In 1999, Ann-Marie arrived in Nepal to hike the famed Himalayas but her experiences with Nepalese people left a deep impression on her. Hoping to give back a fraction of what she gained from their deep-seated generosity and dignity in the face of difficulty, she returned to volunteer. In a remote village school in the midwestern hills, she taught English, Math & Science to middle and high school students. What shocked her profoundly was that only two teachers could speak functional English despite the fact that every subject was taught entirely in the English language. Teachers, uncomfortable in English were merely reading textbooks to the class, with little comprehension of the underlying concepts.
Woefully under-resourced, science classes were taught without teaching aids or scientific equipment, and computer classes taught without ever having seen a computer. One incident in a science class remains deeply ingrained.
Teacher: “Repeat after me, a homogeneous solution is one in which the particles cannot be seen by the naked eye. “ Students repeat statement stumbling over the words.
Teacher: “So, what kind of eye?”
With so little comprehension, its no surprise that over 70% of rural students fail the national school leaving certificate exam. Students write and rewrite hundreds of times, set answers from answer books, to questions like ‘Describe your family’ or ‘Write about your childhood.’ There are no alternatives. Students routinely fail exams when deviate from the set answer, even on the questions above.
And after failing the school leaving exam one too many times, there are no second chances. There is little adult education in Nepal. Once having left school, the idea of returned out of step with other students in the same grade is humiliating. Students often drop out of school if they are kept back a few times and don’t progress with similar aged students. Likewise, students who don’t start school on time, often never do.
While much progress is being made to build schools, Ann-Marie felt that not enough was being done inside schools to ensure that education opens doors to opportunity. Her time teaching in that school laid the foundation for an alternative path to provide people with the life-long benefits of a transformative education. In 2004, she opened the doors to Hope’s first rural technology center with a curriculum that focused entirely on self-discovery, equipping students not to passively take in knowledge but to actively seek and self-learn. And the rest is history.