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Nepal’s Bamboo Schools: The Promise of Open Education


“There is no such thing as a free lunch. There is no such thing as a free school.” – Uttam Sanjel, founder of the Bamboo School

Nepal’s schools are not only underfunded, but corruption and bribery ensure that by the time education resources reach the teachers and their students there is little left.

In Nepal, the caste system is still very well alive, and on top of an utterly corrupt system of distributing the funding, officials will not deliver books or materials if they are not paid bribes by the local schools. Illiteracy remains the biggest hurdle among Nepal’s school children. The government schools in Nepal have been utter failures years, but the Bamboo Schools hope to change all that. The Bamboo schools being erected around Nepal are an innovative form of low cost schooling for impoverished families that is a perfect working example of how open learning, free teaching materials, and open standards have the potential to transform the way people learn across the planet.

Uttam Sanjel is the father of Nepal’s low cost Bamboo Schools, opening the first in 2001 and since serving more than 30,000 students from 19 districts in Nepal. These schools are an alternative to the failed government education system. For only 100 Nepali Rupees or USD $1.15 per month per student, Sanjel has been able to develop high quality courses using the free and open teaching materials for his instructors and the cheapest thing he could think of to make the classrooms out of – bamboo. The 100 Rupee per month tuition at the Bamboo School only covers 25% of operating costs, the rest of the money comes from private donors, nevertheless it proves that quality education is first and foremost about the educators and the resources at their disposal. If the private market happens to deliver a better product that the government, which it is in this case, people will happily and swiftly switch over in order to get the best for their families.

The Bamboo Schools provide the much needed English classes for children who will want to one day work in global trade, international business, and the technology sectors that will take Nepal into the 22nd century.

Nepal spends 17% of GDP on education. The government claims the education sector is improving in scores and graduation rates, but parents and teachers have an entirely different story to tell. They are saying there is massive systemic corruption in the education department from sweetheart teacher appointments all the way up. Political groups asks for ransom money from private schools. Schools that resist paying bribes are forced to shut down out of safety fears. The stardard government schools suffer from alarming dropout rates.

Hey, what do you think of the bamboo schools? Would you send your child there? Post here!

Photo Credit: openarchitecturenetwork.org

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