20-26 February 2015 #745

Learning from experience

Teachers look beyond textbooks into their communities for sources of knowledge and curriculum ideas
Beth Norford in MAKWANPUR

Pedestrians crossing the Rapti river came across a group of women sketching images of the fauna and flora they could see. Later the same group of women waded into the water under the bridge, looking at the plants and animals found in the river.

This was neither a scientific expedition nor a new breed of eco-tourists. It was a group of teacher trainees, learning first-hand about the natural resources in that community setting and how the resources were being utilised.

For two weeks teachers at Kamane Bilingual Academy, in the outskirts of Hetauda, took part in a ‘experiential learning’ training organised by the school’s new principal, Pratibha Dangol. This new approach focuses on using first hand experience in real life settings rather than just learning and memorising from textbooks.

Upon return the teachers recreated their experience by making collages illustrating what they observed at the river and its surroundings. The pictures were captioned and bound into a book that became a part of the trainee classroom library.

The teachers created a bar graph recording the uses of water in their community. As a group, the trainees also built a complex model of the river and the bridge using newspaper, pâpier maché, paint, wire and a variety of other materials.

It required complex problem-solving skills (how does one create a suspension bridge from recycled wire and cardboard?), cooperation as a group, detailed recollection of the experience, and discussion of what had been observed (what was the colour of the river after monsoon?) to learn and work in that manner.

Learning directly from the source is called the ‘integrated curriculum’ approach. Out-of-class learning experience makes the subject matter more authentic and it is a better way to have more insight into ‘real’ life. This method of learning requires team work, and allows everyone to think outside the box rather than the writings in a textbook.

Having travelled around Nepal for over 20 years as an education consultant, I admire the country’s education system but there is still much room for improvement. The national curriculum is based on sound research on child development and curriculum design, but the problem with Nepal’s education system is the stress and pressure of standardised exams, such as the SLCs, that students and teachers experience. There is no time for experiential education, which leads to only studying from the books to meet the high expectations of good grades for parents and school officials.

Nepali students deserve better than just memorising from books. They need to get out in their communities, and learn about the country’s environment and their surroundings. The students need to have knowledge of their community and their country. They need to learn more and have access to well-maintained libraries. They need to know more than the subjects taught at school. Students would benefit from classes such as art, painting, woodwork and ceramics to name a few.

Integrated and experience-based learning is not just an effective way of teaching and learning, this form of learning is also essential to ingrain knowledge in students so our future leaders have the ability to develop the country into a more progressive Nepal.

Read also:

Back to the village campaign, Cynthia Choo

Peace dividend for quality education, Kul Chandra Gautam

Half the sky, Editorial

No time for school