The following conversation with Babu Lal Tamang, Vice Principal, Chilaune Secondary School on the opportunities and challenges of running a community school was first published in the Innovation in Education Fair 2017 catalog along with other articles that explored the educational landscape in Nepal. Chilaune Secondary School is in Sindhupalchowk and Babu Lal Tamang along with four of his teachers made the journey to Kathmandu to attend all four days of the fair.
For the past few Tihars, the students and staff of Chilaune Secondary School, a community school in Thangpalkot,Sindupalchowk, go singing and dancing as Deusi and Bhailo players in their village. “While it is the students that perform the dances and lead the singing, the school staff help the students prepare for the performances. We join them when playing Deusi-Bhailo,” says Vice Principal Babu Lal Tamang, who also teaches English at the lower secondary level, and has been involved in the school for the past 16 years. In 2073 BS, the Deusi-Bhailo program was able to raise Rs 2,08,000 which went towards teacher salaries and furniture maintenance for the school. Apart from the Deusi-Bhailo, the school also annually organizes raffle-ticket sales and asks for financial support from its network of Nepalis abroad to cover its operational costs. Chilaune Secondary School has also been receiving support from various organizations and operates two income generation projects – a fish farm and sanitary napkin production.
Established in 2035 BS, Chilaune Secondary School upgraded into a secondary level school in 2064 BS. The government handed over the running of the primary and lower secondary section of Chilaune Secondary School to the community about a decade ago. “When the school was handed over to the community, the government provided us a Rs 1,00,000 grant which came as a relief to a school like ours which has been running of scarce financial resources. Also, we thought, since the decisions regarding the school will be made by the community itself, the school would be easier to run. But that wasn’t the case,” shares Tamang Sir. Decisions on how the school should run are made by a seven-member board of representatives chosen from the community. However, from construction issues to appointing teachers to other policy changes,it turned out that the decisions passed by the community had to be passed by the District Education Office (DEO). Tamang Sir and his colleagues had to run to the DEO for permissions for every change they made. In reality, decision-making power for community schools isn’t really in the hands of the community.
Apart from bureaucratic hurdles, the school has constantly faced a financial and human resource crisis.While the government only provides the salary for a few of the teachers, the school management has to put together the salaries for other teachers. Without a permanent source of income, running the school becomes financially taxing. But despite the odds, Chilaune Secondary School has been able to make a name for itself as an education entity that is invested in its students and in the education of its community as a whole. We talked to Tamang Sir about the achievements and challenges so far:
What is the vision for Chilaune Secondary School?
In my family of five, I am the only one who got an education. This is the story of many families in our village and in villages in this region. Earlier, people had to travel far and wide just to get someone to help them write a simple letter or help them understand what was being said in legal papers. Even about a decade ago, a lot of the people in our community were illiterate. Not many from our region were successful in reaching high-level posts; be it in the government or the private sectors. We hope to change that. We want to educate our communities so that they can help themselves. We hope that the youth realize that they can make a good living in their communities itself, so that they don’t have to go abroad to make a living.
You mentioned that Chilaune Secondary School is considered as a school that has been able to turn things around in a very short span of time. How would you say this was achieved?
The teachers we have at our school are united for and committed to the cause of education. We strongly believe that without education, our community cannot progress. Our team of local teachers went from door-to-door, informing families about why education is a right and why they need to send their children to school. Our teachers work hard to ensure that we have good results. Also, they don’t mind staying back to coach students who need extra help with their studies. In return, we ensure that our teachers receive their salary on time and that they can come to us if they need help with any problems that they might be facing in their personal lives.
We are also genuinely invested in the education of the children of our community. That’s why, we make sure that even after they have finished their tenth grade, they have access to higher education in Kathmandu. We are connected to a few colleges in Kathmandu where we request our students receive scholarships to pursue high school and college. In the past, we have managed to help two students pursue their engineering degree and currently two students, one from our school and the other from our community, are pursuing their medicine degree in Kathmandu.
What does Chilaune Secondary School consider good/quality education? How do you strive to provide this?
We believe that if the school management is well-organized, teachers are well trained and the physical infrastructure is adequate, quality education will be achieved. When it comes to physical infrastructure, child-friendly classrooms with proper educational materials for the students is a must.
Currently, we have partnered with various organizations to provide training for our subject teachers. We also have our subject teachers provide extra classes to students who need extra help with their studies. We have been providing coaching classes for students who sit for their Secondary Education Examination (SEE). We have realized the importance of English-medium classes and computer classes and are running them as well.
How did the fish-farming and the sanitary napkin production come about at the school?
There was a pond that was only used either for swimming by the children or to wash the buffaloes. So we cleaned it, made it safe and started farming fish in the pond with the help of an organization called COMMITTED Nepal. We have appointed people to take care of the fishery. On a good year, we have about Rs 5,00,000 to Rs 6,00,000 income from the fish farming.
Similarly, we started the sanitary napkin production because the women and girls started using the modern sanitary napkins in our villages and the demand for it grew. So we decided that producing our own sanitary napkins will be beneficial. Child Reach Nepal helped us purchase the machine.
What are some of the challenges that you are facing?
There are ample challenges. There is difference in the way the government treats schools where they have their own people, schools that are closer in proximity (both physically and in relations) to the central office and schools like ours that do not have access to such power. We have a total of 369 students and to provide quality education for a school of our size, we need at least 18 to 20 trained teachers. However, we don’t have enough teachers at the moment, especially after the [2072 BS] earthquake. The government only provides us with two subject teachers for class nine and ten, three teachers in the lower secondary level and four in the primary level. So, we have employed six more teachers from our own resource. The earthquake also damaged our school property and has been slowing down our vision of providing a higher secondary level education to our students. While the guardians of our students are supportive of our school, their own financial statuses are not at a level where they can take initiatives and invest in the school. So, money is always a problem for us.
Here’s a clip of Babu Lal Tamang and some other teachers sharing their experience during the Innovation in Education Fair:
Interviewed by Yukta Bajracharya, a spoken word poet and educator.