These new schools can become the pride of the communities, "labs" for new experimentations that bring together a new level of enthusiasm for teaching as a truly essential service, demanding existing teachers, with the right type of tailored-made support, to evolve and adapt or be transferred and perhaps encouraged to leave the profession
With hundreds of schools severely damaged by the earthquake in 2015 still waiting to be reconstructed, we have a real opportunity to rethink the role of public learning institutions in community life, questioning old assumptions of the educational system while envisioning schools as an engine for innovative child learning rooted in practices of true community sustainable development.
According to recently published data, around 1,519 schools still need to be rebuilt, but due to a process of merging some of them, only 882 will have to be constructed. In many local communities in areas most hit by the earthquake, we can already notice new buildings with modern and functional facilities, needed not only to attract students but also to create a conducive learning environment.
With thousands of students enjoying learning in such modern settings, I wonder if the inauguration of these new schools did not only mark an important milestone in the field of school engineering but also heralded a new era in the way teaching is imparted based on the most advanced teaching methodologies.
Having a world-class physical learning environment without adapting and adjusting the teaching methodologies and without revisiting the school curriculum is going to be a big missed opportunity for the nation. Instead, efforts focussed on the principles of social emotional learning, or SEL, would highlight a more holistic and child-centred pedagogy, promoting a new holistic "growth" focussed dynamic between teachers and children.
The challenge is not only to have aesthetically beautiful and structurally sound schools but also learning institutions that can show the way on how the future of education should be for the remaining millions of students throughout the nation.
I am launching here the idea of giving back to the communities that have been traumatised and suffered so much due the earthquake where local schools can be praised and not only because of their fancy buildings. What better way to do that than in the form of special educational investments to turn these schools into exemplary centres of learning so that they can become champions of a new way of doing education.
Transform Your School Programme – A Special Initiative for Earthquake affected Schools could become a pioneering initiative where new forms of partnerships can be promoted with local governments collaborating with School Management Committees and empowered Teachers and Parents Associations to create new innovative learning pathways.
If it works, this model could be replicated nationally, but gradually, through special competitive grants.
I imagine a learning setting in rural Nepal where, for example, emotional intelligence, a pillar of the SEL model, could be promoted by embedding in the curriculum insights coming from the discovery process that stems from a different approach to learning about nature and biodiversity, where a child can know more about him/ herself by exploring, through guided supervision, the endless treasures found in wildlife.
Globally, there is an interest in promoting the nature-based Social-Emotional and Environmental Education Development (SEED) framework that Prof. Deborah Carter with Boise State University, Idaho has theorised. Even if designed for early childhood learning, perhaps, there is room to enlarge its scope to include also elder students. In addition, there is an urgent need for rediscovering the so-called Education for Sustainable Development, or ESD, a field of learning that has been championed by UNESCO since decades but often neglected or overshowed, though the upcoming World Conference on Education for Sustainable Development might help revive.
With now climate action claiming a more and more central role in the overall ESD framework and with the recognition of the importance of youth activism and youth participation in fighting climate warming, there is an urgent need for schools to embrace multidisciplinary curricula that impart practical knowledge.
Can the new or upcoming schools in the areas most affected by the earthquakes become engines of a new way of teaching that goes beyond the standard textbooks and embrace hope and optimism with due alertness that sustainable development is a paradigm that must be embraced bottom up? Can the children of these schools be equipped with the tools to become proactive agents of social change driven by a humble self-confidence based on empathy and compassion? Embedding social emotional learning with practical exploration and understanding of nature would be complementary to an emphasis on the principles and practices that advance social inclusion and diversity and values-based leadership, especially personal accountability, the latter indispensable if Nepal wants to achieve middle-income status.
The groundbreaking, not-for-profits, The Transform Your School Programme, can bring the best pedagogical ideas into localised forms of teaching, making these schools not only cutting-edge centres of learning but also new pillars of civic engagement.
These schools can become the pride of the communities, "labs" for new experimentations that bring together a new level of enthusiasm for teaching as a truly essential service, demanding existing teachers, with the right type of tailored-made support, to evolve and adapt or be transferred and perhaps encouraged to leave the profession.
As ambitious as visionary this proposition might sound, we all know that the nation can do better in the field of public learning.
Why not start almost anew where there have been destruction and despair, showing that the country, through confident optimism centred on trailblazing learning, can also lead and, at the end, truly prevail over adversity?
Galimberti is the co-founder of ENGAGE
A version of this article appears in the print on May 10, 2021, of The Himalayan Times.