When it comes to ideas, I like to think big. It’s more fun. I mean who doesn’t want to visioneer building an eco-lodge in the Himalayas that taps into the tourist mountain biking routes while also offering classes on local farming methods as a means of rehab for internet addicts?
Fortunately, I have wiser people around me to remind me that a simple solution often provides higher-quality outcomes. Specifically, my fellow teacher trainers have been invaluable to my development. Here are just a few thoughts from recent conversations and experiences that seek the simple path, looking at the local context, and in turn provide meaningful solutions.
Start with what’s already there
Nepal has a lot going for it. The age-old developmental downfall is bringing what worked in the foreigner’s country and naively assuming it will work outside of its context.
Flying into Nepal it’s the geography that hits you first. On a cloudless day white peaks stretch across the northern sky, while the green foothills (these 9,000ft “hills” are a bit deceiving) provide the rambling foreground. As a result, the flow of goods moves at a snails pace, zigzagging up and down the mountain sides. Unfortunately, many well-intentioned plans never make it out of the Kathmandu Valley as witnessed by the challenges of aid distribution after the 2015 earthquake.
What would it have looked like if more aid organizations could have arrived and then bought local goods to help victims?
I need to be reminded to start with what’s already going on as I plan for workshops and training sessions. One challenge I’m facing is being able to help teachers integrate technology into their classrooms. Simon, a fellow teacher trainer with considerable IT experience, mentioned how many great tech ideas fail because they don’t factor in the local reality.
What is the local IT reality?
Facebook and smartphones.
Sure, there are schools with computer labs (some designed quite impressively), yet Facebook and smartphones were about the only things a typical teacher knows how to use. What would it look like to start there? A teacher’s phone can open up an avenue for students to ask questions.
What if teachers expanded a simple lesson by having students ask deeper questions that they researched on the teachers phone? Can a Facebook group, with a few face-to-face visits, successfully keep teachers engaged in a community of practice? I’m looking to explore these elements in my upcoming workshops and training sessions, so stay tuned as more lessons will be learned as I build upon these experiences.
Art Supplied Locally
Abby and I love working alongside some wise teachers and teacher trainers. When we took students from KISC (which is joined with EQUIP) to teach art and creative expression at partner schools in Lamjung, the most valuable piece of feedback was to locally source our art supplies for subsequent visits.
One of the most simple activities (based on Art Feeds curriculum) had students find rocks from around the school grounds and paint them. Creativity was unleashed in ways that had not been noticed in previous lessons that had used traditional art supplies.
I was moved by the stark contrast in seeing students find rocks from a pile of discarded rubble and create beauty from the abandoned corners of their school.
Joy, another trainer with significant Nepal teaching experience, explored the local bazaar in search of cheap, local resources for use in early childhood classes. Upon finding multi-colored pasta, she excitedly wrote out all the potential uses “colour sorting, counting, making sets, comparison, computation, threading, art …..! 30rs (25 cents) for hundreds!”
Joy understands how valuable new concepts can be when we source them locally, providing familiarity to students and teachers alike. Moreover, if they break or get lost, a few cents and a trip to the corner store is all that is needed.
Listening and observing in a new culture takes work, especially for me when often I just want to drive my ideas forward. Truly being present and humbling ourselves reveals a rich tapestry surrounding us. I hope you’re encouraged and I certainly welcome your prayers and advice as we seek the simple path.