A personal maker space

Maker spaces are a hot topic in Kathmandu. Karkhana is well known for its space, and for extending its activities from technology to science education. It has also supported maker space work in both private and government schools.

Nepal Communitere is a Nepali run non-profit founded after the 2015 earthquake, which provides a collaborative space for the community. It gives individuals and organizations the means to develop innovative solutions and become self-reliant. A key part of its work is maker spaces for clothing, ironwork, and other media.

There are also Maker Faires, maker keti’s (especially supportive for girls and women), and many other examples.

Yesterday I happened upon another, but this one, as far as I can tell, is an individual effort.

Jenish showed me his car. It’s 16 inches long.  There are wooden wheels, six of them, much like an extra-terrestrial rover might have. That’s useful for the rough street it has to navigate.

Steering is controlled through a normal sized wheel. It’s made of a hose, bent into a circle and held by tape. The main structural elements are from bamboo, a widely available resource. The steering is just reliable enough not to be frustrating, and just unpredictable enough to be fun.

View from our balcony this morning, showing part of Balthali, fog, and the LangTang Himalayas beyond.

IMG_3365

International Mother Language Day

Nepal Academy organised a poetry event to observe International Mother Language Day in Kathmandu on Thursday. The festival featured poets from various ethnic backgrounds who recited 36 poems in 32 different languages.

Clad in traditional attire, women from Limbu, Sherpa and Magar ethnicities pose for a photograph as they observe International Mother Language Day in Kathmandu.

All photos: Sanjog Manandhar 

The Nepali national languages featured in the poetry recitation programme included Awadh, Kham, Uraw, Kumal, Kulung, Kewarat, Koyu, Khas, Gurung, Ghale, Jirel, Dhut Magar, Tajpuriya, Tamang, Thami, Tharu, Danuwar, Dumi, Dura, Dhimal, Nachiring, Nepal Bhasa, Bajjika, Bantawa, Bhojpuri, Maithili, Yakkha, Bambule, Limbu, Sherpa, Sunuwar and Hayu—many of which are increasingly on decline.

From the perspectives of poetry, language, art, dress, culture, understanding, social justice, or democratic life, this is so much better  than the practice of denigrating the language, and even the accent, of others.

Source: Nepal celebrates International Mother Language Day with a poetry festival – National – The Kathmandu Post

Collaboration in teaching

Morning assembly

Morning assembly

There are many outstanding private schools in Kathmandu, informed by advanced educational theory and implemented by dedicated, knowledgable teachers. But even though these schools are a bargain by US standards, their cost is beyond the reach for most Nepalis.

On the other hand, public, or government schools, are underfunded and have few books or other materials, too few teachers, and generally limited resources, especially for the needs they try to meet. In one school, students said that their dream was for a school bus.

IMG_3156In this context, the Collaborative Schools Network (CSN; collaborativeschools.info) offers an intriguing alternative model. It is essentially a public/private partnership, not unlike some charter schools in the US. The CSN brings expertise in the form of two Teach for Nepal (TFN) alumni. These are young people, skilled in math, science, and English, who have devoted two years to living and working with village schools. In addition, CSN can hire additional teachers and provide funding for equipment such as books, computers, and even a smart board.

IMG_3164The Collaborative Schools Network adopts and manages existing public schools and transforms the education they provide to some of the country’s poorest children. It currently manages three schools. Since these schools are already funded by the government, CSN can leverage for greater impact.

IMG_3169The TFN alums teach, coach the government teachers, and lead a school improvement process. This includes parent relations and management to ensure that students arrive on time and stay until the end of the day and that substitute teachers are available. A temple nearby provides free midday meals for primary students.

As they say,

Our aim is not just to improve a few schools, but to transform the public education sector in Nepal, by proving that public schools can be successful with the right support. We are outraged by the chronic failure of public education in Nepal, and are driven by a simple motto: We put students first.

Among the impacts are that there has been a 220% increase in the number of students in three years, a 17% increase in student attendance, equating to an extra day a week, and 94% attendance at parents meetings, compared to 30% nationally.

Yesterday, Susan, Biswash Chepang, a teacher at King’s College, and I visited the first of the Collaborative Schools, Shree Jana Uddhar secondary school in Budhanilkantha. The school shows signs of the 2015 earthquake and might be considered spare in terms of its facilities.

However, there is a good spirit among the staff, teachers, and students. Everyone seemed committed to student learning. We met with TFN alum Rajan Maharjan, Principal Hare Ram Khatri, many teachers, and students. They were welcoming to visitors and demonstrated to us a school that is working well.

The Collaborative Schools Network is an excellent model for school improvement.

See the video below, featuring a student we met. Can you watch it without both a tear and a smile?

Valentine’s Day stories

I wouldn’t have expected to find Valentine’s Day stories in an MBA class, but that’s where ten of them appeared today.

This was an induction session for new MBA students at King’s College, Kathmandu. There were 60 students, seated in tables with six each.

