Thinking about your feedback loop; what information are you trying to get from whom, to whom, and to bring about what change?
We have an education model that includes every student, every member of the family, and all of the community, in learning, teaching and community development. Everyone that is part of Maya Universe Academy believes in doing and engaging, thus functioning on a model of free education with two days of parent volunteer in exchange for their children’s education. As mentioned, we are gathering information on the practicality of a bartering education model from three districts at present, from kids that are studying in our schools, from parents that pay for their kids education by helping in the school farm. We are also collecting data to see if the bartering model has helped families improve their economic situation through learning done in the school farm where MUA arranges on a timely basis professional agriculture trainers to provide training to community farmers. As all of the above data collection and working together is linked to community development, we are also looking at the impacts of different projects on the overall growth of the communities.
So far our model has been functioning and is demonstrated through our presence in three districts of Nepal. The data that we are collecting relates to delivering a curriculum designed to meet the needs of each student by also maintaining its standards in accordance with Nepal’s National Curriculum. The program of study that is being designed and worked out includes teaching through multiple, learner-focused approaches, and creativity and expressive freedom, which are central to ensuring that our students develop their innate curiosity and imagination. English and Nepali are the mediums of instruction. Our primary school curriculum emphasizes the importance of community, allows for creativity, independence, and critical thinking, and includes the core areas of learning and experience, these are: Language and Literacy (Nepali, Hindi, English), Mathematics, Science, Social Studies, Health and Physical Education, Creative and Expressive Arts, Information and Communications Technology and Vocational Education in Agriculture and Computer Science. Students leave campus to expand their knowledge and experience through educational field trips. This provides a direct first-hand experience in learning and provides stimulus for classwork and independent projects. The independent projects include chicken raising, goat caretaking, growing vegetables and anything that involves local economic activity. Students are required to do a project every year after they pass onto grade two. When teaching English, attention to all aspects of literacy – speaking, listening, reading, writing, spelling, and handwriting – is given top priority. Art, music, and drama activities develop a student’s creativity and confidence. The above-mentioned activities and ideas are being implemented and tested for the first time in Nepal, and we are collecting information to see the functionality of this model.
The current public education system has faults, which are seen in the fact that only seven out of ten Nepali children enrolled in first grade will reach the fifth grade, and more than half of them quit school before reaching the lower secondary level. In the development projects being carried out in Nepal, the government has been leaving out the bottom line people by bringing about a feeling among farmers that small scale agriculture is not enough for living, but are still unable to solve the issue of unemployment, and every year at an average there are 480,990 youth leaving Nepal for foreign employment in the Gulf, Malaysia and Middle East. Because of this migration, the wonderfully fertile land in rural Nepal has been left untouched. Thus, we are collecting information and opinion from kids and farmers in rural Nepal to provide the government of Nepal with results and feedbacks on the need for a change in the public education system as well as national development strategy that are currently in place.
Could you briefly describe the way you collect the feedback?
Firstly we have the schools where 182 kids currently receive education. We work throughout the year and collect data on a quarterly basis to check the progress of our students. Quarterly, apart from practical and theoretical examinations, we take our students on field visits to several other private schools in cities, and make them sit in grades higher than their usual standards to see if the quality of education provided by MUA model is functioning. So for example, a student of grade two at MUA in his/her field trip is asked to sit in a higher grade, lets say grade three in a top ranked private school like Budhanilkantha School. His understanding of the material is judged over the weeklong visit to understand the impact of our model on the kids. This way we either give more attention to the kids that are lagging behind or provide more help in incrementing the level of understanding for the kids that are quick learners. We have individual track records for each student.
With the MUA students’ parents we record their involvement and enthusiasm through bi-monthly questionnaires about their satisfaction and learning experience while in the school farm. We also have a quarterly parents’ meeting where we talk about plants to harvest and grow. This is where the traditional method of farming plays a huge part in exchanging knowledge between professionals and full time farmers. On a quarterly basis we work our training program in which the whole community takes part. Over the last three years we have seen an increasing amount of participation from everyone in designing the training program as well as the work schedule in the school farm. The school farm, which was initially meant to be an income generation for MUA is turned into a classroom for farmers, all under the leadership and desire of the community.
