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Fourteen year-old Subash Chaulagain from Shree Bal Byabasahi Secondary School in Kathmandu, Nepal was hesitant when ‘Civic Schools’, aSambhawana and Accountability Lab initiative, was introduced to his school. He expected it would be just another program with long lectures and memorization of information. However, as he became immersed in leadership building exercises, role play, field trips to government offices, and documentary screenings, he found Civic Schools to be something entirely different. Subash is now leading a group of seven students in a “Right to Equality” school project as well as efforts to revitalize an existing youth club.
For Subash, as for many people, the word “civics” brings to mind lessons on the basics of government, democracy, and constitutions with little everyday relevance. Meager attention is given to local issues or a community’s unique social and political history. This is what Civic Schools seeks to change by empowering and engaging students in a fun way that emphasizes experiential learning.
Civic Schools offers a new vision for civic education in which skills and knowledge are integrated across the curriculum, embraced in all aspects of school governance, and which draws from strong connections with community leaders and institutions. It represents a paradigm shift in the way Nepalese think about civics – a process that engages students, teachers, administrators, parents, and community partners. Based on student interest and need, Sambhawana develops up to 16 weeks of non-formal instruction modules designed to improve the civic health of both the school and the student by building on strengths and filling existing gaps.
Students are encouraged to think about challenges in their school and community and initiate mini projects as part of groups to address them, with the support of school officials. The projects represent a defining contribution to the students’ appreciation of the importance of active citizenship and civic leadership. When students reach 10th grade, they become Civic Schools alumni, continuing their good work through a network that serves as a common platform to share knowledge, skills and voice.
Sambhawana, in association with the Accountability Lab has completed a successful pilot phase of the program. Civic Schools has hugely strengthened students’ ability to critically analyze key issues and has advanced their leadership roles in their communities. At present, the students are implementing 24 mini projects which range from efforts to make their school free of caste-based discrimination to drama activities that strengthen social awareness to the establishment of piggy banks that allow students to address gender-based violence. This is all at a cost of just $10 per student for the entire program.
In 2015, Sambhawana and the Accountability Lab will partner with four new schools to expand this work. Civic Schools does not only seek to establish a new paradigm for the way that civics is taught in Nepal. It also strives to incubate vibrant centers of learning where students are empowered as valued community members with skills and expertise to contribute to the greater good.
Support through #GivingTuesday for Sambhawana and the Accountability Lab will build a new generation of civic-minded leaders. As Neha Agrawal of Shine Model School noted, “Civic Schools made me realize there are so many ways to be part of the change that we seek in our community.”
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