Narottam Aryal and Arjun Rijal, the instructors, gave each group a photograph of  contemporary life in Nepal. The groups were to discuss “What do you see, feel, wonder?”

Most initially focused on surface features (a family on a motorbike), but soon they generated more complex and varying interpretations. They inferred things such as that it was a middle-class family, which valued education.

The groups then received nine more images. They were asked to choose five or so from among these, make up a story, then use glue stick, scissors, markers and poster stock to prepare a presentation.

After 30 minutes, each group shared its story. Some were love and family stories, appropriate to the day. One focused on Nepal itself; another imagined a British tourist taking the photos to memorialize his visit, which happens to be an account not far from the actual source of the images.

Groups also shared what they learned, with comments about teamwork, valuing different perspectives, learning about each other, even about themselves, and deeper understanding of topics such as rural development in Nepal.

For me, the class reinforced the idea that students can display engagement, initiative, creativity, attention to detail, thoughtful reading, writing, speaking, and listening if only given the chance. There are undoubtedly technical skills needed for MBA’s that did not emerge here, but it’s hard to imagine a better foundation for studying those.

Their creativity was all the more remarkable since the class began at 6:30 am!

The photos came from my book, Progressive Education In Nepal: The Community Is the Curriculum.

Renewing a legend

In my last post, I described the giant rope, or snake, that appeared unexpectedly at Boudhanath. Hundreds of people carried a 1336 meter long knitted community construction. If you’re not used to thinking in meters, just imagine a tube sock that when stretched gently is a mile long.

A good friend, Rachel, says, “It’s nice the way the participants are all actually bound together by it, a great village umbilicus.”

A Tibetan Buddhist legend about the building of Boudhanath fits with the idea of this knitted rope:

After the death of an ancient Buddha, an old woman wanted to inter his remains. Before starting, she petitioned the King for land the size of a buffalo skin. He granted permission for her to bury the body and build a tower, wondering how she could do so in such a small area.

She cut the skin in small strips and made a long, leather string to encircle the area, which become the present Boudhanath. There is now not only the huge stupa, but a thriving small town around it.

Project 1336 at Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa

Boudhanath Stupa

Project 1336 is a community-based art project, designed by Manish Lal Shrestha, and named after the altitude of Kathmandu in meters. It works with the diverse community of Kathmandu, especially women and youth.

Carrying the 1336 meter knitted wool snake

Carrying the 1336 meter knitted wool snake

The project involves knitting a huge wool rope or snake. The knitting signifies warmth, inclusiveness, and nostalgia about motherhood. The process of the installation is itself a work of art which links creators and viewers in a community activity. The work is “spontaneous, performative, interactive and playful.” Manish writes:

Life is never straight; it is like the lane of the Kathmandu Valley. I see women gathering in small courtyard knitting along with their neighbors’ interaction with joy about life and values. They knit with the stories, and knitting becomes the story of seconds. Knitting is like making things happen, intricate connection between threads and journey of life, which is yet full of struggle, hope, and chaos like the lanes in the city.

Today happened to be a beautiful, sunny day at Boudhanath Stupa in Kathmandu. This stupa is located on an ancient trade route from Tibet to Lalitpur. At 118 feet tall, it is one of the largest Buddhist stupas in the world.

We had a lovely lunch at Flavours restaurant across from the stupa. Then, while strolling around the stupa we happened upon an amazing sight.

A public procession of a 1336 meter long, knitted snake was being enacted. It appeared to require 1336 people to carry it along with their big smiles.

We were fortunate to be standing next to a friend of Manish, the designer. She provided an explanation of what we were experiencing, but we still couldn’t quite believe it.

Progressive Education In Nepal: The Community Is the Curriculum

Nepal is a country with daunting needs in terms of basic education and other social services. At the same time, its cultural and moral wealth provide a strong basis for meaningful life and learning. In particular, it offers fertile ground for progressive education, in which learning grows out of experiences in the community. Thus, despite material poverty, the country holds the possibility of significant advances, even international leadership, in the area of progressive education. This book reports on recent educational innovations. There are 118 color photos.

 

Available in paper and ebook formats: http://www.lulu.com/spotlight/chipbruce

Reviews

Good reads

Karkhana seeks science teacher volunteers

Based in Kathmandu, Nepal, Karkhana is an education company and makerspace with a unique approach to learning. It seeks to introduce more hands-on and project-based learning into the traditional education system across South Asia.

Karkhana is looking for experienced science teachers to help improve its science kits, lesson plans, and teacher development modules. Science teachers with experience working with upper elementary and/or middle school are especially welcome. Some experience working in the developing world is a bonus, but not necessary.

Karkhana currently works with approximately 50 schools across the Kathmandu Valley and is expanding to 3 new towns this year. So your efforts will reach and benefit many families and schools.

Karkhana would like to find volunteers who are willing to spend a minimum of two weeks. They can provide accommodation in Kathmandu for a short period. For longer term support, such as an entire summer, they can also subsidize some travel costs. They can also help long-term volunteers identify and apply for grant opportunities.