With the community in large, we work to engage them in direct conversation about the needs and concerns of the village. Collaboration on upcoming projects to solve questions about enhancing local amenities, infrastructure, access to clean water, and electricity are ongoing. Part of an innovative and sustainable initiative to provide solar alternatives to energy was started in 2012 when MUA set up the first solar electricity production unit, which currently provides current for 4 hours everyday to 8 households in Tanahun District. To expand this project we are currently raising funds from donors and community members. We will also be investing the profits from the payments made by the 8 households for having used the energy produced by our solar systems. In a country with 17 hours power cuts on a daily basis we are collecting data on the use of sustainable energy systems in far away rural areas of Nepal. The people of Tanahun have followed our leadership. In 2013 more than 20 households have owned a solar system for electricity generation. These are data that we collect on field working with community members.
Apart from that we also recently started on a communal water drinking water supply system. We have set up an office with community leaders to manage the control and maintenance of the service for which people are required to pay a monthly fee that is adjusted every 6 months by consensus in a communal meeting organized by MUA. Other projects that we are collecting data are, road construction in Udayapur district where we are looking at the time of completion when community members get involved.
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Results after implementation of the feedbacks
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The feedbacks wil help understand the faults in their current models. Our success is a feedback for them.
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We write it down but at the same time act it on the field with the feedback providers and the feedback recepients (government)
Give two concrete examples of how feedback loops have brought a program or policy more in line with citizens’ desires.
An excerpt by reported Anup Ojha from a Nepali national daily The Kathmandu Post "What MUA has done, primarily, is revive the communities in the area, given families a sense of much-needed hope with regards to their children’s – and in turn their own –futures. Nishan Rimtel, for instance, is in the Simba Class, equivalent to the third grade. His father had left home five years ago, and his mother has had to since pick up the reins and earn to support their family of five. “I never thought I’d get to see the day Nishan would speak in English,” Goma, his mother, says. “And to not be burdened by school fees is a big relief for us.” In return, she helps out at the school for two days a month, cutting paddy, collecting firewood, working in the farm and construction, as it turns out most parents do here, creating a give-and-take model where parents are able to contribute to their children’s education as per their capacities."
Number of girls attending school in the three districts we work in has gone up. In villages where female education is not prioritized, our student body comprises 63% females and 37% males. The parents are aware of sending girls to school taking MUA as an example where both the gender compete, live, work, learn and play together. With this the number of kids going to school from Chepang and other underrepresented groups in the country has gone up. 12 public schools that compete directly with MUA in the three locations have started operation of the schools on a regular basis, and now offer equal opportunities to the aforementioned groups. The most amazing result thus far has been the acceptance of our model, and with it the 12 public schools have lost annual enrollment rate and are nearing closure, as almost everyone now prefers to be educated under Maya Universe Academy rather than other schools in the district. This is also demonstrated through the 32 proposals we received this year in order to operate our education model in the different communities.
In the farm aspect, we have trained more than 1400 farmers. The small-scale loan program under Maya Farm currently supports 253 farmers, who are producing chickens, bananas, pineapples, and goats. Moving on, through our agriculture produce collection centre, which is currently only operating in the central school (in Tanahun District) we have helped 600 farmers double their monthly income from $62 in 2012 to $124 in 2013. This has happened simply by collecting the small-scale agriculture produce in one centralized location and transporting it to different cities.
The change that has been seen after the establishment of MUA is the collaboration, which has increased with local government. The district education office of Tanahun and Udayapur has now started training programs for public school teachers in collaboration with MUA, who designs the curriculum for the training. For 2014 the agriculture department of Udayapur district will be conducting a quarterly training program at MUA farms. The training will include distributing seeds to the farmers at the end of the program. There will be practical hands on training for the farmers, all under the leadership of MUA but in collaboration with the government.
If there was one thing you could change to increase the impact of your feedback loop, what would it be?
