Teaching English in Nepal

Tabitha Dodd (2017, History)

As someone who is passionate about reducing global inequality and ensuring all children have access to a decent education, I was very keen to volunteer with HELP Nepal (Helambu Education and Livelihood Partnership), a charity which aims to improve educational standards in the rural Helambu region of Nepal, encouraging students to realise their academic potential and broaden their aspirations. HELP arranged for me to spend my first week at Bhanodaya Basic School. Upon arriving there I was informed that I was to cover classes 2-6s’ social studies lessons. Teaching social studies presented challenges; the primary difficulty was that much of the curriculum focused on Nepali culture (of which I knew extremely little) and featured many sensitive and divisive topics, such as the caste system and superstitions. I had to, therefore, be careful not to be dismissive of any aspects of their culture.

Nonetheless, this provided a fantastic opportunity for cultural exchange; as they grew in confidence over the course of the week the students were excited to share their culture with me and in return I gave them an insight into some aspects of British life. I was very fortunate to be placed with such a welcoming host family, who went out of their way to share their Newari culture with me; they took me on a tour of the local religious and historical sites, introduced me to their Newari foods, and arranged for me to go on evening visits to some of the school’s teachers’ homes. This was an incredibly rewarding experience for me.

For the remainder of my month’s volunteering I taught at Shree Bachhalamai Basic School. The school was more basically resourced; the extent of the classroom resources were a white board and the students’ exercise books. I soon learned that English levels were very low, even for the highest class in the school. Although the students had been copying English accurately out of their textbooks (giving the illusion of a high ability in English) their actual comprehension was extremely low. Therefore, I decided to plan lessons which went back to the very basics in English. In the beginning it was difficult to get the students out of the mindset of merely copying the teacher in their lessons, but by the end the majority of students were able to think more independently in their learning, by applying new vocabulary to exercises and games. The effectiveness of the lessons was proved on my final day of teaching, when all of the students in classes 3, 4, and 5 were able to construct a fact file about themselves in English, revising what they had been learning for the previous three weeks. Classes 3, 4, and 5 were so enthusiastic during their lessons, and really proud of the progress they had made, which made my volunteering efforts seem really worthwhile.

However, one of the biggest challenges I faced teaching there was class 2, where initially the students constantly misbehaved and refused to listen to my lessons. In order to remedy this situation I decided to try to make the lessons as fun as possible; they responded extremely positively to English songs, especially the ones that had actions. Stickers were also very well received and encouraged good behaviour. Hitting and beating with a stick were prevalent punishment practices at the school, whereas rewarding of good behaviour was less commonplace. I only used a fraction of the stickers I brought with me and left the remainder with the teachers to encourage them to continue to use this alternative approach to behaviour control. Indeed, I did not just teach the students, but also their teachers, in order to make my volunteering efforts more sustainable in the long-term. In both schools I ran evening classes, whereby the teachers could gain more confidence in their English speaking. I also left Shree Bachhalamai Basic School with all the teaching resources I brought with me, such as coloured pencils, stickers, flashcards, post-it notes, and a Nepali to English phrasebook and dictionary. This should hopefully steer them away from lessons that consist merely of copying the textbook, instead allowing them to give creative and engaging tasks to the students.

I learnt a great deal from my volunteering experience. As somebody who would like to work in either the human rights or international development sector after graduation, volunteering and briefly living in a LEDC country gave me a huge insight into the challenges such countries face in areas such as education, healthcare, and infrastructure. Working with HELP taught me that international development requires immense flexibility and adaptability, patience, dedication, and perseverance. However, when you apply these traits you can see results, which are extremely rewarding. I believe I also developed personally across the placement. My confidence in public speaking grew exponentially, which I feel will be of great benefit as I pursue a career after Cambridge. I also learnt that I can deal with adversity (such as the basic living conditions in the mountains), and be adaptable when faced with challenges. Moreover, for the month I was volunteering I was immersed in a culture very different to my one in Britain, which was a truly unparalleled and gratifying experience for me.

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