We recently launched our company after a few months of gestation. Just like every major decision, the name of the company itself had required a string of emails between our U.S.-based partners and the Nepal Team. We finally settled on Edushala, which seemed to convey some of our goals. 'Edu' comes from 'education', whereas 'shala' is a Nepali word that simply means 'place.' The fact that we combined parts of English and Nepali words further aided our efforts. We are striving to be an international company with a global outlook, but we want to be based in Kathmandu. Our primary goal is to influence Nepali people to refocus on their education but we also want to encourage everyone to think about it in a unique, modern way. We believe that education is not just something that happens within the boundaries of a school or a college, but a process that is deeply personal, meaningful and should last throughout one's life.
I received this message during my freshman year at Bennington College. "Explore your interests," the faculty and students said, "Find your passion." At Bennington, no courses were required. Grades were optional and there were no exams. Students registered for a class only because they wanted to. My faculty advisers often talked about having a depth and a breadth in one's college education. Specialization and mastery is important but so is trial and error. Small-size rigorous classes compelled me to constantly grapple with these ideas. Why am I taking this class? How is this going to help my career, and more importantly, me?
This kind of inner dialogue, this search for uneasy answers, is transformative. It often takes the conversation from inside one's head to one's circle of friends and then to the larger community. It directly relates to who you are as a human being and what you want to do with your life. This level of analysis, this kind of discussion, is crucial for Nepal. And this is what Edushala is trying to bring to the Nepali people.
What about a job? What about money? Isn't this too idealistic, you may ask. Another important thing I learned at Bennington was the need for practical experiences in the real world. Bennington requires students to spend a semester every year interning. And at Edushala, everything we do revolves around projects.
So what is Edushala really?
There is a reason I used the word "gestation" in the first sentence. Edushala has just been born. We know what the infant looks like; we have hopes and dreams for the company, some sort of vision. But like any parent, we are open to its evolution. We will nurture it with innovative ideas. We want Edushala to grow up with ground-breaking, enthusiastic educators. We will give it new experiences.
Our Learning Headquarters at the heart of Kathmandu will be a place where eager students can take exciting courses from passionate instructors. Edushala's physical space and our website will be a platform that will connect these two groups of people. Edushala also works with schools and businesses that want to develop their staff. We design training modules that will engage these important professionals. Currently, Edushala is involved in the Arts and Education program of the ongoing Climate + Change exhibition. We supervise and train educational guides who will conduct focused tours for schools groups, a pioneering idea in the Nepali context.
We don't want to be bound by a curriculum or limit ourselves by serving a specific group of students. We want to involve people from all walks of life -- not just students seeking after-school courses but housewives and retirees who are looking to learn a particular skill in a collaborative, interactive environment.
So, why Edushala? There are several reasons. The Nepali people, isolated from the rest of the world until the early 1950s, were oppressed by the ruling dynasty for over a century. They didn't have a right to education and were profoundly illiterate. Most of the country's population still live in remote areas, cut off from the capital city. On top of that, religious traditions made it difficult for many segments of the societies to get educated. Most women got married young and stopped going to school. Until recently, our culture and the school system emphasized a few professions and largely discouraged its students to think differently.
It starts in primary school. Children are mostly taught how to rote learn and sit quietly; they aren't taught to think, explore and express. Thankfully, these practices are gradually changing. Some leading schools in Kathmandu are rethinking their primary school curriculum and adopting progressive, research-based methodologies. Edushala is involved in teaching some of these teachers on effective reading instruction.
Edushala will gently nudge people to question, to inquire and to participate in all these ideas. What kind of schooling is best? What kind of education is most suitable for myself and my children? What do I enjoy learning? What should an ideal education be like, really?
We want to invite anyone in the world, especially Nepalis living abroad, to check out our website. Hopefully you'll be inspired to propose a course and share your skills with our students during your visit.
Niranjan Kunwar is a Director of Education at Edushala.