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Executive Summary

Background to the Problem

In rural Nepal, student pass rate on the 10th grade School Leaving Certificate (SLC) national examination continues to hover around 20 percent. Most students fail in English, Math and Science. There are several factors which together have compounded to yield the low pass rates. In a rural setting, majority of the population, including teachers and students, are subsistence farmers and distances are measured in the time it takes to walk between two end points. School calendar also revolves around farming activities. As a result, outside of school hours both students and teachers are engaged in household and farming chores (along with the parents), and in commuting; the study environment at home is severely lacking. At school, class sizes exceed 1:40 teacher-student ratio and teachers have to focus on imparting curriculum matter to completion in a 45-minutes class time. Teachers are unable to provide individual attention to those who are falling behind; every year these students fall further behind. Students are allowed to move up grade level even when they fail some subjects--typically in English, Math and Science. Those who can afford to pay and walk the distances can take extra tuition classes (outside of school hours) from the very teachers who teach them at school. For the rest, there is no remediation course on the subjects they fail. Over the course of 10 years, these students gradually lose their confidence as they accumulate very large knowledge gaps in their learning. Quality of schools also varies greatly.

Previous improvement attempts by the Nepalese government and other NGOs/INGOs have focused primarily on teacher training, use of volunteer educators and school infrastructure development. While these investments are necessary, they have not produced the desired results of increasing the pass rate among students.

Goals

In alignment with Education For All aim, our target pass rate on the 10th grade national examination is 80 percent within 5-years of our involvement. While this is a measurable goal, it is intended as a byproduct of our underlying focus, which is in the engagement of the students in their learning. To be able to learn well is an essential life skill.

To achieve our goals, we introduce low-cost student-centric enrichment programs, strengthen existing school committees and work in synergy with government programs, such as the School Sector Reform Program (SSRP). It is inclusive of all the schools in the village. Our commitment lasts for 10-years, in which we have 3-years of active involvement followed by 2-years of transitional handover to the local community and 5-years of followup monitoring. We also assist neighboring villages in replicating the model for their schools.

Our Solutions

Our solutions are designed to be low cost and easy to replicate. We try to work in synergy with existing programs. Our focus is on three areas: promote student engagement in learning, professional support for teachers, and effective education partnerships within the community.

1. Promote Student Engagement in Learning (PSEL)

The student-centric learning enrichment programs are focused on the bottom-up approach; the student gains more independence and control by becoming aware of many ways to improve his/her learning. It is no longer the student just sitting in a class and expecting the teacher to do all the teaching for him/her; he/she is more engaged and empowered.

  • Neighborhood Peer-Based Tutoring, Mentoring and Group Study Program
  • Targeted Remediation Program
  • Building a Stronger Foundation Program
  • Student Leadership Program
2. Professional Support for Teachers (PST)

All the quality improvement programs focus on teacher training of some sort. Starting this year, Nepal government has embarked on an ambitious 5-year program called School Sector Reform Program (SSRP), which includes a Teacher Professional Development (TPD) program. The TPD is a 30-days training module divided into three 10-days segments, which are to be delivered one segment every year for each teacher. Each of the 10-days segment is further broken into 5-days needs-based training at the training centre, 3-days worth of take-home projects, and 2-days of auditing and counseling at the teacher’s school. However, government programs are not always implemented as planned. In order to work in synergy with this comprehensive teacher training program, we provide on the ground monitoring of the schools and make sure all are aware of the programs available to them and are participating in them. Beyond this, teachers need additional support.

  • Teacher Student Assistant (TA) Program
  • Teacher Coaching and Feedback Program
  • Targeted Review and Remediation During Class-time Program
3. Effective Education Partnerships within the Community (EEPC)

The support of the community is essential for success. There are many committees already in existence, such as a Village Development Committee (VDC). All of the schools have their own School Management Committee (SMC) and Parent Teacher Association (PTA). Not all committees function well. The goal of this organizing is to better coordinate between the schools to standardize on common sets of best practices. In order to improve the main school (K-10), all the other feeder primary schools are included to achieve similar quality levels at all grades.

Vision/Mission

Vision

The vision of Thus Thought is to establish easily replicable low-cost models for improving the quality of education available to marginalized communities; thereby allowing every child to reach his/her true potential in life.

Mission

Our mission is to facilitate the improvement of quality of K-12 education in marginalized communities by engaging students in their learning, providing professional support for teachers, and building effective education partnerships within the community. We work with the community using positive deviance model to develop practical low-cost solutions that are mostly sourced locally and derived from within. As part of our process, we design a common framework for “Blueprint Copying” of our programs by other organizations and local social entrepreneurs.

Currently, a sustainable system that standardizes the quality of education across schools servicing marginalized communities is not available. Our aim is to provide a standardized sustainable system, which meets the following criteria:

  • work within the means of the marginalized community
  • must involve the community
  • must be replicable
  • must be measurable
  • must be able to be continued by the community itself


Akash's Rural Educational Experience

We are fortunate to have met Chandra "Akash" Rai. He went through the Nepali rural education system and is one of the few who succeeded.

