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Why I’m teacher-training in Nepal [interview]

Lisa Ashes

Lisa Jane Ashes is a self-employed teacher and author of Manglish: Bringing Maths and English Together Across the Curriculum. She is now a trustee of the charity Reach Out 2 Schools (www.reachout2schools.com), founded by Isabella Wallace, who are continuing to fund education-centric work in countries such as Nepal, India and South Africa. The organisation is also working on education projects within the UK, with Lisa using her knowledge of creativity within the curriculum to build better education for the most in need.

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Website: thelearninggeek.com/ Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Images courtesy of interviewee // Lisa (centre) with educators and learners in Kathmandu. Images courtesy of interviewee // Lisa (centre) with educators and learners in Kathmandu.

Independent Thinking associate Lisa Ashes is part of a group of passionate educators who have just gotten back from their latest pedagogic trip to Nepal. Here, the Manglish author (Teacher in the Cupboard is out soon) tells us why she’s proud to be a part of Reach Out 2 Schools’ mission...

What is Reach Out 2 Schools, and how has your involvement with the organisation led to you working in Nepal?

Reach Out 2 Schools is a charity set up by the amazing Isabella Wallace. She visited South Africa and saw the potential for teacher trainers to give their time to schools in places where training is sorely lacking. Many charities that use volunteers use young students, potentially on a gap year that are looking to do some good and gain experience. Reach Out to Schools choose to use volunteers who already have experience and can hit the ground running; changing attitudes, education and lives for the better. Living in Lincoln, Isabella heard of a local charity that builds schools in Nepal (Lincs2Nepal), and saw the potential to connect the two charities through developing better education in this amazing, but poor, country.

I was the lucky trainer chosen to develop this project further. Many other excellent trainers have pledged their time to Reach Out 2 Schools, such as Jackie Beere OBE, ex-headteacher Will Ryan, and behaviour specialist Paul Dix.

Tell us about the most recent work you've been doing out there.

Alongside Lincs2Nepal, myself and a group of their volunteers went out to our two school projects last week. It’s great working alongside the Lincs2Nepal team. Although none of them are trained teachers, they are always willing to support the Reach Out 2 Schools programme. Volunteers play games with the children, which frees their teachers up for training. They also love getting involved in the training themselves. My role is to ensure that the development plans from my initial visits are reviewed and continued, providing training specific to each school’s needs.

Our two schools are very different to each other. One is a private school that offers scholarships to village children. Lincs2Nepal sponsors provide the fee, allowing these children to attend school. Lower and higher-caste children learn together. Their birth name no longer holds them back. The teachers of this school have developed quickly in the year and a half since my first visit. We are now evolving digital systems to provide training all year round. Teachers were trained in using Google Classroom, and explored sessions on Mathematics, Sport, growth mindset and more. They keep me on my toes as they smash every challenge I set them. As the school grows every year, new teachers are always joining us. Systems are currently being set up to develop staff coaches, lead teachers for teaching and learning as well as peer support groups to improve.

The second school, on the other hand, is in a remote village in Madi. We are in the very early stages out there, and the teachers are not well trained. Many do not have official qualifications; lessons are rote, showing little understanding or purpose. Children often leave school very young in order to help their parents in manual work. On our first visit, there were not enough teachers for each class, but thanks to a generous donor, we have employed two new teachers and put minimum standards for learning in place. We have also linked the two projects together, taking leaders of learning from our first project to lead the way in our second. We have arranged for all of the village teachers to attend a coaching week in our first project on our next visit. It’s very exciting stuff!

What are some of the best things about Nepalese education?

At 3pm every day in Jeevan Jyoti School, dance breaks out in the LKG (Lower Kindergarten) classroom. I never miss it! This school has a dedicated dance teacher, who teaches the children traditional Nepalese dances and, whenever there is an opportunity, teachers and students will break out into dance. Much of the traditional Nepalese education that I have experienced is boring and repetitive, but the dancing lights me up every time!

Tell us about the people who are making this journey special.

Firstly, the people that make the journey the most special are the teachers and children that we work with in Nepal. They have welcomed us into their families and engaged in the training with such enthusiasm that it makes my heart leap to see them again and again.

With each trip, a group of self-funded Lincs2Nepal members join me in Nepal. They come in all ages and backgrounds, from 17-year-old students to 76-year-old grandads. Every one of them support the programme, and every one of them have a place in my heart. Garry Goddard, the founder of Lincs2Nepal, and his right-hand woman Helen Walsh are amazing, collaborating to ensure that we get as much done as possible and have a great time doing it too.

Without Isabella Wallace, this journey would not be happening. Her ability to connect me with first-class educators, people willing to lend their support, adds so much more to what we are able to achieve. It was through Isabella that the link was made between the two charities, allowing this fantastic work to develop. Many of our supporters give generous donations to allow us to continue the work we do; without them, none of this would be possible. Schools in Darton are amazing at getting their children involved in fundraising and making connections. Darton College even sent their teachers out to support with teacher training!

This trip was also supported remotely by educators such as Roy Leighton, Danielle Bartram and Jackie Beere OBE. Other fantastic educators have pledged their support in future developments, and I am so grateful to them all!

How and why should educators get involved?

Getting involved with Reach Out 2 Schools has changed my life! The projects are so rewarding, and the people that I meet along the way make my life that little bit richer. If you wanted to get involved, you would not regret it! We are always looking for experienced teachers to support our projects. We desperately need to provide subject-specific training in Physical Education, Mathematics, EAL, Science and more. In our project at Jeevan Jyoti School, we have developed a system to provide remote training, so you could even get involved from the comfort of your own home.

Of course, we cannot continue this work for free, and it means just as much to us when people offer any donations to support the work that we do. It is great when schools get involved in raising money for our projects, as we can link those schools up with the schools in Nepal, allowing the children to see exactly where their efforts were spent and enriching their understanding of reaching out personally to those in need. If you are interested, or want to know more, you can contact either myself or Isabella Wallace.

What do you hope to achieve in the next year?

Our next visit is due to take place in November. Before that date, we hope to have secured a better internet connection to support our digital training programme at Jeevan Jyoti School. It is our aim to have provided monthly training sessions from educators that match the school’s specific needs. Training in SEN, Early Years and Mathematics are high on the priority list. We will see progress being made towards the minimum standards for learning as we meet online monthly with the leaders of our village school.

The most exciting development will be when we take our teachers from the village school to be coached by the teachers of Jeevan Jyoti School. The two schools are a day’s travel from each other on the mountainous roads of Nepal, but connecting them for just a week will support both school’s journeys and - most likely - make a connection for life. Reach Out 2 Schools aim to get the word out to people about the amazing work that we continue to do, in the hope that more people will support us - both financially and in person. We want more schools like those in Darton to get their children involved in supporting friends across the world.

Education is a journey that never ends, it grows and grows. I cannot see an end to our time in Nepal. I can only see the stretching expanse of an amazing future together; growing, learning and evolving as a world-family as we go.

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