If John Dewey were to return to visit US schools of today, he would surely be impressed with the buildings, AC, and new technologies. But he’d likely be disappointed to see that these modern affordances aren’t always used to enrich education as he envisaged. In fact, they often serve to reinforce the separation of schools from the life of the community and divorce children’s learning from the concrete reality of their own experiences.
However, he might have a better experience at his eponymous school in Baluwater, Kathmandu. The principal and the teachers at the John Dewey School would be quick to tell you they have much to learn, but that desire to learn is part of what makes them an inspiring example.
Music and art are infused throughout the curriculum. For example, grade 5 students are learning Spanish. Encouraged to take charge of their own learning, they use computers to select and play Spanish songs, then choreograph dances for those.
Students work with an organic garden and a compost bin. They learn to recycle, which is not so common in Nepal, and extend that to their homes in the community.
I was able to see a grade 4 math class and to play magic squares with the students. Grade 1 students taught me a Nepali song and I shared Skitter-a-dink. Everywhere I saw examples of student work–drawings, writing, and more. They were learning with their hands as well as their heads.
Some students had made a diorama of a neighborhood area, complete with a huge rain barrel and the sand filters that are used with them. Other students had gone on learning walks a la Célestin Freinet and then had mapped the community. This suggests a possible collaboration with Kathmandu Living Labs.
It would be easy to quibble: The school is private and available to only a few; its model is far from common; its activities are often quite conventional. But what i saw in the first of several planned visits is a school that I would have been glad to attend or to send my children to, and one that sees growth as the goal, not conformity, both for the children and for the school itself.