Under the global goal of Education for All (EFA) to train teachers to improve the quality of public basic education I had the privilege to glimpse the work of a unique project in Nepal's Dailekh district as an international adjudicator for the UNESCO-Hamdan Prize this year.
The award is sponsored by the ruling family of Dubai, and contributes to the achievement of the United Nations Millennium Development Goals (MDG) by rewarding, supporting and disseminating outstanding teacher-related practices in developing countries and marginalised communities.
The Dailekh School Project (DSP) was unanimously identified for the shortlist, and picked as one of the three winners this month. We were attracted by the claim that the well-off in Nepal are subsidising the education of the under-privileged in an organised and sustainable manner that alleviates some of the financial and quality constraints faced by the government.
The Dailekh project is an outreach program of the Rato Bangala Foundation (RBF) which is based on a commitment to transform schools into joyful, child-friendly community institutions. RBF teachers and parents share a belief that bringing quality education to the people of Dailekh will contribute to the goal of Education for All.
Dailekh is reached after a flight to Nepalganj and then an eight hour rough jeep ride through the mountains. I was initially speechless with awe about the world that was so different from my own. We observed children in classrooms, and listened to trainers of the 10 month certification program for teachers, their trainees, and personnel in the District Education Office and VDCs.
Back in Kathmandu we had a meeting with a dozen members of Nepal's educated elite who helped plan and advise the Dailekh project. They spoke inspiringly about the importance of quality education and social justice, and we visited Rato Bangala School where training of educators parallels the schooling of children.
Everywhere I went in Nepal I saw dedicated educators and engaged partnerships. I felt their ownership of responsibilities, resourcefulness, synergy, and impact. My adjudicating role was to validate the claims, but I actually saw much more than had been articulated.
With the lived reality of a widening gap in education standards, the future of Nepali children will remain bleak if nothing is done. We want a model that improves the standard of education for the largest number of children with effective and cost-efficient inputs, making every stakeholder feel like a real partner and contributor.
At another level, the project can set an example in Nepal that service begins at home and at an early age. There must be a part of the self that watches out for others, especially among the privileged. The curriculum at Rato Bangala School has an in-built service component, students from affluent families experience the worth of working for a common goal and the common good.
The Dailekh project provides opportunities for parents to help out, and for the students to live in a village where they get life-changing experiences. When education is a privilege for some, but not all, what the educated do with their education matters a lot. In Dailekh, one of the poorest district of Nepal, material resources for education cannot compare with those in well-developed societies. Yet the hope of Education For All has been brought alive here by the collective leadership force: there is no single hero, and no competition for recognition.
The partners are not short of challenges, yet there seems to be enough power for continual strides forward. Obstacles are just seen as signposts for the winding journey. The project has created music that cannot stop.
Ora Kwo is Associate Professor at the University of Hong Kong Faculty of Education and was an international adjudicator of the UNESCO Hamdan Prize.
Model partnership, STUTI SHARMA and DUKSANGH DOLMA SHERPA in DAILEKH
Private school in Kathmandu uses part of its fees to help with teacher training and upgrades for government schools in Dailekh