Fridays for funTo make its "textbook-free Friday" plan a success, the KMC should train teachers in extracurricular activities.
Community school students within Kathmandu Metropolitan City are now set to visit schools without textbooks once a week, on Fridays, per the City's plan to impart holistic education. This is a welcome move that promises students much-needed relief from the drudgery of reading textbooks throughout their academic lives. It also helps them explore and hone their extracurricular skills early on. Rather than just textbook-dependent well-informed minds, the initiative has the potential to produce well-educated and well-trained students who are dexterous in sports, information technology and various other life skills necessary for well-rounded human beings.
However, any plan is only as good as its execution. As schools are often a loathsome affair, with the same sets of teachers giving the same old lectures and assignments, students have little incentive to attend school each day. The implementation of a textbook-free Friday helps students unwind after five taxing days of rote learning and to forge relationships with peers and teachers beyond the classroom. Moreover, as private schools across the country unnecessarily burden students as young as five-year-olds with “computer education”, community schools are often without relatively cheaper recreative-educational tools like badminton racquets or football. As a result, students are conditioned to internalise the divide between the haves (in private schools) and have-nots (in community ones). The City seeks to undo those hierarchies and let students grow in all aspects of life, notwithstanding their backgrounds.
As the nitty-gritty of the plan to reinvigorate community school education remains unclear, it is difficult to say whether it will work. However, the City would do well to remember that school curricula once had an optional subject named “Home Science”, whose aim was to impart practical life skills. However, for lack of sensitisation, it was often considered a “women's subject” as it included lessons in cooking and sewing, among others, and had few takers among male students. Gradually, as female students became aware of the gendered notions attached to the subject, considered a guidebook for homemaking skills that the patriarchal society considered their domain, they, too, discarded it. The course is still available at the college level, but its relative obscurity exemplifies how an ill-thought-out plan fails to deliver the expected results.
This time, the ambitious pilot initiative is being launched with a meagre Rs20 million fund, which may be grossly insufficient to bring any effective results. In the pilot phase, 56 of the 89 community schools in Kathmandu are to be involved, which sounds too big a first bite. Moreover, the City seems to have only sketchy ideas about the plan’s execution, considering the large number of students and only a handful of trainers. This somehow validates the criticism about the plan being hasty.
The point is to start somewhere at some point, and the City should be applauded and supported in its initiative. In a resource-constrained country like Nepal, there are bound to be hiccups at every step, and the only way to move forward is to keep moving despite the obstacles. The most effective way to ensure the plan’s longevity is to train the school teachers themselves in extracurricular activities so that they get a much-needed opportunity to rejuvenate themselves and engage with students in a multi-dimensional teaching-learning practice. Meanwhile, the City should not hesitate to involve a significant number of volunteers, from Nepali professionals from various walks of life to recent university graduates.