The Choina School is located in Lalitpur, not far from Kathmandu. It is a public school serving several hundred children, many of whom are from low-caste families. Because many parents are poor laborers who must continually migrate to find work, there is a great deal of turnover in the student population. And because these parents often have no resources to provide for child care, the students at the school often wind up bringing their younger siblings to class with them.
In 2005, the Principal of Choina School, Mr. Sarbash Lal Chaudhary, began working with ICRI Nepal’s National Center for Learning Resources. The school had no early childhood classroom, but wanted to create a learning environment that was appropriate and stimulating for the young children who continued to accompany their older siblings to school each day.
Despite the dedication of Principal Chaudhary and an incredible staff of committed teachers, there were many roadblocks ahead. The school faced a severe lack of resources and materials, and had no room to spare. Moreover, the very idea of child-centered early childhood education was a new one to this school and community. There was considerable resistance from parents who wanted even very young children to be in a more traditional classroom environment—seated at desks all day, focused on rote memorization and academic exercises.
ICRI Nepal’s staff conducted extensive outreach work with the parents to understand and address these concerns and to incorporate their feedback into the early childhood plans. ICRI Nepal also worked with the teachers and staff to creatively address the resource challenges. A former storage closet was transformed into a beautiful and stimulating early childhood classroom, full of learning materials that have been locally made or crafted from found objects.
Most importantly, ICRI Nepal spent countless hours on-site at Choina School—making as many as 19 visits in one month!—to work side by side with the teachers in the new early childhood classroom. The early childhood classroom has been such a success that ICRI Nepal has since been invited to work in the primary school classrooms at Choina School, where teachers have been eager to adopt the child-centered and creative education techniques they have seen in use with the younger children.
The early childhood classroom is a joy to behold-- during my visit the children were completely absorbed in art and music activities led by their teacher. The staff paid a great deal of individual attention to each child, and had seamlessly integrated disabled children and children who were new to the school into the classroom community. Nearly every item in the classroom had been creatively recycled from elsewhere-- mud and twigs repurposed as art materials, discarded bottlecaps strung on a wire to make musical instruments, beans and legumes revisioned as tools for teaching basic math concepts.
Through nearly five years of collaboration, ICRI Nepal and Choina School have worked together to change the lives of hundreds of poor children in Lalitpur who have no other opportunity to access high quality early childhood care and education. In the school courtyard, a statue of Saraswati (goddess of knowledge and education) presides over this beautiful place where every child is nurtured and encouraged to fulfill their deepest potential.