‘We have seen real improvements’

Sangita Bhandari on her role with a UK education charity working in Nepal.

Imagine your five-year-old child was about to start school and you discovered that their chances of leaving at 16 with the national qualification was only 14 per cent. That is the reality in my country, Nepal. You might think this is because most children drop out before grade 10, or don’t even go to school. Or you might think that Nepal is isolated with no modern educational inputs or financial aid from developed nations. None of these things are true.

My own education was different. I was born in the district of Dhading, about 150km west of Kathmandu. I was very fortunate to attend school as a girl, and eventually I studied for a BEd at Neelakantha College and then for an MEd at Kathmandu University, where I graduated in 2012. I also worked as a part-time primary teacher in a number of schools to earn an extra income and to help my parents. My education had taught me to observe the running of schools, the teaching methods, resources used, teacher abilities and motivations, and much more. What I saw truly shocked me, and it was to get worse.

At the end of 2011 I joined the UK charity Nepal Schools Aid (www.nepalschoolsaid.org) as an education consultant running teacher training courses in Kathmandu. They were building a presence in Nepal by training Nepalese staff like myself to influence change in our education system. Two of their trustees are psychologists, and one is a highly experienced ex-teacher. With their guidance we began to realise how much psychology should have been embedded in our system and used in changing it.

Over the next three years we built a programme of school development and teacher training that so far we have applied to almost 200 schools. We provide training in pedagogical skills containing topics such as child development, approaches to motivation, classroom management, values and ethics, learning styles, constructivism, cognitive acceleration, formative assessment… all with sound underlying components of psychology, most of which were completely unknown to our primary school teachers. We also provide in-school coaching to teachers, leadership training for principals, child counselling, and workshops for the local communities of poor parents.

We now have six staff and I am the manager of all school development work, as well as being a part-time student doing an MPhil at Kathmandu University. My research aims to define and measure the expression ‘quality education’ and to identify its relationship to pedagogy. This concern stems from the 2009 publication of my country’s School Sector Reform Plan 2009–2015 (http://bit.ly/1HAmEW6), in which several billion dollars were invested from overseas aid. The plan was to bring about the transformation of our education system and to improve the ‘quality of education’. Policies were outlined, targets set, yet nowhere was ‘quality education’ defined – even Ministry of Education officials couldn’t help when asked! Without such a definition we have no sense of direction, no ultimate goal and no milestones. And worryingly, the pass rate of 14 per cent I mentioned in my opening paragraph has actually fallen from 55 per cent since the implementation of the SSRP and the investment of all of those billions!

My research focuses on child needs, education inputs, and desired outcomes. We then devised a questionnaire to assess these dimensions and to  create a Quality Education Index (QEI) scale akin to a client satisfaction survey from the students. We then created a pedagogy observation approach that has enabled me to observe many classroom sessions objectively and consistently, the end result being an index of child centredness – our ultimate goal in the classroom. We have used our scale and observations in order to provide in-school training to teachers in eight schools, and then reassess the teaching. We have seen real improvements in the quality of education and how child-centred it is.

This work is significant for Nepal – not only in terms of creating a descriptive framework of quality education and how to measure it, but also by showing our Ministry of Education that there are many tools and processes rooted in psychology that can help to transform our antiquated education system. Using personal construct theory to devise measurement tools, using child-centred approaches with their many psychological features, applying child development stages, facilitating learning instead of forcing remembering, understanding gender differences, and many more aspects of psychology need to be embraced, explored and applied. I intend to pursue this beyond my MPhil, into my daily work with 50 schools each year, until our system changes.

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