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Kathmandu

Having shared a few posts already, I have yet to explain where I’m staying. Right in the heart of the city near Thamil, we are 26 teachers sharing 5 rooms and a handful of bathrooms in bunk beds. My bed was the top bunk with a low ceiling but I have since moved to the floor with the ants and cockroaches!

Crossing the road is an event in itself in that the traffic will not stop. We literally step out while trying to dodge the cars and mopeds. Accidents are minimal and it somehow works as a system. There are traffic wardens at busy times who stand in the middle of the road and blow whistles at vehicles to control them.

There are some cool sights like the Garden of Dreams, the Monkey Temple and Durbar Square.

It’s a fascinating city despite the dust and grime but for right now, it’s home.

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Pokhara

Having worked solidly for two weeks, we endured the 8 hour bus ride to Pokhara on Saturday for a rest. The thing that struck me the most was the clean air, tarmaced roads and GREEN! Although it’s Nepal’s second biggest city, the surrounding scenery is some of the best I’ve ever seen. It gives the Lake District a run for its money.

Whilst here, I have visited a fast river called Devis Falls, been inside a bat cave, walked over a suspension bridge, hiked through a jungle, had a boat rowed across the lake, seen a Peace Pagoda, paraglided through the clouds and zip lined along the steepest, fastetest zip line in the world! Sadly though I once again bashed my head at the end of the zip line due to the speed it was going but luckily I had a helmet on so I’m ok now.

You can just make put the wires for the zip line on the right.

This kind man was my partner for paragliding. He steered the parachute and got me safely down off the mountain. The scariest part was having to run down a hill and over the edge of the cliff to get up into the air!

Tomorrow will be at least 8 hours back along the so called roads to Kathmandu (they are so full of potholes due to being washed away during the monsoon season).

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Standard walk to school…

Not so much text today but a picture of the walk to the school today. Saw some amazing teaching and learning including a Nepali language lesson taught by playing Pictionary. The task cards were in Nepalese for the children to read, draw and then the teams say the word and the English word too. They were aged 5 and 6. Made us feel good seeing how we had impacted through the training and this could be adapted for MFL lessons at home too.

We did see bright classrooms and even the computer lab and Computing displays!

Behaviour was generally very good and the Principal had a great vision where the teachers we trained will in turn be training their own staff this Sunday (they only have Saturday off here).

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Comparing Teaching and Learning

Having completed a few post-training observations in schools, I am already building a picture of education here in Nepal.
I was told about large class sizes, the over use of teacher talk and language barriers. However, I have found that whilst some of this is true, there is a real sense of desire to change the system for the improvement and quality of education which will impact on the pupils.

Speaking with the Pricipal at one school, we were told how the word teacher is changed to ‘facilitator’ and how 99% corporal punishment has been eradicated at their school. Furthermore, whist there is still a lot of teacher talk, they are trying to make lessons more engaging and fun. Part of the problem is not that Nepalese teachers can’t engage students but rather that they simply don’t have the resources. The training we provided was about giving them ideas and games to use incorporated with the content they have to teach.

Upon observing some teachers, we found that they would teach half of what they were supposed to teach (from the many textbooks they use) and half random but fun games from the training. I think this was becuase we were there in front of them. Although it was lovely to see that they were creating fun, we will now need to work on enabling the teachers to think for themselves how to teach the content through the games. We have also seen more opportunities for teamwork since the training but moving the furniture is impossible for collaboration in some rooms as there are small rows of benches squashed in between 4 walls. It isn’t practical.


The language barrier is partly a problem but many do learn English and we have found we can have a translator at the very least.
The boys seem to take a leading role in things too which is true of what we know about the culture. However, more and more girls now attend school and I’d say it was almost 50/50 in the classes we saw. It was the boys who were always keen to say welcome and to dance, sing and even beatbox for us!

The main things I noticed that were the same actually made me smile:

1. They had some displays on the wall including a birthday board, groups and even ‘what we are learning’ in one class. They also seemed to display class rules in some schools.

2. Technology is utilised! Private schools certainly teach Computing and some schools even have a ‘computer lab’. It isn’t like our curriculum as they learn how to turn it on, how to open a document and how to save but it’s a start In a technological world. In addition, I saw one teacher use her phone to play music for children to dance to and another asked a pupil to take a picture of us with her phone.

3. Pupils talk in class. Here they call it side talking but there are still those children who seek to chat to their friends when the teacher is talking. There seems to be a higher tolerance for this as the teachers ignore it for a long time and sometimes nothing is ever done to address this behaviour unlike in the UK where we would use a range of strategies. It is something that the teachers were trained on over the weekend – how to get all of the students attention.

