Quality, Cheap Education in Nepal

Samata or

INDONESIA

Jumat, 28 Nov 2014 16:54 WIB

Author

Rajan Parajuli

Quality, Cheap Education in Nepal

Nepal, Samata, Uttam Sanjel, education, Rajan Parajuli

In Nepal, a cup of coffee costs around 1 US Dollar. That’s the same amount Uttam Sanjel charges his students per month for a quality education from nursery to high school.
 
More than 20,000 children from poor family are studying in his Samata or ‘Equal for all’ schools. The students wearing blue sweater line up in rows.
 
They raise their hands and march together and then sing. A man stands in the middle guiding them. He’s Uttam Sanjel and the founder of the Samata Schools. Samata means Equal for all.
 
“My schools give me enormous satisfaction. Whenever I address the school assembly, I feel the children are listening to me with their hearts and minds. You can find children from all over Nepal, all castes and ethnicities here at my school. The only common thing is they are all from poor families.”
 
In Nepal parents are reluctant to send their children to government run schools saying the quality of teaching is very poor. And private schools are very expensive making them out of reach for the poor.
 
“When education is expensive children are put under pressure. When they fail to pay their schools fees on time their teachers shout at them and humiliate them. At home, parents put pressure on them. They shout at them saying, "I have spent a lot of money on you." I want to put an end to that pressure on poor children. That's why you will see my students are all happy.”
 
Samata School is an alternative, a private school for the poor. A private school in Nepal costs more than 15 US dollars a month. The Samata School is just over one US dollar a month.
 
A bamboo room is filled with around 100 children learning English words. Year 8 student Karuna Tamang is one of them. She is passionate about education.
 
“I love painting and reading books. Books are my favorite things. I learn so many new things from books. I would love to have a big library at my home. In the future, I hope I can make my personal library with many books in it so that I can always read books whenever I like."
 
It’s the end of the school day and Karuna heads home. After crossing the main road and a narrow side path, she steps down to a dark room with no windows.

This is her house that she shares with her parents and little sister.  It’s a small room hardly 10 feet wide…my head hits the ceiling and I can’t stand up straight. There is a bed, a cupboard and a gas stove…..and no books.
 
Her mother Anita is in the corner working on a carpet weaving machine.
 
“When I was young my parents used to say sending girls to school was like painting someone else’s wall. It's useless. Only boys were sent to school. Now I regret very much that I never learnt to read or write. At the hospital, I cannot find the right room or the doctor. When I am out, I cannot read the transport signs and place names.  I have to ask others to read things for me. It's very painful not being able to read or write.”
 
Anita eyes fill with tears. Her husband is a construction work and earns 60 US dollars a month. 15 US dollars of his wage goes into paying for the rent of this tiny room. But she is able to send both her daughters to school.
 
“Life has become easy now. I don’t need to call anyone to read something. I can ask my daughter. She can read my hospital forms, medicine bills. I am very happy we have been able to send them school. The Fees are not expensive. Sometimes it's difficult but we can afford it. I feel positive about their future. My daughters will be able to be independent. They will not have to experience what I have.”
 
For many families like Anita’s, the one dollar schools are their only hope. Founder of the low-cost schools Uttam explains how he got the idea to create a school rather than give away food or clothes to poor children.
 
“I am not very rich person. Sometimes I give them cloths. After two months, they will be cloth less. If I feed them two three days, next day they feel hungry. So what I can give them, they will be independent? I thought Education.”
 
Q. It's been ten years, right? Tell me about the first school. How did you establish? How did you get the money?
 
“That time I didn't have money. I discussed about this with my parents. This is my mission, so help me little money. My parents were very unhappy that time because what I was telling them was funny. No one trusts me. Then my father gave me some money. In my locality, there are many people who have bamboo. I went there to collect bamboo and started build the school.”
 
Uttam's father gave him 300 US dollar to build his first low-cost school from bamboo. It opened with 800 students. He now runs 16 schools made from bamboo across the country with more than 20 thousand students. His annual budget of just over a hundred thousand dollars comes from individual donations.
 
“World is full with kind hearted people. I get the support from individual donation. In Nepal as well as other countries, near about 2000 people, they are kind of member. Somebody has happy birthday, they celebrate here. How much money they spending in a happy birthday celebrating time, they calculate the money, and they give me the whole money. Father's birthday, wedding ceremony, I got this type of donation. My school fee is just 100 rupees. One year fee is just 10 Euro. Some European people are saying, "One Euro, one cup tea! One Euro Bamboo School Fee."
 
But it’s not always easy. His biggest cost is wages for his teachers.
 
“I have to hide myself in the toilet sometimes. Teachers and the land owners sometimes cry for money especially during religious festivals. The students parents often don’t pay fees on time so what can I do? I have been beaten, spat on, had stones torn at me and my clothes torn.  When I remember those times it makes me feel like a rat. But I am so use to it now.  I have learnt to laugh in the face of problems because I know what I am doing is for the children and for a better future."
 
And he is doing a great job. All his students from Samata Schools passed the school leaving exam with an average mark of 80.

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