I have spent 13 months over the last three years working with Melamchi Ghyang Secondary school in the Sindhupalchok District of Nepal. I was in the village, 60 km NNE of Kathmandu when the earthquake struck. The village and infrastructure were devastated.
I first arrived in Nepal through Community Action Nepal in September 2012 with the intention of introducing Computer Studies to a well established school, 60 kms NNE of Kathmandu. The Nepalese Education Department had just introduced Computer Studies as an optional subject for grades 5 to 10. The school had a few laptops of varying age and robustness, there was a minimal internet service provided by a temperamental dish system, with 22 km between dishes.
There was no computer classroom and no ICT teacher. So I fitted out a room, installed laptops (occasional electricity means PCs are very difficult to sustain), installed what software I could, usernames and passwords for different levels of access and taught keyboard usage in very small groups.
In the wider district of Sindhupalchok there is one school support person. Computer training is not any part of teacher training. There is no DofE support for IT in Nepal so I have seen end of year test results calculated by hand in a ledger, this meant 1000 calculations for a class of 30 students. Student registers for the schools were hand written, there were no supplied tools to hold the data records. School accounts are hand written in ledgers. Every term each teacher writes three exam papers for their own subject, then hand writes a copy for every student in the class; even if a laptop sits beside the desk, a printer could be a two hour walk away.
Introducing IT has had some challenges: at one point the computer room went very quiet, a 14 year old had installed ‘Grand Theft Auto Vice City’ and he asked what was wrong! Teachers want to install all their own pictures on the desktop, on a shared resource. Often the first question was ‘How do I get onto Facebook?’.
The earliest and best development was a Social Studies/Sports teacher who was inspired to learn IT. He carried on the lessons after I had left and he was then employed as a Computer Studies teacher.
By March 2013 I had achieved ‘introducing IT’ not ‘embedding’ so I returned the following year with more laptops for both staff and student use. There have been many conversations about user levels, passwords, computer security and usage. Passwords are often a child’s name! I wrote and taught a word processing course for teachers to write their own exams which has been very successful, three levels and certificates of competence were gratefully received.
In late 2013 to support my work, a charity called Yolmo Connect was created; we focus on the three secondary schools in the Yolmo valley supplying computer support.
In Melamchi Ghyang, the internet is supplied by a collective, based in Melamchi Pul Bazar, to a number of schools. It uses 20 Mb of their 400 Mb capacity. During my visit in 2014 I came across the work of Nepalese born Mahabir Pun. He has done much work for some 15 years installing and supplying the Internet to remote communities, mostly in the south of the country near Pokhara.
In addition Mahabir Pun has created a hard disc system with wifi and a large range of resources covering the academic curriculum in Nepal. Some are generated in country and some are copied from places such as the Khan Academy resource bank. This is new in the north of Nepal, this use of computers as a cross-curriculum resource is a new and exciting development.
We are asking Mahabir Pun to work with the Internet collective in Melamchi Pul Bazar to improve the Internet access for the Helambu district. We intend to purchase the hard disc system for installation at Melamchi Ghyang School, believing the development will deepen understanding of the use of computers within the district.
25th April 2015 – The Earthquake
When the earthquake struck I was working in the computer room, I dropped my laptop and ran. The homes, school, school hostel for 150 students, temple, roads, health clinic were all destroyed. Purna Gautam, the headteacher and founder of the school, along with the staff made sure that the students were fed, housed and safe. Then he decided to reopen the school within four weeks which he achieved with the help of the villagers constructing temporary classrooms. By the middle of winter the classrooms were wrapped in sheets of plastic for insulation. The village now consists of temporary buildings classrooms, homes, hostels for the students and study hall. Permanent structures are still awaited.
Nepalese Computer Studies
Computer teaching continues following the National Curriculum. Set for Grades 5 to 10 the practical work is in Microsoft Office, touching on MS Access, focusing on Word, Excel and Powerpoint features. There is no expectation of Internet access and much theory, some of the topics are no longer in the UK education syllabus. I visited one school in the district, of their 12 computers, three had illegal Windows software and would not run. Five had illegal MS Office software and would not run and two were broken and would not run. This left two computers for a school of 250 students.
Plans for 2016-17
- We plan to return to Nepal late in 2016 with more laptops for the schools in the Yolmo valley and to review the present situation.
- In early 2017 we plan to return for 4 months:
- Carrying laptops up to the Yolmo valley schools.
- A three day Teacher Training course for all the teachers in the district. This training will focus on computer usage. It will offer a range of sessions from ‘complete beginner’ to sessions for the ‘Grade 10 Computer Studies teacher’. Some will be hands on and some will be discussion based. We will be using Nepalese teachers to deliver the sessions.
- We will develop links with Mahabir Pun to bring improved internet to the schools in the valley.
Our vision for the future
- The vision of Yolmo Connect is to support the establishment of Melamchi Ghyang school as a centre of excellence and skills in IT and Computer Studies.
- The Yolmo Valley and Melamchi Ghyang School will act as a ‘beacon’ school and a resource for the whole district.
- In addition we want to see self-learning software available over the internet to enable remote learning in schools across the wider district.
- We aim to support these aims through developing the skill set of both staff and students.
More information available at www.yolmoconnect.org
Founder of ‘YolmoConnect’