And best of all… pupils are still as smiley, cheeky and caring as anywhere else in the world. It is a real privilege to be here.

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Festival Day in Kathmandu

Today was a festival where many schools were closed so we explored the streets of the city. After a relaxing morning in ‘The Garden of Dreams’ we went wandering along viewing temples.

Along the way we saw lots of musicians and people dressed as cows as they were remembering their loved ones.

Thanks to Aidan for finding out that the name of the festival is ‘Gai Jatra’.

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Teacher Training Conference Days 

Thursday saw us all teamed up for planning 12 sessions in preparation for conference days. Whereas in the UK, we would normally have more breaks in between planning, it was a huge task and meant that we only managed to plan 2 of the 4 days. This was a little bit demoralising to know that we would have to plan at the end of the following exhausting days after work.

Never the less, Friday arrived and we took the short bus ride to Kathmandu International School where the training would be taking place. Once there, we sat up our classrooms and waited in anticipation of the local teachers arrival. How much will they know already? Would we be patronising them? Would they understand us?

Working alongside two other Fellows, one American who teaches in a school for the deaf and a Polish national who is teaching in the UK, I felt we had a good wealth of experience to draw upon should we struggle. Upon meeting our 12 local teachers, it was initially awkward as we played the usual ice breaker ‘get to know you games. I still have yet to learn names even on day 3 as my memory is terrible at the best of times!

The day went reasonably well with sessions about Growth Mindset and Behaviour for Learning and the teachers were very receptive to the ideas we shared. It was however personally demoralising for me as they fedback how they struggled to understand my British accent. It did make for an evening of mental preparation how I could adapt how I spoke for day 2.

Saturday was a lot better as we all knew each other now and everyone seemed more relaxed. In addition, they understood me a lot better as I spoke slower and had even more visuals. The first session was largely led by my fellow colleague about Special Needs. This was something that we felt was very important to give training on as this is an area that is not well recognised in Nepal. This was evident in how we asked the teachers if they had any special needs children in their schools and only one talked about it. However, once we explained about various needs including physical, behavioural and emotional, other teachers had a lightbulb moment and said “Ah yes! I know a child like that!” They even requested further training in this area which is a huge break through and a real triumph!

Other sessions included differentiation, questioning and group work. 

Upon the initial survey we gave on day one, teachers did not understand what differentiation was and even after we had explained it, none of our 12 teachers did it. This meant that the potential for impact in the session was huge and they all mentioned what they had learned in the end of day reflection.

The questioning session went very well and I used a questioning grid that had been adapted by Michael Henry at Redbridge Primary School based on previous work around Bloom’s questioning strands. The grid was so useful that many other groups asked to borrow it for their questioning session. The teachers really saw the benefit of asking open questions and had a practice in pairs.

The group work session was by far my most favourite as we used ‘The Art of Noticing’ poetry as introduced to me by Claire Holt in Bradford years ago.

We paired the teachers up and took them outside where they had to use their senses and notice the environment, making notes as they went. They then joined as groups of four to create a group poem which they then had to present however they wished. Most chose to sing and some added actions. One of the best things was linking it back to the previous differentiation session where we had explained about a ‘gold, silver, bronze’ system where students can choose how to access the content at their own pace and the scaffolding for stretching the higher attaining children. In this case, they went from ‘I can see a bus’ to ‘I can see a yellow, school bus’ to ‘The sight of a school bus as yellow as the sun’.

I think the importance with all of the training is remembering that they have large class sizes, sometimes over 50, and that their rooms are small with rows of benches. This meant lots of explaining how they can adapt the games and sessions for their constraints with their students.

Sadly, I am missing day three as I ended up in hospital last night having banged my head and needing more electolights due to dehydration. 

I look forward to the forth and final day of conference training tomorrow with excitement of follow up post observations of the teachers in their setting to see the impact of our input.

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Nepali Way of Life

There’s no mistaking the fact that I am no longer in Europe by the humidity, the rubble and the deep craters on the roads. However, a few things have struck me as home from home; KFC, traffic jams and how well many locals speak English. I have found the Nepalese people to be friendly and helpful where they just get on with things in spite of the damage caused by the 2015 earthquake.
Today we endured the roadworks and gridlock to travel to our placement schools. It was a strange experience dropping one group off as we literally pulled 2 buses into the playground surrounded by the children waving at us. With the other groups safely deposited, my team of three were the last drop at Jugal English School where we were greeted by the principal.

