By Ashma Shrestha Basnet
SUNSARI, Nepal, 19 March 2009 – It's the start of a typical day for first graders in the Kachana Mahadev Secondary School as they happily sing a rhyme describing the seven days of the week. This school in Itahari, located in Sunsari district, eastern Nepal, is among those implementing the country’s Child Friendly School Initiative.
“Every morning, students themselves decide their routine for the day,” explained Maya Bhujel, a first-grade teacher at Badri Nath Primary School at Dharan, also in Sunsari. “This is very unusual, for traditionally the children had to study whatever we taught them.
“Children have also formed committees to keep their classroom clean, and this has helped inculcate a sense of responsibility in them,” she added.
Interactive teaching and learning
Clustered in a circle around their brightly decorated classroom at Badri Nath, the children shout out the days of the week. “Sombaar! Mangalbaar! Budhabaar!” they chant.
The fun they have while learning is not witnessed in many of Nepal’s schools, where the stress is on rote learning and ‘discipline’ (which translates to corporal punishment). The child-friendly methodology followed in the primary sections of this school encourages interactive teaching and learning instead.
Even the facilities, from the seating arrangements to the toilets, are developed keeping the child in mind.
“The Child Friendly School Initiative aims to provide a safe and joyful environment to the children so that they experience learning as a fun activity,” said UNICEF Project Officer Dovan Lawoti. “Child-friendly learning and activity-based teaching help children to fully develop their potential.”
1,000 schools reached
The child-friendly school effort started in Nepal in 2002 at 45 government-run schools in two districts, Kavre and Sunsari. The initiative has now reached some 1,000 schools across 15 districts of the country.
In close partnership with the Department of Education, UNICEF provides training on child-friendly teaching and learning to the teachers in the pilot schools. This training provides conceptual clarity to the teachers and orients them on the intricacies of dealing with young boys and girls as individuals.
UNICEF also provides the materials necessary to facilitate child-friendly teaching and learning methods.
With the implementation of this initiative, the schools have completely changed their classroom set-up to be more child-friendly. Desks and benches have been replaced with carpets and mats. And the blackboards have been lowered to the children's level, making them more accessible.
‘I love coming to school’
As there is no more physical punishment in the school, children are more vocal about their needs and demands. This has helped to boost their morale and confidence.
“Children are comparatively more confident and creative,” said Ms. Bhujel. “Earlier, I used to think that I needed to be strict for children to be disciplined and for them to learn better. However, I am now amazed to see how these children learn so quickly and are more creative in a more informal and ‘free’ setting.”
Added Indira Neupane, a second-grade teacher in Kachana School: “Children now enjoy coming to school as they get to learn in a relaxing environment. This has helped to retain the students. The number of absentees has also decreased remarkably.”
While arranging number blocks in a row, Rabina Chaudhary, 5, had the last word: “I love coming to school. I have many friends here and our teachers also love us a lot.”