Ego Integrity: 7/8 Only the educated are free!

This is the seventh in a series of eight “old age” reflections on this period of my life. (The process and place of such reflections is described in the final paragraph.) It conjures up the words, benevolence, making a difference, battle, challenge, corruption, education, dedication, integrity. I think they are on the surface of the description of this penultimate post and easy to spot!

“Only the educated are free” is a quote from one of my favourite Greek philosophers, Epictetus, who was of the Stoic school, and it was this quote, along with our own values and experiences that was to guide us in our choice of sector in which to do aid work in Nepal. I had experience in working on organisation systems and Dr C had years of experience lecturing and teaching in secondary and higher education, so it was a no-brainer.

Having retired at 60 we decided to create our own U.K. charity and Nepalese NGO to work exclusively in the Primary Education sector of Nepal. This is the sector with the highest drop out rates, girls prevented from attending, fewest resources, and least capable teachers. Not much to do here then! So we set ourselves the goal of influencing the Nepal government to change the entire primary education sector, shouldn’t take too long!

We began by creating a short term tactical plan to “gain entry,” plus a long term strategy to “influence” the government. Short term we selected 5 primary schools in the capital, Kathmandu, and began to “feed them” with hundreds of exercise books and extra textbooks each term, all funded with our own money of about £2500 per year. We visited each school twice a year, no pressure, no expectations, merely asking questions, learning about the primary system, building trust amongst these very poor people. After almost three years we had enough information to begin actioning the wider long term strategy.

We planned to work only in the capital, not in the hills, mountains or remote areas. We would develop teacher training programmes for existing teachers, and a more holistic programme to uplift the quality of education of any school that committed to action all we gave them. Nothing we did would interfere with the curriculum or the work requirements of the teachers. The next 7 years were a complex mixture of fun, satisfaction, frustration and rage!

We recruited and trained 8 young women who all had BEd/MEd but no job! We rented a building with a training room and office facilities. We marketed free teacher training, created to U.K. standards, to groups of schools every month and ran a range of courses on topics such as child development, education psychology, phonics, teaching English language, accelerated maths, values based education. Our staff followed up all of the training with coaching sessions in-school, and we applied behavioural and questionnaire follow up work to monitor quality improvement. Part of the development also involved working with parent communities associated with each school as our staff ran discussion groups and problem solving meetings to help parents understand the value of education and how to support their children.

This was a significant stage in our lives, immediately post-retirement, and giving us an opportunity to work together; not since student days had Dr C and I worked so closely together and we were an ideal mix of a Nepalese woman who spoke the language, had come through their system of education, and was the first woman from Nepal to gain a doctorate, together with myself an expert in changing organisation systems. It was my expertise that built the 7 year plan based on tweaking the Direction of the primary education system, the Control of the system via embedded processes, the Capability of teachers and principals, and the Commitment within the system’s culture for improvement. The trick is to tweak all 4 simultaneously.

Our work ended as a failure against our overall goal in 2017, the Nepal Ministry of Education was still wasting all of the aid money from around the world on outdated practices and tinkering at the edges of the system instead of taking a holistic approach. But it is only recently, 2 years later after we closed our organisation down that we can “see” what everyone else is telling us. But maybe that’s the strength of this Ego Integrity reflection stage of our lives instead of only feeling Despair at what we did NOT achieve. We made lots of friends around the capital, some of whom have remained very close to us even today where we get weekly phone calls or messages from them. We have a strong sense that we left a legacy in the 8 young women who we turned into education experts, some of them now working for other education organisations in Kathmandu. The young woman who was our first recruit and became the director of our Nepal operation now works for Global Education and is applying to go to Canada to live, completely in despair at the lack of progress in her country. We still have an online learning site for anyone who wants to understand HOW to change an education system in a third world country containing all of the processes, tools and techniques we used. It’s called Quality Education Global. Our website, Nepal Schools Aid, is still online but as a cut-down version that partially describes the events of those 10 years. But to end on a factual and specific note of what we DID achieve, here it is:

  • 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

{The type of reflection in this post was described by Erik Erikson who was a psychologist and existential philosopher! One of his most significant pieces of work was to propose a series of life stages we all go through from birth, with the final stage being labelled as “Maturity”. Nothing very significant in that. But …… he postulated that each stage triggered a conflict within us, a tension between two polar opposites, which for Maturity as a stage is the battle between Despair and Ego Integrity. In simple terms Ego Integrity would be having satisfaction with your past and what you have done, and feeling a sense of wholeness. Despair would be having disappointment in oneself and having regrets. My earlier post Reflections on Old Age explained this in more detail and now I am publishing a series of posts on my own Ego Integrity reflections}


Categories: Philosophy

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13 replies

  1. Oh my, what an amazing effort. I stand in awe. And it is important for those of us who haven’t had any experience working to try to help effect change in a third world country to hear about govt resistance.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Well done to both of you. You may not have achieved all you wished but you certainly did more than most would even attempt to do. I’m sure there will be long term results of your efforts.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Thanks Darlene, it will take a political revolution in Nepal plus a tougher stance from international aid agencies I’m afraid. Meanwhile a top educationalist we developed applies to Canada to become …….. a low paid carer!

      Liked by 1 person

      • As a career counselor in Canada, I helped many highly educated immigrants working in low paid jobs move toward jobs in their field. I wish her well.

        Liked by 1 person

      • This isn’t her field, she’s grabbing at anything to get out of Nepal

        Liked by 1 person

      • I meant I helped them get back into the field they were educated in. A couple from Ukraine, both qualified Veterinarians in their home country, came to Canada where she worked at McDonald’s and he delivered pizza. I helped them get jobs related to animal care, they took courses to get their Canadian qualifications and eventually were able to practice veterinarian medicine again. It is amazing what people will do to gain a better life for themselves. I am always in awe.

        Liked by 1 person

  3. With obvious high intent you set yourselves a highly laudable task. I’m sure that, somewhere along the line, your reach will have perhaps undetectable and unquantifiable consequences which will prove beneficial to education in Kathmandu and thereafter to the wider Nepalese education system. As a former UK primary school headteacher for many years, your endeavours in this field I’m sure deserve wider publication and recognition. Good fortune to the two Doctors.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thank you Roland, this comment coming from a primary school professional means a lot to us. There is obviously a lot more detail to this tale, but we just haven’t the energy to do it. You are absolutely right about the longer term legacy, but it’s really the attitude of DFID that riled us, our own country, rather that an ignorant Nepalese government.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Pretty impressive list of achievements!

    Liked by 1 person

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