As the purpose of today was to get a feel for schools here, the principal talked about his vision for education. What struck me immediately was how he spoke of how much he values creativity, engagement of pupils and how he had eradicated corporal punishment by 99% at his school. Sadly, this is certainly not the case across the country.

We observed an Economics lesson in the upper grades and English language in the equivalent of a Y6 class. As we entered the classrooms, we sat in the benches next to the children and they were keen to show us which page of their textbook they were on. It seems that textbooks are widely used here and teachers literally teach from the book. At Jugal, they did seem to plan in some capacity with an evaluation of each lesson which was good to see. Another similarity to home was how there were only between  30 to 40 children in class which is less than the 50+ I had imagined. This was largely due to it being a private school I believe.

Tomorrow will be a day of planning for teacher conference sessions over the weekend but I’ve learned that they are further on in their approach to creative strategies to bring learning to life. It will be a challenge in itself to pitch the training just right. Even hearing how they call staff ‘Facilitators’ rather than ‘teachers’ is perhaps something we could adapt in the UK…

…just a thought. 

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En route…via Oman

Having left Manchester on the 20.45 flight, I am currently waiting out my 7 hours at Muscat Airport for flight number two.

Having not slept since I woke up on Sunday morning (it’s Monday now), there is a sense of calm, excitement and anticipation all mixed together.

Something that has really fascinated me is the sky. We arrived in Muscat at 7am local time and it is currently 11am but the colourless sky has remained the same. It serves as a reminder about how different climates create different ‘norms’ and how what is of great intrigue to me is probably totally normal to locals here.

Even though I am currently in Costa Coffee (very cultured I know), the signage and script is of course different. The language around me is nothing I have any clue about and people are eating curry in the morning! With this in mind, I am even more open to experiencing the differences between the West and the East, Europe and Asia, Sheffield and Kathmandu and look forward to the challenges ahead.
UPDATE: we eventually arrives at the hostel at 10.30 local time as everyone else was in bed. It was the first challenge of the trip…finding my bed and the safe water for brushing my teeth! The mattress was hard and thin but I managed to get a good 7 hours sleep…phew!

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18th Emergency

Hello from a very rainy Sheffield. I’ve just returned from Decathlon, Go Outdoors and the Supermarket with loads of goodies courtesy of very kind people having given me vouchers… you know who you are. I felt like a child in a sweet shop as I purchased a Kagool, travel towel, hiking sandals, inflatable sleeping mat and my personal favourite, a multi use travel pillow!

It did make me think about the climate in Nepal today. As it’s monsoon season but with high humidity, it’s hard to know what to pack. 

In addition to this, Nepal is at high altitude and apparently even the beds have very thin mattresses.

Even the small things like how many pairs of socks to pack and how to keep my Cholera sachets below 25 degrees in transit become main thinking points.

My next task is to find the suitcase (I haven’t used it in 7 years as I usually only take hand luggage) and pack everything for all conditions.

It all made me think of a book I read as a child called ‘The Eighteenth Emergency’ by Betsy Byars about a school child who prepares for every eventuality. On the same theme, a story I used at the start of my teaching career called ‘Scaredy Squirell’ who has a plan for avoiding bad things. However, one day, the worst thing happens and he realises that although it didn’t go to plan, it wasn’t so scary after all…
It just goes to show that as long as I have a passport, an open mind and a great team around me, I’m hopeful that the next month will be as rewarding as it seems.

Posted in Hadrian's Wall Walk, Hikes, Max, Nepal

Introducing Max

In 2017, I have decided to volunteer during the Summer and travel to Nepal with an organisation called LRTT (Limited Resources Teacher Training) with the aim of enabling local teachers out there to improve the quality of education for children and young people. I will head out with a team of 23 other teachers from the UK to deliver teacher training in the hope that it will empower and enthuse the teachers in Nepal to be able to teach great content in fun and inspiring ways … not easy when there is often more than 50 children per class and very limited resources – even paper!

As such, I wanted to fund raise for the partner charity linked to LRTT called ‘Inspiring Futures’. As a fun way of raising the profile of the charity, I decided to walk a mere 84 miles along the Hadrian’s Wall National Trial during April.

Due to walking along a Roman wall and needing to add some fun to such an enduring task, I needed an appropriate travel buddy so Max the Roman Soldier was introduced to me. He will continue to be my travel partner in Nepal and beyond.

Max will have his own space on this site in the ‘Max Moments‘ page tab at the top of this section.

Keep checking this blog to find out what adventures Max and I will get up to…