Nepali Times
A class of their own


The night sky is patched with dark pre-monsoon clouds and the porch of a straw-thatched mud house glows with bluish LED lamps lighting a makeshift stage. As the audience sit on straw mats, a peculiar music breaks the silence-a fusion of madal and battery powered keyboards.

Performers take turns singing revolutionary songs and dances. Two of them ridicule King Gyanendra and former prime minister Sher Bahadur Deuba. The performers are teachers who have just finished a training program on the Maoists' new curriculum for Grades 1-3 in this remote village on the border of Salyan and Rolpa.

"Education is not only rote reading like in the old regime, our teachers have to be trained," announces Bhesh Raj Bhusal (alias Dhruba) secretary of the Maoist-affiliated All Nepal Teachers' Association.

"The old education is fatalistic, it glorifies the kings and the knowledge it provides is just good enough to become clerks," says Rajan Rokka, 36, one of the 25 trainee teachers, from the Basu Memorial Model School in Rukum.

The Maoists say they are running at least three 'model' schools each in Rolpa, Rukum and Salyan and that their curriculum is now taught in 34 other schools in these districts. Students are mostly children of rebels killed in action, sons and daughters of current fighters or the underprivileged. Many teachers joined the Maoists because they were hassled by security forces for being rebel sympathisers.

That experience may explain why the teacher trainees seemed to ignore the militarism of the Maoist curriculum and that, like government texts that feature the royal family, Maoist Teachings include biographies of rebel chieftain Prachanda and other Maoist 'martyrs' like Suresh Wagle and Krishna Sen.

The curriculum is divided into five subjects: languages, social science including philosophy, politics, history, economics and culture science; health and environment under which military science falls, mathematics; and arts.

From class one children are taught military science by guerrillas. Youngsters are instructed to act normal when the "satru" come to their schools and to note their weapons so they can pass on the information. During a mathematics session on teaching graphs, Comrade Anup, dressed in combat fatigues, displays a pie chart showing how many weapons the Maoists captured in their Beni attacks.

In the Nepali language book chha stands for chhapamaar (guerrilla), ma for masal (torch) and ha for hasia (sickle) like the one shown on the Maoist flag. The songs the teachers learn glorify battles like the one in Khara, which is described as the first time the Maoists engaged in conventional warfare against the RNA. The Maoists suffered heavy losses during that attack but this is not mentioned.

Another song is about the cradle of the Maoist revolution, Thabang in Rolpa and describes communes and the 'martyrs highway'.

"We have to move on with the demand of the current situation," says Tufan Singh, secretary of the Maoist education department. "You have to also look at the brighter side of the curriculum that is more practical and involves students getting closer to the community."

The Maoists' Naya Janabadi Sikshya emphasises vocational training like agriculture and carpentry and also deals with the hazards of smoking, the need to help the poor and the underprivileged, and etiquette.

But don't the teachers see a contradiction between such community-based education and the violence practised by the Maoists? we ask.

"We are not Maoists nor are we terrorists. We are teachers who went underground because the government didn't pay any heed to our demands for fair education," explains Bhusal. "If the Maoist party ignores us we could even turn against them."

(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)