dhorje the headmaster does have ambitions for the school. He wants to make changes, to help the school grow, instil pride in both students and teachers, gain the respect of parents and produce well educated, well equipped citizens of future Nepal. Positive change in Nepal is dependent on future generations.
There have been several volunteers assisting in the classrooms for short spells in the past, not always trained teachers. This intervention has been piecemeal and lasting effects have unfortunately not followed. Dhorje has introduced a new school uniform with a track suit option so the uniform can be washed mid week. He wants to “smarten the school up”, increase enrolments and have it develop a great reputation. He is very grateful for the assistance we are offering and recognises the need for effective teacher training. He is making good use of the new classrooms with the early stages of a resource room/ library evident.
Published 20 Sept, 2010…improvements have been made each year since and are documented on the Home page