Education in Tipling

The approximate population of Tipling village is 3,500 people, of which about 700 are children. Despite (or because of) the fact that the many villagers are illiterate or semi-literate, they place a great value on education. Before the earthquake, this remote village boasted 7 government schools – 5 primary and 2 secondary.

Tragically, the 7.8 magnitude earthquake on April 25th 2015 destroyed, or damaged beyond repair, every school in the valley.

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Barely two weeks after the quake the people of the valley, with the help of locals who had settled in Kathmandu and some NGOs, organised temporary structures and tents so that classes could continue. The parents of the affected school children understood how vital it was for their traumatised kids to return to normality and the routine of school life.

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This was made clear to us when we came to the valley to talk to the local people to assess what their most urgent needs were after the disaster. Accordingly, we put together a plan to rebuild one primary school that was to be both earth-quake proof and eco-friendly.

The Nepali government requirement for a primary school is a building with six classrooms, one staff room, several separate toilets for girls and boys, and a small library.

After extensive research we consulted with various architects both in Nepal and abroad, and after much discussion chose an architectural firm whom we could trust. Then, an architect and a civil engineer from the firm came with us to Tipling village to survey the area.  As a result of this ten-day expedition, they put together a site-specific school design and building plan. The estimated cost of the building came to $55000. Bringing any outside supplies or commodities to the village involves one full day of travel from Kathmandu by truck, after which goods have to be carried for two or three days by mules or porters to reach their final destination. As such, almost 20 percent of the total project’s budget needed to be set aside for transportation.

Because we were lacking funds to build the school we came into agreement

We submitted our plans to the Nepali government for their approval, but like every other NGO that had applied with similar plans to reconstruct schools at that time, we were thwarted in our efforts and our  design was not approved. We were devastated. We had wasted four months going again and again to the Department of Education with our architects, where we spend hours at a time talking, explaining, and persuading, following which we made endless changes to our design in order to meet government officials’ criteria, only to be promised each time that approval would be granted after yet another week. We also wasted a lot of money paying the  architectural firm during this whole process. We were told to wait because the government was supposed to release new regulations for the reconstruction of schools throughout the country soon. All our plans, it seemed, had come to naught.

About a month later the regulations came out.  Unfortunately, these only really made sense for the construction of schools in urban areas or for larger schools in villages connected by road. They did not seem to take into account the realities on the ground in remote areas, and the need for smaller schools there. For example, according to the new mandatory regulations, classrooms had to be built to accommodate 40 students. This is normal in urban areas or boarding schools, but generally speaking classes in mountain villages tend to be much, much smaller, as more and more villagers have opted to send their kids to these larger, urban boarding schools for better quality education. At present, on average there are 20 students per class in the villages, and some classes in Tipling school even have as few as 8-9 kids! Another example – all schools have to be build to be wheelchair friendly. This is a great idea in theory, but remote mountain villages more often than not are already days away from any main road, and even once inside the villages the sheer nature of the terrain makes any use of a wheelchair entirely impossible. To adhere to these new government regulations would cause our previous estimate to increase almost threefold – from $55 000 to $150 000!

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As a result of these spiralling costs, many NGOs are pulling out. To date, only two of Tipling’s original seven schools have been rebuilt. Both of these were privately funded and built by locals without the use of intermediary NGOs. As much as we would like to emulate their example and go ahead with our own school construction, as an officially registered NPO we are legally bound to follow government regulations.

If the government does not change its stance on the norms now set for the construction of schools, and no adjustments are made for schools in remote areas, then we too will be left unable to fund and fulfill our commitments.

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Fortunately, as a small NPO funded by private donors we have a flexibility. So if by some reason now we can’t build a school we know about many other areas where villages need urgent help.  Therefore, we are in the process of re-assessing our plans.

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Our research have brought to light the gender inequality in education. Many girls are pulled out of school even before they have completed their primary education for field/house work. This leads to early marriages, early pregnancy and a host of other problems. There is a need to set up a special fund to award scholarships to the academically  gifted girls to  attend secondary schools/colleges.

Tipling is a beautiful and unspoilt place that has suffered a horrendous natural calamity. There is an urgent need to support the education of local kids, who have first-hand knowledge of the prevailing conditions in the area. They will then be able to protect this fragile valley and intelligently promote agriculture, eco-tourism and other suitable industries, so as to raise the living standards of the populace in an environmentally sensitive manner. As we all know, children are literally our future. Investing in their education brings incalculable returns.

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