Community inquiry in Dalchoki


Himalayas to the north, past the Kathmandu Valley

It’s highly unlikely that you would just happen upon Dalchoki, given that it’s two hours from Kathmandu by jeep up narrow mountain roads, which are dirt surface with ruts and random rock from landslides. If you did, you might wonder what was there. You wouldn’t see an industrial center or a tourist destination.

Despite that, I had one of the warmest and most satisfying few days in Dalchoki that I’ve ever experienced. As part of our progressive education workshop we engaged in community inquiry with the residents.


Planning our visit in the Dalchoki Rising Homestay

From Dalchoki, some views are “blocked” by beautiful green hills, but to the south you can see the Terai plains leading to Ganges basin and India; to the northwest there’s a good view of Manaslu (26,781 ft) at the eastern end of the Annapurna Massif; to the north is the Kathmandu Valley; beyond that, the Langtang Himal, with 13 peaks above 18,000 ft; and to east, Sagarmāthā (Everest).

There’s far more than can be included in one blog post. But just to give a sense of what we did, I could talk about the milk collection center. We wanted to meet with people in the village, and knew that they would bring their milk to the center for weighing and testing.


Talking with people in the village

At our time there, we saw the head of the village development committee, and many ordinary farmers. We also talked with the staff in the center. They told us about weighing the milk, adding sulfuric acid which reacts with the non-gay portions of the milk, centrifuging, and then assessing fat content.

One aspect of the discussion was whether this process could become part of the school curriculum, in place of some of the Western content that seems so strikingly inappropriate here. Another was whether there were ways to add value to milk or other agricultural produce to improve the economic condition of the village. That challenge itself could become part of the curriculum. We continued this discussion with teachers at the school the next day,

On a personal level, I had a kind of peak experience, enjoying the incredible views, the warmth of our team of eight, our hosts for the stay, and people in the village. Whether eating delicious, traditional mountain village food, 100% organic, telling stories and laughing by the fire, playing cards, or debating views of education there was an intense feeling of family and community.

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New beginnings in Nepal

Inaugural meeting at Hotel Vajra, Kathmandu
Inaugural meeting at Hotel Vajra, Kathmandu

The list of remarkable things about Nepal is remarkably long.

You could start with the physical: It has 8 of the 10 highest mountains in the world with elevations ranging from 66 meters to 8,848 meters above sea level. It is a biodiversity hotspot deriving from the multiple ecoregions–arctic to tropical, including mountains, hills, and savannas. There is a corresponding diversity of flora and fauna, with gorgeous butterflies and birds. There are many cultural groups and over 125 languages spoken. The architecture, the food, the music, the arts, the history, the religions, and more are fascinating. The traffic in Kathmandu is a story in itself.

Teach for Nepal, from the website
Teach for Nepal, from the website

However, I experienced something perhaps even more remarkable. I was fortunate to be included in a group of young Nepalis who hope to build a movement to make education in Nepal more progressive, specifically to make it more relevant to people’s lives, more connected to community, and more supportive of inquiry that leads to sustained learning and creativity.

The group has the tentative name of Progressive Educators of Nepal Network (PENN). We met last Tuesday for early morning breakfast at Hotel Vajra in Kathmandu.

King;s College events
King’s College events

Those present represented four organizations. Shisir Khanal and Swastika Shrestha came from Teach for Nepal. Like Teach for America and similar organizations, TFN engages university graduates and young professionals who are committed to reduce education inequality. They emphasize community-based education, teaching in rural, public schools. Fellows work for two years, typically living in a community and staying in a home there.

Children as innovators
Children as innovators at Karkhana

Umes Shrestha and Narottam Aryal came from King’s College, a new college whose objective is making world-class education available to Nepali youths at home at an affordable cost. King’s College seeks to make its teaching more relevant for students and more inquiry-based.

Karkhana, meaning “factory,” is a company emphasizing experimentation, collaboration, and play for both makers and teachers. It started as a Saturday morning hacker hang-out and evolved into an innovation focused company that combines education and design of new products. See for example, the recent Kathmandu Mini Maker Faire. Pauvita Gautram represented Karkhana and its inquiry-based learning approach.

KLL mapping as service learning
KLL mapping as service learning

Kathmandu Living Labs (KLL) is a not-for-profit civic technology company. It has been mapping all the educational institutions, health facilities, road networks, tangled mesh of gallies, religious sites and other geographic features of Kathmandu Valley using OpenStreetMap. Secondary and college-level students participate through mapping workshops. Nama Budhathoki represented KLL and its effort to extend youth mapping work to education for full civic engagement. See KLL goal statement.

In November, this network of people, organizations, and interests will host a month long project to foster the development of educators who can become leaders in community–based education. I’ll lead initial workshops on progressive education, inquiry-based learning, and community inquiry. We’ll also travel to village sites to explore community-based education, then bring those experiences back to Kathmandu for a national meeting.

The work of this group can be important for Nepal, while also serving as a model for others. More to come on this exciting project.

Youth community inquiry: New media for community and personal growth

Youth community inquiry: New media for community and personal growthYouth Community Inquiry offers a detailed look at how young people use new media to help their communities thrive. Chapters address questions about learning, digital technology, and community engagement through the theory of community inquiry. The settings range from a small farming town, to a mostly immigrant community, to inner-city Chicago, and include youth from ages eight to 20.
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