All five students who had appeared in this year's SLC examination from Samata Siksha Niketan passed with distinction. The school was founded eight years ago for those children who could not afford to go to private schools. When Uttam Sanjel founded the school, promising quality education for Rs 100 per month, people scoffed. "What kind of English will they teach for Rs 100? No one will pass the exam," they said at PABSON meetings. Uttam is happy, he says: "Our students did not let us down. The results proved the nay-sayers wrong."
Sanjel once went to Mumbai to become a Bollywood hero and director. He tried his hand in Nepali film industry but could not achieve much. On the side, he started running informal classes for students of poor families in his neighbourhood and in 2001 established Samata Siksha Niketan in Jorpati.
The school has now expanded to Bhaktapur, Gwarko, Banepa, Melamchi and branches are being set up in Narayanghat, Kawaswati, Pokhara and Butwal with the student body crossing the 12,000 mark.
"We are very happy," says Mohan Yonjan of Jorpati, whose two children study in the school adding, "This is a big thing that we can provide our children with quality education for such low cost."
Doma Moktan, a resident of Boudha, originally from Dolakha says her eight-year old son, Phurba used to study in a school run by foreigners. But she got him enrolled in Samata as she found her daughter Lhakpa, who studied in Samata, to be far ahead of him.
This school is founded for the poor children but children of better families are also enrolling. Ninth grader Sarita Lama says weak students get special attention from all teachers. Some teachers have left because of low pay, but others see their profession as their contribution to society and not just for money.
There are challenges: there is a lack of extra-curricular activities, there is no science laboratory or computer lab and classroom management is sometimes weak. But what Sanjel and his Samata school network have shown is that rather than blame the government and wait for it to do something, we can all contribute to society. It's not money that makes quality education, and everyone can make a difference.