Nepal:Buddha, The Emperor’s New Clothes and Nepal Ministry of Education! (Part 1)

As the Buddha said, “all states of being are determined by mind, it is mind that leads the way”. Did he actually say that! Nobody really knows because he never wrote anything down, but this is certainly attributed to him in The Dhammapada. But what does it mean?

My own interpretation has always been that ones feelings and thoughts about something, an event, an outcome, an experience, are always dictated by how that “something” is perceived in relation to expectations or preferences. So, score 90% in an exam and be deflated because you were striving for 100%; or eat a plate of food and an hour later feel dissatisfied because you wanted a second helping; or two people approaching the same event one a pessimist and one an optimist who approach the event in quite different ways. But where is this leading?

In this blog we want to describe our “state of being” after 10 years of running the UK charity Nepal Schools Aid. Specifically between the end of 2006 and 2016 we devoted the first 10 years of our retirement to:

  • Founding a U.K. charity Nepal Schools Aid (1119023)
  • Creating a young, qualified, highly educated team of Nepali teacher trainers
  • Founding a Nepali NGO Nepal Education Leadership Foundation
  • Creating the best teacher training programme in Nepal
  • Developing 200 of the poorest schools in Kathmandu
  • Training 2000 primary school teachers
  • Educating 000s of parents in the value of education
  • Researching a framework of Quality Education as part of an MPhil programme

To some folks this might look like an impressive list, yet we see all this as FAILURE as we bring the funding and our work to a close! Remember, “All states of being are determined by mind”! So why do we feel we have failed in our 10 years of dedication to Nepal and the education system? What is in our minds that leads us into a “negative state of being”? Many people see this as success and congratulate us without knowing or understanding our original goal and aspirations. So here is Part 1 of the story.

At the end of 2006 we decided to help to support and develop Nepal’s education system that, despite its weaknesses and continuous failure to modernise and help young girls, had somehow produced in my wife Nepal’s FIRST female PhD some 35 years earlier in 1971! Yes, Dr C is Nepal’s first woman to achieve a doctorate, a U.K. one too in Chemistry at University of Strathclyde in Glasgow. We were young postgraduate students together in the late 1960’s never thinking we would spend the rest of our lives together, raise a family, develop successful careers in different fields from our PhDs, run a business together, travel the world together, and finally run a charity together in retirement.

Before we were Two Doctors, Glasgow 1969!

Before we were Two Doctors, Glasgow 1969!

As retirement beckoned we spent some time discussing our ideas with family in Kathmandu, we needed to understand more detail about the education system if we were to help improve it. This included learning about the teaching methods, the crumbling infrastructure, about poorly trained teachers, the lack of resources or focused funding, the politicisation of teachers, and nepotistic appointments. We also listened to what the poorest schools needed most, the priority as THEY saw it, and the answer was …….. exercise books (they call them Copies) and textbooks.

We flew home and worked out a short term action plan and longer term strategy. The short term plan was simple, adopt 5 poor primary schools in Kathmandu and supply them with exercise books and textbooks, no strings attached then visit the schools during our Nepal family visits and observe! We funded this with £2500 of our own money and bought thousands of copies and textbooks direct in Kathmandu with Dr C’s youngest brother visiting the school and distributing. We learned lots from this first year, we raised more funds, registered NSA as a charity, gained the trust of Principals and teachers at the 5 schools and refined our longer term strategy into 6 stages:


What happened next occupied us almost full time for a further 8 years, took us to the heights of intellectual achievement and the depths of emotional despair. It began with a meeting at Nepal’s Ministry of Education shortly after they published their School Sector Reform Plan, a document costing $billions to implement but which we felt was doomed to failure from the outset! Their strategy seemed full of tinkering at the edges of a massive problem of QUALITY with major bilateral donors such as our own DFID blind and deaf to the potential waste of funds and effort. However by this time we had not only provided our 5 schools with exercise books and textbooks, but also inserted and paid for extra teachers in each of the 5 schools, run a week long teacher training programme in Kathmandu using UK teachers from Cumbria, and at the meeting shown in the photo below agreed with the Director General of Education, Dr Lava Deo Awasthi, that we would double our support to 10 schools and expand the teacher training under their observation.


Dr Awasthi takes notes and agrees to a collaboration with a signed MOU

Despite our negative view of the SSRP things were moving in the right direction for us, we had a pilot scheme running, a fledgling teacher training programme, and the attention of Nepal’s Ministry of Education……….or so we thought! What we hadn’t bargained on was the unbelievable ability of a government ministry, multi national donor agencies and large INGOs to blindly follow a clearly failing strategy and turn a deaf ear to any criticism of it. On reflection we were witnessing a real example of the Hans Christian Anderson tale of The Emperor’s New Clothes where nobody dare tell him he was naked ……. except ourselves, for which there were to be dire consequences.

The story continues in our next post, click follow on our Home page to receive an email alert when published.


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3 replies

  1. Education is often a very neglected part of State Administration and Social Welfare policies in most Developing Nations, and your post only cements that belief.

    Liked by 1 person


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