Growing up in Chhinamakhu village, Chandra had to start the day before the sun had risen to finish his chores. He had to chop firewood, feed animals, and thrash rice before being allowed to go to school, and there was always a lot more work to do. His brothers knew how much he wanted to go to school, and they made personal sacrifices by taking over his workload. Chandra, at times, had to go to school without eating, as everyone was extremely busy. After all these struggles to get to the school, few teachers would not show up on occasion, or show up late, and at times, show up drunk. When Chandra sat down, he would often wonder whether it would have been a better idea to go fishing with his friends. If he did not understand the textbook materials or failed to do his homework, his teachers would often beat him for being a slow learner. This discouraged him and made him avoid those classes entirely. When he made it home after his long day at school, he had to walk an hour to tend to animals at the family stables, which were located high up on a different hill. The environment at home was not conducive to learning because his parents and siblings lacked the time to be involved in his education after their chores.

Somehow, against all these odds, Chandra managed to pass his 10th grade SLC national examination and move to Kathmandu, where he earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Law and a Master’s Degree in Political Science. He is one of the few Rais, and the only one from his class, who has achieved this level of success in education. He has practiced law in Kathmandu. Currently, he is working towards obtaining an attorney license to practice law in the United States.

Two things that could have made the most difference in his childhood education were a support structure to assist him with his education and the quality of teaching in the village. He would have benefitted from the extra assistance outside of school to understand how to become a better learner. In addition, having effective teachers who possessed better teaching principles, rather than those who relied on physical discipline, could have positively impacted his early educational experience.

Replicable Model Approach

  1. Establish a working partnership with a local representative who has a very strong desire to help his/her community/village and is familiar with the culture, tradition, and conditions. He/She should also have local contacts on the ground. Find out as much background of the village working closely with the local representative and through his/her communication with on the ground contacts. Establish an initial village education working committee.
  2. Conduct a fact finding/needs assessment trip to the village with the local representative (working with his/her contacts on the ground) laying the groundwork in the community - scheduling formal meetings and list of contacts to meet. Meet the various stakeholders in the village both formally (i.e. scheduled meetings) and informally to gather evidence - photos, videos, recordings, meeting notes. Seek out Positive Deviance. Find out about local resources and organizations. Exchange information about Thus Thought and explore ways to work together. Set expectations. Seed Ideas. Show existing local solutions through positive deviance.
  3. Begin organizing the village. Reestablish and expand village education committees and give them local leadership role. Establish various stakeholders work groups. Organize the villagers who have migrated out of the village in the current city or country they reside in.
  4. Design Programs to address the needs. Work out the details and costs of the individual programs. Package into Adopt-a-Project packages and How-tos details marketing/information materials.
  5. Campaign to raise awareness of the issues and adoption of the programs within the village and outside it. Distribute the materials to the various local stakeholders and working groups. Initiate fundraising drives both within the village as well as externally. Push for Adopt-a-Project package adoption.
  6. Implementation of the programs using the gentle hand approach. Work with the village education committees and let them lead and manage the local effort. Set local habits through active involvement for the first three years. Collect data related to implementation and progress measurements. Evaluate the effectiveness of the programs and make refinements as needed. Follow up the first three years with a two years of transitional period to hand over to the local community. Monitor the community for additional five years to make sure the continuation of programs is taking place on a long-term basis.
  7. Publish and franchise the above Blueprint model and make it widely available for copying. Incubate social entrepreneurs who want to adopt our model to their own localities. This includes mentoring, coaching, and 501(c)(3) umbrella fiscal sponsorship.
Books
Armstrong, Thomas. 7 Kinds of Smart: Identifying and Developing Your Multiple Intelligences. New American Library (October, 1999). ISBN-13: 978-0452281370
Bornstein, David. How to Change the World: Social Entrepreneurs and the Power of New Ideas, Updated Edition. Oxford University Press (September 17, 2007). ISBN-13: 978-0195334760
Brown, Michael Jacoby. Building Powerful Community Organizations: A Personal Guide to Creating Groups that Can Solve Problems and Change the World. Long Haul Press (2006). ISBN-13: 978-0977151806
Collier, Paul. The Bottom Billion: Why the Poorest Countries are Failing and What Can Be Done About It. Oxford University Press (August 22, 2008). ISBN-13: 978-0195373387
Dennison, Paul. Brain Gym: Teacher's Edition Revised. Edu-Kinesthetics, Inc. (1994). ISBN-13: 978-0942143027
Heath, Chip. Made to Stick: Why Some Ideas Survive and Others Die. Random House (2007). ISBN-13: 978-1400064281
Mortenson, Greg. Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace . . . One School at a Time. Penguin (January 30, 2007). ISBN-13: 978-0143038252
Polak, Paul. Out of Poverty: What Works When Traditional Approaches Fail. Berrett-Koehler Publishers (February 1, 2008). ISBN-13: 978-1576754498
Wood, John. Leaving Microsoft to Change the World: An Entrepreneur's Odyssey to Educate the World's Children. Collins Business (September 4, 2007). ISBN-13: 978-0061121081
Yunus, Muhammad. Banker To The Poor: Micro-Lending and the Battle Against World Poverty. PublicAffairs (October 14, 2003). ISBN-13: 978-1586481988
Papers
Millennium Villages Handbook: A Practitioner's Guide to the Millennium Villages Approach. The Earth Institute at Columbia University (June 18, 2008)
Positive Deviance (A Community Based Approach to Solving Community Problems). Vol. I No. 2. The Positive Deviance Initiative (April, 2004)