We have designed a model to implement (MUA Model). In the last three years we have proved that our model works for rural areas of Nepal and most developing countries. We have collected data related to our success and demonstrated that MUA Model can bring about the change needed in education and sustainable community development with the involvement of farmers whose income generating activity – small-scale farming – was rendered not worthy. Subsequently after collecting the data we have analyzed it and acted swiftly to bring about the change required in order to make development projects more effective and education program more qualitative. We have set our success to be (1) the quantity of students and the quality of education provided by MUA, (2) the community participation with MUA in community development. Nepal has a very high dropout rate; our success will be the increase in number of kids attending secondary school and an increase in school years for girls and the needy. Long-term success is measured by the educational benefit to the community. The improvements made to the project through the feedbacks received from community farmers and students help us close our loop to benefit the people that we are directly working with on the field in the three districts that we currently operate.
So far MUA founders and its supporters have come three years since creation and are confident to keep establishing the feedback loops in communities with need. But the dilemma faced everyday is knowing that there are 75 districts in Nepal, which all require similar feedback loop to be implemented in order to provide education and employment opportunities to girls and small scale farmers. It is a fact that with education, Nepal will decrease girl trafficking which at present is deemed very high. And the surprising fact is that most girls trafficked are from rural Nepal who do not have access to education opportunities. Like said earlier, 480,990 youth that leave Nepal every year, and in order to cater them through sustainable economic growth and increased employment opportunities, it is important that the government invest in small-scale farms who have the capacity to inspire the growth of industries and eventually help the country. And here is where we need the most help to increase our impact, we need resources for quicker growth but at the same time have a pressing need for more Nepalese youth, NGOs, INGOs and the Nepali government to get involved with us to take our model to every corner of Nepal. We say our model for the whole country as it is dual system that includes both the kids and farmers, and can be replicated in other developing countries as well.
Nepalese youth have the passion to drive change but are not motivated to get involved in rural Nepal due to the lack of enough financial incentive, basic amenities, and future prospects. NGOs, INGOs have the resources but at the same time they also have the expertise to continuously provide support when required in difficult conditions. The Nepalese government has the resources; platform and outreach that can take MUA model to every corner of Nepal.
Feedback store will certainly help us synthesize our data and communicate it well to the intended recipients. It will have a very big part to play in our project to bridge the gap between the constituents at the bottom of the pyramid with the leadership that hold positions to benefit the bottom half. We engage with our constituencies on a regular basis, and feedback store can help us keep track and foster the relationship with our feedback providers.
What is the one thing you would most like to see changed to improve the competition process?
While a range of peer feedback was helpful, it would have been extremely helpful to have a mentor for the semifinal round. It is always different to have an expert feedback on an issue - in this case the problems that our projects are trying to tackle.
What are you doing to make sure that feedback providers know that they are empowered by the information they can give and that they know exactly what the information they are providing?
When we started in 2011 the feedback providers, which in our case were the farmers, were hesitant to open to our requests. By the end of 2011 we saw a good participation from the community in the vocational trainings provided by the school farm. But after the introduction of the small-scale loan program we had a 90% turn out. Since 2012 we have had the same turn out rate in the farm for the training programs. The data collected by the agriculture produce collection centre is used to increase presence in the district. Thus, every farmer is willing to comment. We have questionnaire sessions every month to see the opinions that farmers have. With every year we have an increasing participation in our loop.
Our student feedback system is part of the evaluation criteria and also the education model due to which initially there was an inherent belief that it was required. But in the last two years we have successfully explained the parents’ the importance of having the feedback system in place in our education model. Due to this there is a higher participation from the parents’ themselves to send their kids on field trips to schools in the capital.
The feedback providers, both students and community members, know they are empowered because there is an action implemented on the feedback provided by them. For example, after our first year of operation we got a feedback from almost everyone in the district that MUA needed a school dress for the students. We held a meeting and on a consensus basis decided that we would have the national dress of Nepal as the school uniform. Since then boys wear "Daura Suruwal" and girls wear "Cholo and farak". Other examples include the number of students to enroll every year, where to construct the communal water tank and the agriculture produce collection centre, when to collect the agriculture produce from the centre, what produce to collect, what kind of trainings to deliver in the vocational programme by the school farm, among many others. Every feedback provided has been answered and put into action, due to which every feedback provider is eager to provide an input for a change. And because their feedback is put into action the providers are aware that the right kind of feedback is important. Also because of the involvement of the government with MUA in agriculture and community development, the general public is even more excited to provide feedback that is required in order to see the development that is positive.