Children have an innate love of learning. From an early age, their natural curiosity is abundant and easy to see. But too often, educators don’t have the tools and support they need to engage young children in the learning process. An academic journey that should be full of growth, discovery, and connection can become stressful, demoralizing, and damaging to a student’s self-esteem. Through dZi’s Quality Education Program (QEP), teachers are receiving specific early childhood development (ECD) training that helps them leverage students’ curiosity and create lifelong learners. By introducing new teaching modalities, providing a space for educators to share their experiences and techniques, and creating classrooms that keep children safe and healthy, students are building the academic, emotional, and social skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives.
The few teachers in dZi’s partner communities that had participated in professional development had done so long in the past, and their training hadn’t done enough to raise their self-confidence and sustain their growth.
In dZi’s mountainous partner communities, many schools have historically been under-resourced and under-supported. The same challenging topography that makes it difficult for mountain communities to access employment opportunities and health care also causes growing educational disparities between urban and rural areas. In government-funded schools, many classrooms need updated teaching materials, new classroom furniture, access to safe drinking water, and functioning toilets. While the local government has announced plans to invest in teacher training and better infrastructure, they often lack the necessary resources. The few teachers in dZi’s partner communities that have participated in professional development did so long in the past, and their training hadn’t done enough to raise their self-confidence and sustain their growth.
When dZi began to focus on improving early childhood development, one of the main challenges was the hiring and retention of qualified teachers. To help grow the number of local educators ready to serve young children's needs, dZi organized ECD workshops in seven partner communities. Teachers from 41 schools participated in two rounds of training that helped them grow their subject area expertise and analyze their classroom management.
"Earlier, I didn’t know that even through simple activities like stacking building blocks or organizing a jigsaw puzzle, children’s fine and gross motor skills are challenged and honed."
In the first training, participants were led through subjects such as math, language arts, small group facilitation, and lesson planning. They learned how to use classroom decorations, storytelling, interactive songs, physical education, and art (using locally available materials) to engage their students in the subject matter. They discovered how using play as a teaching method can help children retain information more easily, connect with their innate love of learning, and become less fatigued during the school day – all creating a more positive experience.
The second phase of training helped ECD teachers improve their emotional intelligence. Some teachers would become frustrated with students who struggled to focus or respond to their curriculum. Here, ECD instructors were able to gain insight into the reasons students might be struggling and develop positive responses to re-engage them. These interventions can have a profound effect – allowing students to maintain their academic progress and teachers to resolve challenging situations. As a result, educators are far better equipped to support the unique needs of young students. And, together with the drinking water systems, school toilets, and handwashing stations that dZi is installing in rural schools, students' learning environment is improving quickly.
Surya Kala Rai, an ECD teacher at Jyoti Primary School, said, “Earlier, I didn’t know that even through simple activities like stacking building blocks or organizing a jigsaw puzzle, children’s fine and gross motor skills are challenged and honed. Now I let them play with various objects as I understand that physical and mental development go hand in hand with young children. I know that the better they play, the better they learn.” And in Nepal’s winter months, she has noticed an improvement in students ability to study, “It is cold during the winter. Because of the new carpeting, students now feel warm inside the classroom. There has not been a single incident of any child getting sick or falling ill due to the cold after dZi’s quality education program helped install new furniture.”
Durga Laxmi Rai from Jaleshwori has worked as an ECD teacher in Simle Secondary School since 2006, but had never received any formal training. "In the past, we had a hard time building relationships with kids and they found our teaching approaches boring. But after we took the training, we learned various innovative ways to motivate our students to study. Through extra-curricular activities like playing, singing, and dancing we can connect with our children and make the learning process interesting for them. These methods also increased interactions among children. Spending time around friends in a learning setting has taught them teamwork and patience. They are becoming more adept at managing their emotions, behavior, and attention.”
Teachers proudly admit that they have given up the old practice of punishing children when they do something wrong or fail to learn quickly. Instead, they have transitioned to a positive reinforcement system that helps children find their place on the learning journey and build self-esteem.
Students and teachers would not have had access to early childhood development trainings and infrastructure improvements without dZi’s partnership. Research has shown that ending the cycle of poverty, improving health outcomes, and preparing people for good jobs begins in the early years of life. Through the continued hard work of rural teachers, dZi hopes this crucial investment in children’s education will help ensure the well-being of mountain communities for generations to come.
Pictures taken by Samip (Sitaram Thapa Magar), Bhalakaji Rai, and ECD Teachers in dZi's partner communities