Train first!

 Teacher training in rural Nepal

For Fionna Heiton, the key to a good education in rural Nepal is they same as everywhere else – get the Early Years right. A new teacher training initiative is making this possible.

The impact of training

Many people believe that building a modern school in an impoverished area will change the community – but simply creating a building does not necessarily improve the educational outcomes for the children. The real key to creating positive change is the quality of the teaching that happens inside.

Enthusiastic, well-trained teachers can improve their young students lives with far-reaching positive consequences. That’s why education charity First Steps Himalaya, working in rural Nepal, developed a practical, hands-on teacher training curriculum designed specifically for early years teachers at rural village schools.

For the last five years, village teachers across Nepal have attended a series of lively, educational workshops to learn modern professional teaching methods. The First Steps Teacher training takes teachers through a learning journey that lasts at least 3 years. Every six months, teachers gather to attend a week-long training workshop with each level building on the learning from the previous course.

Training centre

A team of trained Nepali early-childhood teachers facilitate the workshops which are held either at the First Steps Teacher Training Centre in the village of Sangachok, three hours drive from the capital, Kathmandu; or at schools across rural Nepal. Groups of schools participate with each school sending about three teachers.

The training takes teachers from a very introductory level on the first week right through to classes at the professional development level. By the end of the eight First Steps workshops,  teachers will be able to practice self reflection, effectively model learning for students and develop learning frameworks for children that cover more than one curriculum area.

In essence, the training shares contemporary practice in early-childhood teaching and learning with teachers who have had little or no exposure to modern, professional teaching methods. Teacher training, as we know it in the West is in its infancy in Nepal where, until recently,  anyone could leave school and become a teacher without any formal training. The teachers are only familiar with the way they themselves were taught, which often involved a lot of rote learning and discipline.

Focus areas

Along with the basics of numeracy and literacy, First Steps training focuses strongly on kind behaviour management strategies, creative classroom lay-out and the importance of play. In the early workshops, the training deals with very basic classroom skills and concepts such as how to organise mat and circle time, how to create and care for resources and simple behaviour management techniques like using a calm voice instead of shouting.

Over time, our rural Nepali teachers develop into confident, professional teachers, able to deliver effective, innovative and contemporary learning outcomes for the children in their classrooms. Through the First Steps training, teachers are empowered with the skills to create a warm, nurturing learning environment for their young students.

Challenging cultural norms about early childhood

Child in NepalSadly, a common belief in rural Nepal is that the developmental stage of early childhood is not important. Child-rearing practices in Nepal traditionally do not involve much stimulation or play-based learning.  Babies and toddlers are left hanging in baskets while their mothers work in the fields, while children over two in rural villages are often left by themselves during the day without much adult input, to either wander the streets or be locked inside.

Three-year olds attend the local village school but are generally allocated the worst room and spend their days in dirty, empty spaces with little teacher interaction. Traditional rote learning methods are so ingrained in school culture that any classroom learning takes this form. The value of play and child-led learning is not recognised or respected.

Learning to play and experiment

The biggest and most profound shift in the teachers who undertake First Steps training is learning to appreciate the positive attributes of play-based learning in early childhood development. This idea was uncommon during their own childhood and schooling, so as adults the teachers themselves must learn to express and trust their own creativity and playfulness. To help with this process, the workshops are designed to be fun, creative and hands-on. There are lots of crayons, paints, cutting and gluing, singing and game playing as the teachers learn techniques they can take back to their own classrooms.

Interestingly, even the concept of colour-mixing is unfamiliar to most teachers, who, for the first time, experience the excitement of mixing blue and yellow to make green during the training.

Being resourceful with resources

Many of the teachers and their schools have very few resources to draw on. The villages are remote, most parents are subsistence farmers and town infrastructure is severely lacking.

Therefore, one of the main thrusts of the First Steps training is self-sufficiency. Teachers learn to create their own classroom resources from things they can find in their village. They create painted stones for counting, hand-made flashcards, letters cut from sandpaper and hand-drawn posters and charts.

A local teacher from Shree Talo Kumundung School, Punam said “I learnt so much from the training. Now, I create my own [resources] from local material. The children love the changes.”

Ongoing School Support

Long-term success for the trained teachers and their schools is important. The First Steps team regularly visit each classroom to record improvements, give feedback and provide support to teachers and the wider school community.

To track changes, they have a standardized system to record the state of classrooms and the quality of teaching being observed. “This monitoring is crucial” says Director of Operations Durga Aran. “It allows us to accurately track specific improvements and areas in need of further work in each classroom over time.”

Transformation

Across Nepal, teachers on the First Steps learning journey are transforming their classrooms from dreary and uninspiring rooms to colourful and nurturing classrooms, where children delight in exploring at their own pace. Step by step, early years education in rural Nepal is improving, classroom by classroom thanks for these innovative, yet simple training workshops. By focusing on training, empowering and supporting teachers, First Steps Himalaya has created an economical, effective and sustainable way to improve educational outcomes for rural Nepali children.

To find out more about First Steps Himalaya, see https://www.firststepshimalaya.org/

Fiona Heiton

 

Fionna Heiton and Durga Aran are the founders and directors of First Steps Himalaya. Find out more about their story here: https://www.firststepshimalaya.org/our-story