Preparing children for life, not just for school
I started my work on behalf of young children in 1979, the International Year of the Child. It has been a long and often difficult journey, but also a time of joy, energy and inspiration. Over the past four decades, I have seen clear progress in Nepal’s development.
It all began with the opening of a small early childhood centre for children from slum communities, representing the most disadvantaged and excluded groups in society. The centre was housed in a space made available by the Nepal Jesuit Organization.
The name of my organization, Seto Gurans, means “white rhododendron”, a flower that grows only in the inaccessible mountain regions of Nepal. I chose that name to symbolize the many children who are surviving in difficult situations and whose rights are often neglected.
Disparities rooted in gender, ethnicity, geographical barriers and severe poverty deprive them of the opportunities they deserve. Through its Early Childhood Development (ECD) programmes, Seto Gurans seeks to help these children blossom and develop to their full potential.
Learning through play
Over the years, we have come to realize that it is vital to educate parents and other caregivers about early development. Many parents still believe that rote learning – the earlier the better – is the only path to academic success. Our goal is to help them understand that a child-centred approach that lets the child’s brain develop freely is the best foundation for a successful life.
“It is vital to educate parents and other caregivers about early development.”
In our ECD centres, we give children freedom, including the freedom to choose. They are encouraged to bring things with them from home so that they will feel more comfortable, adjust more easily, and feel free to express themselves. There are no desks or benches, just straw mats.
We set up a variety of learning areas where the children can interact with one another and with the teacher. The toys all relate to themes from outside the centre, from real life.
The teacher’s role is to open the door to learning and create a positive atmosphere. The way we create the environment in the room, the way the children move from one activity to another, the way they are expected to give space to others – all of these things enable them to learn, and that learning lasts a lifetime.
“We have succeeded in including ECD in the constitution of Nepal: ‘Every child shall have the right to elementary child development and child participation’. This is our golden achievement.”
Today, Seto Gurans offers quality ECD services in some 36,000 urban and rural ECD centres. The interventions are targeted to parents, other caregivers and teachers, and they promote children’s holistic development. The curriculum takes the form of a circle – much like the circular symbol in Hinduism and Buddhism known as a mandala. This emphasises our integrated approach, which takes into account children’s emotional, social, cognitive, cultural, physical and spiritual development.
We have succeeded in including ECD in the constitution of Nepal under Article 39, which states: “Every child shall have the right to elementary child development and child participation”. This is our golden achievement.
But there are still a number of issues we need to tackle. In Nepal, we need studies to compare different approaches, tracking children’s progress from various types of early childhood programmes through the early grades and into secondary school. We need to find evidence that a rich, vibrant, child-centred approach delivers overall gains for children and society.
“We need to find evidence that a rich, vibrant, child-centred approach delivers overall gains for children and society.”
We want to build a caring, just, self-reliant society in Nepal, a society in which people work together, respecting and celebrating diversity, to solve problems and improve everyone’s quality of life. This will enable the tiny country of Nepal to make an important contribution to a more equitable and peaceful world.