What if you never had a teacher?

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.

Follow @lisajaneashes

Website: thelearninggeek.com/ Email This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it.
Images courtesy of Sumit KC and The Shutter Story Nepal. Images courtesy of Sumit KC and The Shutter Story Nepal.

My eyes were streaming as I walked through the streets of Kathmandu. Not because I was crying, but because it was so dusty! The lack of roads and volume of vehicles whip up air that is painful to breathe. Small children with no observable adult supervision are everywhere. I know children are small but this is a different kind of small. We’ve all done the child protection training that asks us to watch out for “failure to thrive”. It’s far more difficult to spot when the children are all in the same boat. They tug at you as you walk past. “Give money. Please. So hungry”. They cry at you in broken but well-rehearsed English that will rip your heart right out of your chest.

“There’s always a game,” I tell myself in the words of Garry, my guide. If you look you may see immediate need. You may see that the pennies in your purse can feed this child in the here and now. You can do something for them immediately… but you do not see.

She’s at it again. That child has ruined every single lesson for the past month. You plan your lessons; you embrace creativity and differentiate for everyone (including her); you have marked their books with love and bam! “She’s earning money from the man she met at the school gates. He’s now her boyfriend.”She walks in and ruins it all. She’s gobby, opinionated, rude, questions everything you do and you are pleased she is not in today. She’s been excluded. You and the rest of the teachers in the school saw the need for this. The immediate need to get her out of the way. That behaviour was not your fault. She is like that for everyone. As you leave school and breathe the (fairly) fresh air of the UK, you contemplate her fate. She will go somewhere else, somewhere where they are trained to deal with problem children. You will be free to teach. You look on it as a great new beginning for you both. You look… but you do not see.

If you open your eyes a little wider, dust permitting, you can see the children with bags suckled around their tiny mouths. The substance makes their eyes wide and feeds an emptiness inside them. You can see the adults if you look around the corner. They’re lying in wait to receive the children’s pity earnings, in wait to reward them with their bag of goodies. If you open your eyes past your own classroom, you see the home life that your problem pupil endures. Alcoholic father, mother dead, oldest of six siblings all living in chaos. You see the place she ends up too. She stops turning up to school. She’s earning money from the man she met at the school gates. He’s now her boyfriend… now do you see?

The child in Nepal has never had a teacher (other than those who teach them how to manipulate the tourists). Where will they end up when their cute faces grow or succumb to the substance that keeps them working? The child in England has free education at their fingertips but, without the recognition of their barriers to learning, has high-quality education taken from them. Do not underestimate the power of education. In particular, do not overlook the teacher as the person getting creative in finding the key to child’s happy future, no matter where you are in the world.

Over the last two years, I have become heavily involved in teacher training across developing countries, most recently in Nepal. According to UNESCO, the world needs 69 million teachers (and you thought the UK had a recruitment crisis). World Teachers’ Day (this article’s day of publication) is about recognising teachers for their significant contributions to the world. In Nepal’s community schools, teacher training is at best basic and, at worst, nonexistent. Many children do not attend school as it is seen as a waste of time by parents, who didn’t attend when it was their turn. Many teachers stop attending too. Their wages haven’t been paid for months, and they fail to see the purpose in what they are still doing there.

During an investigative visit to a small village in Madi (located in the Chitwan District of Nepal), I asked teachers what would be the point in coming to school here? Their responses: To read road signs. To help their families do sums. Both reasons made my heart sink. I had experienced the walk that these children endured to get there, two hours in blistering heat with no paths through a dangerous jungle. Would I turn up to school just to read road signs or do sums? Then, one teacher spoke up, saying: “Our children are low caste. The higher castes see them as property to be used. If we can learn to get these children to recognise who they are, what they are worth and give them the voice and skills they need, it will be worth it.” Boom! This response nearly knocked me over. This was purpose! This was what their school could be about! This was the kind of driven, creative teacher those addicted children on the streets of Kathmandu needed. If only we can get them there.

The street children of Kathmandu need an education. The problem child in the UK needs an education. Both educations go way beyond reading, writing and arithmetic. If a child is left without a teacher, they will find teachers of their own. They will find the drug dealer, the “In Nepal’s community schools, teacher training is at best basic and, at worst, nonexistent.”illiterate parent, the ‘boyfriend’. Educated professionals, with training in their specific needs, can lift them out of cycles of poverty, inequality and unhappy lives. Without a teacher, futures are less certain. The ongoing volunteer training project in Nepal faces huge problems within the education system. However, with eyes wide open, freedom to create, and the support of collaborative nations, we are confident that together, teachers will make a difference. No education system is perfect. We can all learn lessons from each other.

We live in one world. Borders and distance should not be a barrier to learning from each other. We all have problems big and small. Recruitment crises, poor behaviour, overworked teachers, understaffed schools, a changing curriculum, an ever-changing world, monsoons, caste systems, missing children and more. Any problem can be solved, it’s just about being creative and finding the right solution. Teachers in the UK, Nepal and every other country in this world need empowerment and recognition for their roles in changing lives. Through creativity, training, time, understanding and working together as communities of teachers serving the world and its future, teachers can solve any problem that comes our way.

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