Reshaping education is one of the most important missions for Nepal. It is also the audacious mission set by Canopy Nepal, a local organization that works to promote inclusion while also striving to create quality education in the classrooms. Inclusion and quality are the two underpinnings of a modern and dynamic educational system that puts children at the center of the learning process.
Ensuring that children from deprived and vulnerable backgrounds are able, not only to study but also to thrive in the classroom is a challenge that Nepal must win if it wants to become a nation that thrives on its diversity.
Unfortunately, there is still a long way to go and there are so many young children and youth who are still unable to enjoy their rights. Most of them risk missing out their chances to have a dignified life, a different life from their current bleak prospects like ending up working in insecure and unprotected jobs in the country or overseas.
If you are a child or a teenage girl from vulnerable families, these prospects are even darker, gloomier and riskier. Here is where the issue of the importance of quality education comes in.
This is a common problem that many schools, even the most well renowned, struggle with. Rotten memorization, lack of interaction with the students, teachers not well equipped with resources and, in some cases, not interested in self improvement and upgrading their skills are some of the impediments.
“Make education accessible to everyone but at the same time, we want to have classrooms who are interactive, child-centered,” says Mohit Rauniyar, the founder of Canopy Nepal and a strong believer that the education system in Nepal can change for the better.
Inclusion and quality
Linking inclusion and quality is fundamental not only from the perspective of social justice–the ideals that a family background or economic situation should not define the future of a child. It is also indispensable if we want to really imagine a more prosperous, diverse country where youth do not need to immigrate to Australia or go to work in the Gulf but can contribute to the national GDP with their critical thinking and skills acquired through local schools.
In this respect, I don’t see why industrialists and traders are not investing in the education sector right away.
They open up private schools but their thinking does not go much further and almost none of them are ready to invest in inclusive education that offers hope for disadvantaged children and turns their hope into opportunities for better life.
As a result, millions of children and youth continue to be left behind and the entire nation loses out.
Challenging status quo
Fortunately, Mohit Rauniyar and his dynamic and passionate team want to challenge the system. The country needs these kinds of leaders, not only Mohit and his colleagues but also other youth ready to get into the arena and try to demolish the status quo. “One of the biggest challenges in the educational field is to ensure students attend schools,” Mohit explains.
“As per UNICEF, 770,000 children aged 5-12 years are still out of school. Despite education being free and compulsory for children under the constitution of Nepal, the dropout rate remains high,” he further explains. This is why Canopy Nepal is investing in an innovative scholarship program called Canship where more than 150 students are currently accessing a comprehensive package of support that is tailored according to the specific needs.
They do this through a lengthy process of selection and discussion, engaging not only with the schools where these students are enrolled but also very importantly with the parents, whose involvement is a key.
Scholarships are one of the most important tools to enable accessibility and inclusion. But the government is not doing enough to overcome these challenges. In a recent visit to a school in the outskirts of the Valley, I was told that the scholarship for girls and Dalit students is still 400 rupees a year. With the World Bank further stepping into the educational sector from the angle of inclusion, rethinking and revisiting the role of scholarship is going to be paramount. Meanwhile, Canopy Nepal is showing the way, modeling a system that, if properly supported, could be further expanded and enlarged.
All the Canopy’s scholars, that’s the intriguing names given to those students receiving its support, take part in some of the innovative programs that the organization is running to promote interactive learning, the foundation for a stronger quality education in the country. These programs run under the banner of the Learners’ Hub, the initiative that engages students and teachers as well.
For example, Katha Bunaun focuses on storytelling and the final work prepared by the students is published in a special magazine, which acknowledges and recognizes the big efforts made by the students. There is also an intensive, month-long program—the English Improvement Classes (EIC)—that aims to “enhance multifaceted skills such as reading, writing and listening, speaking and creative thinking”.
In addition, special training programs for teachers are provided and this is indicative of the approach pursued as one of the key aspects that the organization is focused on enhancing complementarities, through an integrated approach. “We cannot work with only one stakeholder and then expect a system change, we need to work at multiple levels,” says Mohit.
The programs are so successful that they are sought after by many private schools. This allows Canopy Nepal to foster its sustainability while keeping working with local public schools, its core “business”.
It’s a model under which for each engagement with a private school, two public community schools benefit from the work done by Canopy Nepal. Working with private schools also allows creating awareness on the challenges faced by the public education system. In other words, it is a way to build bridges and bring the system change.
Canopy Nepal is proving how certain innovations in the field of inclusive and quality education can work wonders. But we need all the stakeholders on board to change the system. Having dialogues and starting a discourse on how education in the country can improve is also a top priority for Canopy Nepal. Hundreds of students are emerging and are emboldened now—thanks to their work. They can help build a better and different country. I am sure they will.
Each brick in this lengthy and difficult construction is a shine of hope proving that Nepal can be better. All thanks to organizations like Canopy Nepal for such a noble effort.
Simone Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Views are personal.