Bhetghat : Teaching for Nepal – September 2011

There were approximately 25 people gathered for the second event, Bhetghat: Teaching for Nepal on September 7, 2011. Jointly hosted by NKY and fN, the series of Bhetghat kick started its first themed discussion focussing on the education sector of Nepal.

Yubraj Acharya (YA), who returned to Nepal in 2008 from the US and currently teaches part-time as a Visiting Faculty at Kathmandu University, was chosen to facilitate the event. He started off the event by emphasizing the need for teachers in Nepal. We mainly focused our discussions on the following themes:

  1. How do we (farkeka Nepali) get in the loop of teaching?
  2. What are the challenges of teaching in Nepal?
  3. What is the value added of a farkeka Nepali? Why should people who have come from abroad be interested in teaching?

Following the introduction, Dr. Arun Kunwar, who returned to Nepal in 2008 after serving for several years as a doctor in the US and currently teaches at Nepal Medical College, shared his experiences, highlighting the challenges that he faced while working/teaching here in Nepal. He stressed that the work culture here in Nepal has not changed since a very long time. Teachers and students give less importance to practicality and focus primarily on textbook knowledge, often the final exam score as the ultimate goal of learning. He also pointed out that the use of internet for information is still a rare practice in the majority of schools in Nepal, even private ones. He emphasized on the importance of being pragmatic. AK ended on a personal note by saying, “although the pay is not great, one should pursue teaching for one’s sense of satisfaction.”

The second panelist was Anit Pokharel, a returnee from Yale who now teaches at Pulchowk Engineering Campus under Tribhuwan University. He returned to Nepal in 2009. He addressed the crowd by talking about different things one can do in order to contribute in the field of education. Teaching does not mean that one has to be a professor and teach a full-fledged course. It could be as small as assisting someone on their masters/bachelor’s thesis or providing a guest lecture. He mentioned that building credibility initially is often a challenge for someone young who has just returned from abroad. He suggested participants to “start small”—such as requesting to teach a course jointly with a senior faculty members—and gradually work up the ladder. He also stressed that teaching is a big commitment, especially if one has a full-time job elsewhere. As such, one should teach only if one should passionately about it.

Vidhan Rana, Vice Chairperson (Nepal Team) of The Shanti School Initiative, introduced the project as an example of innovatively contributing to the education system of Nepal. He mentioned that although Shanti School Initiative has so far worked on physical infrastructure, the need for “soft infrastructure”, including quality teachers, is being realized. He highlighted areas where farkeka Nepali can help. These include, among others, volunteer teaching, spreading the word and helping out foreign volunteers.

Finally, Ishan Pokharel, who is a teacher at StXavier’s College talked about how one should get the students excited and motivated about research. He shared his methods of holding students accountable for their actions.

Key concerns raised during the Q&A included the following:

  • Is it possible to make a living out of teaching?
  • How flexible are schools? Do they give enough authority to teachers? Do they provide enough opportunities for innovation (to teachers)?
  • How can we produce a multiplier effect by helping other teachers, when possible?
  • How can returnees with only a bachelor’s degree get involved, given that schools in Nepal require at least a master’s degree to do anything at the bachelor’s level?

The panelists had different experiences with regard to these concerns. The general feeling seemed to be the following:

Pay. Very often, it is difficult to make a decent living by teaching at only one place. However, there have been cases where the school authorities have provided responsibilities to teachers so that they can make 70-80,000 a month (for example, by taking coordinator positions) and more if they teach extra (for example, through additional tuition classes). Moreover, the pay range depends on the grade level, and the concerned schools. Sometimes, there are also schools that do not pay on time—for part-time teachers, payments are made only at the end of the semester or trimester.

Flexibility. It depends. There are schools that allow teachers to teach a course only once a week for 3-4 hours, but there are also schools that are quite rigid. But generally speaking, school authorities seem to get more flexible and accommodative after they “try” the teacher for a few days or months. The degree of rigidity in the syllabus also varies—although many private schools entertain innovative teaching styles.

Helping other teachers. It was mentioned that some older teachers are receptive to learning new ideas. The panelists also acknowledged that viewing young returnees with skepticism was also rampant. It was recognized that making major influence on teaching styles—by changing habits—would take time.

What to do if one has a bachelor’s degree “only”. In Nepal, someone with a master’s degree can teach master’s level students but someone with a bachelor’s degree only cannot teach bachelor’s level students. The panelists mentioned that people often place a foreign bachelor’s degree on the same footing as a bachelor’s degree earned in Nepal. A few suggestions were made:

  • Engaging in teaching at school level (A-level, 10+2, etc.)
  • Engaging in other forms of teaching (e.g. tuition, guest lecture, career guidance)
  • Getting enrolled in a local master’s program so that after 2 years, one can start teaching at a higher level

On a more encouraging note, one of the participants Shrijana Bhattarai expressed a need for young people to join the teaching profession. Having taught for almost a year, after her return, she felt that teaching was one the most rewarding ways to contribute to the society. In a rigid, only-process (and not goal) driven structure, she thought that young teachers would be able to understand the need of students better, and get them in tuned to the fast growing pace of the world.

The facilitator wrapped up the session by asking participants interested in teaching to be in touch. Eight participants have expressed interest. The panellists have promised to assist the enthusiasts to support them in any means that they can.

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