Saturday, February 25, 2012

Interview with Maya Manandhar and Shanti Manandhar of Jagat Sundar Bwonekhuti Secondary School

During my last few weeks in Kathmandu, I sought out people that I thought had interesting opinions on language rights and language education in Nepal, and sat down with them for informal interviews. I wrote about some of these interviews here and here.

This last interview is with Principal Maya Manandhar and Vice Principal Shanti Manandhar of Jagat Sundar Bwonekhuti Secondary School, one of the first mother language schools in the country. It is located near the bank of the Bishnumati River, in a traditional Newari community not far from Swoyambhu. This interview was transcribed and the parts of it that were in Nepali were translated into English:

What is the history of your school and what makes it unique? How is Newari a part of the curriculum?

The school is twenty years old. After the democratic revolution the government gave us the permission to start the school. This was the first, and now there are many. It is a committee-run school, not a private school - there were six members in the first year. This is a mother language school, which means that every subject is taught in the Newari language: that is the teaching methodology. We use the Lotus Books that we publish in Newari for grades 1-5, and we use the English language government books in 9 and 10 (with the optional Newari subject books). The SLCs are taken in English. We teach Newari as a subject, and we choose one out of many different Newari scripts. We teach prachalit, as opposed to the more artful scripts, or Devanagari, which is a script from India, not Nepal. We have a problem with the books in grades six, seven, and eight. There are no Newari books and we use different materials, including photocopies. We teach Media in Newari.

An organization from Japan sponsors students here. Forty per cent of the students are sponsored by individual Japanese donors.

What is the benefit of a Newari component to the curriculum?

Students learn about the script and the culture, Nepal's historical culture. The script is important to preserve, as well as the culture, a very old culture.

Does education in the mother tongue help students to learn?

Little kids need to learn in their own language. What takes two days to learn in another language will take one day in their own language. Our school has gone through three groups of SLC, above 50% with distinction. So the system has been working so far. Also, language are dying all over the world, and that's why we need to preserve ours.

What are the good things and the bad things about the program?

The good things: if it was not taught in school, the knowledge of old songs and dances would be disappearing. We teach traditional dance and music in our school, also sitar (which isn't traditional). We teach old games as well.

There are also some bad things. Learning only in Newari, students can sometimes have no "scope." In college there's no scope for Newari students. The government has not made room for Newari colleges and jobs for Newari speakers. Some of our students have jobs in newspapers and etc.

I see a book of children's stories by Hridaya here on the table. Can you tell me about him?

He was very big. He wrote some famous books in Newari and was given the title of Kabikeshar by King Mahendra. Of course he was persecuted and put in jail before that. We have statue of him in our school.

The main statue belongs to Jagat Sundar Malla, a great Newari scholar who our school is named after. He saw the need for mother language schools, but he was put in jail for this and after he got out he flew to Japan. He saw the schools there and decided to come back to Nepal and sell all of his property to help establish a school. He had to hide his books, and then he died before the school was established. But we established it in his honor.

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