Print Edition - 2019-02-03  |  Free the Words

Establishing common ground

  • Consider community gardening for education
- UMESH RAJ REGMI

Feb 3, 2019-

School dropout rates have significantly affected communities across the world, particularly in developing countries like Nepal. With a 20 percent school dropout rate, Nepal’s educational sector faces various multifaceted challenges that require cross-cutting solutions. The need to establish community-school partnerships is an important solution to many of these issues but yet its importance is regularly overlooked. The transformation of a community is dependent on the active participation of its members for comprehensive skills and education.

On this ground, it is believed that schools need to work closely with their immediate communities. One such way is through the ‘community garden’ initiative. At the heart of the initiative is the approach to envision children’s retention at school through community involvement.

Community gardens can serve as an outdoor classroom where youths can learn valuable skills, like those involving practical math, communication, responsibility and cooperation. They also provide a chance to learn about the importance of community, stewardship, and environmental responsibility.

Establishing a community garden within an experimental school is an affordable solution to tackle pressing and multifaceted issues that affect education; it is a minor concept that brings about a major change in society. Little is required to support and sustain the program; many of these requirements—including land, farm tools, water, and human resources—are locally available sources. Above all, the most important requisite is the will to see the project through.

There is a high need to establish strong school-community relationships. Studies have shown that by developing a shared vision over community education, dropout rates can be prevented from rising.

The lack of school-community collaboration can also severely affect malnutrition and school irregularity. The garden serves as a shared community initiative that fosters more meaningful and physically productive interactions.

Similarly, the project encourages engaged and hands-on learning by advocating for active participation among students, and in turn ensuring their health and outdoor recreation. It also instills healthy eating habits by promoting the value of responsibly-grown agricultural food over junk and processed options.

Such a pilot project also helps parents and community members understand the value of education, and promote volunteerism for collaborative work for the sake of common goal. Beyond academics, the garden instills broader life lessons including contributing to students’ knowledge of how to maintain a healthy lifestyle.

The project concept can be initiated simply through the formation of a steering committee or club (which can be determined through deliberations with the school management, teachers, parents, and students). After multiple stakeholders are engaged, a plot can be allocated. Following this process, schedules for community activities and the implementation of the garden can be developed and shared.

The next step shall be to bring youth volunteers, community volunteers, and teacher volunteers together to prepare the land for cultivation. Once the piece of land is ready for cultivation, plantation takes place. The community can decide what to do with the products in garden. By democratising this process, all stakeholders share a sense of ownership over the garden and, in turn, feel more accountability for their community.

In the process of managing the garden, a platform for all stakeholders to form stronger bonds and raise issues can be established. This common ground will also sensitise the community about basic life skills and the importance of education for a better life. This concept can begin through a pilot project in a few community schools.

After a year, the public can gauge the benefits—which may include the availability of food for children, stable attendance rates, increased community involvement, increased student enrolment, improved academic performance, improved health of children and attitudinal changes of the community members.

This initiative will also address the glaring communication gap between parents, teachers, and students. It also engages the involvement of local governments, as they can be held responsible for conducting impact analyses by the end of the year.

The blended modes of learning encouraged by the community gardening initiative will offer multiple solutions to issues that are constantly overlooked in the education sector.

- Mr. Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation.

Published: 03-02-2019 10:40

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