Unlike some volunteer opportunities, this one responds to a specific, clearly-identified need. It also offers a vibrant work environment, which can be a learning opportunity for anyone. I’ll be working with Karkhana myself this winter.

Please contact Karkhana directly info@karkhana.asia if you’re interested. I can also answer some basic questions about it and this opportunity.

Community based on diversity

What makes a group of people constitute a community? The most common definitions focus on similarities of place, interest, or practices. For example, Wikipedia says,

Human communities may share intent, belief, resources, preferences, needs, and risks in common, affecting the identity of the participants and their degree of cohesiveness.

The standard view thus sees cohesion growing out of sameness. Can we even imagine a community emerging out of difference?

Imagined communities

In his book on nationalism, Benedict Anderson writes that a nation

is imagined as a community, because regardless of the actual inequality and exploitation that may prevail in each, the nation is always conceived as a deep, horizontal comradeship. Ultimately it is this fraternity that makes it possible, over the past two centuries, for so many millions of people, not so much to kill, as willingly to die for such limited imaginings (p. 7)

For Anderson, all nations, indeed, all communities are imagined; they are distinguished by the “style” in which they are imagined.  In many countries, the imagining consists of defining a personal archetype, a single language, a religion, and a national mythology, which extends the nation’s history to a time long before anyone did imagine a nation.

Nepal ethnic groups

Nepal ethnic groups

But comradeship is neither guaranteed nor does it require, more objectively measured, or even imagined, similarity. Instead, Anderson’s imagined community is more akin to Anthony P. Cohen’s (1985) idea of community of meaning, in which the community plays a crucial symbolic role in generating a person’s identity and sense of belonging. A community is, because we conceive it to be.

Community based on difference

If we shift from defining a community based on shared attributes (religion, interests, age, place, etc.) to thinking of it as something that its members construct, we begin to see an answer to the question posed above: Yes, community can emerge out of difference, even because of difference.

The country of Nepal is so diverse in terms of geography, history, human physical features, language, religion, arts, and more, that it’s difficult to say what constitutes a Nepali, or Nepal as a nation. What makes all Nepalis the same, yet different from people in India, China, or elsewhere? Imagining such a sameness for people Nepal is more a stretch than it is for most other countries. How might Nepalis imagine their community, if such can exist?

Instead of focusing on sameness, many in Nepal conceive of their nation in terms of its diversity. What sets Nepal apart is not that everyone looks, dresses, talks, prays, or acts the same, but that people there seek common ground through recognition of and genuine valuing of their differences. This otherwise vague goal is enacted in many concrete ways.

Celebrating and building on diversity

For example, there are 123 recognized “national languages.” Following Section 32 of the Constitution, the Language Commission aims that

every person and community will be entitled to use their language, participate in cultural life… and promote their language, script, culture, cultural civilization and heritage. Similarly, the state has a policy… to promote national unity by developing… mutual harmony, tolerance and solidarity between different languages

There is active research to find and preserve languages that may have been missed before, but now need to be recognized and protected. Contrast that with the efforts of some in the US to make English the official language.

Nepal flag at the top of Shivapuri

Nepal flag at the top of Shivapuri

Consider also how many Nepalis view their flag and anthem, conventional symbols of nationalism. In many countries flag waving serves to inculcate a belief in nationhood based on imagined sameness. This is not so in Nepal.

Nepal’s flag has a unique double triangular (or double pennant) shape. As such, it’s the only non-rectangular national flag. The national anthem is also unusual in both music and lyrics. “Sayaun Thunga Phool Ka” was adopted in 2006, with music by Amber Gurun. The BBC places it third on its list of “most amazing national anthems” and described it as “the only anthem normally played on a Casio keyboard.” An English translation of the lyrics by Byakul Maila includes

Woven from hundreds of flowers, we are garland Nepali… millions of natural beauties, history like a shawl… races, languages, religions, cultures incredible… progressive nation, I salute Nepal.

Echoing ideas from many others, politician Biraj Bista says, “Most people feel proud to have such a unique flag. Personally, I look at it as a symbol of unification in diversity we have in Nepal” (Nosowitz, 2018). This idea of community in diversity provides a powerful resource for the current work there on progressive education.

Implications for the US

The US is currently conflicted over the notion of community. For some, there is a desire to imagine a “deep, horizontal comradeship” based on shared language, religion, ethnicity, and social values. This leads to actions against immigrants, racial oppression, imposing sectarian religious views in public life, and absurd efforts to institute assumed, or desired, commonality of language use. In support of this sameness aim, the US Citizenship and Immigration Services recently changed its mission statement to eliminate the description of the US as “a nation of immigrants.”

For others, there is acceptance of diversity, and an understanding of how it enriches the life of society. However, that difference perspective is often accompanied by unease over perceived changes in society, and a difficulty in defining what constitutes nationhood.

Nepal provides a strong refutation of the sameness conceit and a clear articulation of a pluralistic or multicultural view of community. It shows a way in which the unity of a people, or a nation arises, not in spite of, but precisely because of the willingness to embrace difference.

References