Grades 11 and 12 are prerequisites for university entrance in Nepal, but SMD is too crowded to offer ‘plus two’. As such, our students finish grade 10, write the national exams and if successful, receive their School Leaving Certificate (SLC). Schools that offer “plus two” in Nepal are urban and for-profit; Himalayan kids can’t afford tuition, let alone the cost of living in the city. But the SLC alone is not enough since the unemployment rate in Nepal hovers around 50 per cent; among school-leavers, this is even higher. In a recent study 62 per cent of young people indicated that they want to leave Nepal.
As such, we have developed a bridging programme for our graduates which we call the ‘Senior Programme’:
For about half of our class ten graduates (called ‘Seniors’), we are able to offer an opportunity in one of two tracks: 1. room, board and teaching/admin aide positions at SMD/Rinpoche’s Monasteries so they may finish grades 11 and 12 in Kathmandu at another school, or 2. assistance with scholarship applications and placements at one of our independent partner high schools abroad.
Our senior students abroad have landed placements at and graduated from top international schools, such as Bishop Strachan, Appleby, Inter Community School Zurich, Philips Exeter Academy, the Hotchkiss School, and United World Colleges. All are thriving academically, but it is the quality of their being that garners respect amongst the other students and their teachers.
We impose one condition on scholarship-goers: they must write a letter to Rinpoche promising to return to SMD or to their village to help others for a set period of time, once their education overseas is finished. Most of the kids want to help in the education or health sector. After they’ve finished their commitment to Rinpoche and to their own people, they are free to follow their own path.
We have established the Senior Programme to help students go on past Grade 10. The students we choose to keep are called ‘Seniors’.
TRACK 1—SERVICE: After the grade 10 National Board Exams are finished, it takes two to three months for the government to produce the results. We try to send students home, so they can reconnect with their families and their own village culture. When the results are published, they all come back and we make the selection for the Senior Programme. The successful students are offered a chance to give service for a year at one of the following places chosen for them:
- SMD School (we only have five beds free this coming year)
- Thrangu Tara Abbey Nunnery (two senior girls to teach the smallest nuns, preparing them for SMD)
- Namo Buddha Yangtse Monastery (four senior boys positions to prepare the smallest monks for SMD)
- Nar Satek Monastery (1 girl or boy, preparing the smallest monks for SMD).
- Some may also find a placement at other nearby monastaries or at a village school in the mountains.
After they finish a year of service, they come back to us provided we have space for them. They then complete grades 11 and 12, some while continuing to work part-time at SMD or elsewhere. Generally, these student aim to become health workers, social workers or teachers.
TRACK 2—SCHOLARSHIPS ABROAD:
SMD students have won about five dozen scholarships overseas. Many have had the chance to finish high school (grades 11 and 12) at some of the finest independent schools in Australia, Norway, Canada, Switzerland, Portugal and the US. The schools generously offer all expenses, along with annual return flights.
These kids are studying in the most rigorous academic streams you can imagine: many are doing the International Baccalaureate (IB). (Having kids on scholarship elsewhere provides a side benefit for us at the school in that extra beds open up!)
The IB is the most academically challenging high school education possible. Universities waive First Year requirements if a student has excelled in the IB programme. We think the IB programme is particularly fitting for SMD kids. From the IBO mission statement:
“The International Baccalaureate aims to develop inquiring, knowledgeable and caring young people who help to create a better and more peaceful world through intercultural understanding and respect. To this end the organization works with schools, governments and international organizations to develop challenging programmes of international education and rigorous assessment. These programmes encourage students across the world to become active, compassionate and lifelong learners who understand that other people, with their differences, can also be right.”
Once the students have graduated from their respective school abroad, they return to SMD, give service for one to two years, and then usually continue on to University either in Nepal or abroad.
Every year, some Seniors (both from our international and Nepal graduates) join our staff and work half-time while going to university half-time—this was Rinpoche’s idea. Our teaching staff numbers around 50 individuals.
- Bodhicitta (altruism = helping others) as the Buddha taught
- Leadership skills
- Students who give their best in helping others = ‘giving service’
- Students who try hard in their studies
After the SLC results are published all sections of the school (monk staff members, teachers, older Seniors, scholarships kids and Support Staff) are canvassed for nominations. Nominations are done anonymously. Reasons for the nominations (related to Thrangu Rinpoche’s aims) must be provided.
Some students are not chosen as Seniors. Among the reasons a child may not be chosen are:
- The family now has resources they didn’t have when the student came to us.
- The student has shown no willingness to help others. One of the main teachings of the Buddha is, “Help if you can help, and if you can’t help, at least don’t harm.
- Space, which is our main constraint.
Those who are kept at SMD who have family near the school can be Day Seniors, but most have to live at the school. They are somewhat autonomous. At Rinpoche’s wish, they are being given a chance to learn life skills, as well as a chance to give back. They have their own small kitchen and dining room. They take turns shopping, budgeting, cooking, cleaning and washing the dishes. Six days a week, they cook dinner for themselves, then, at dinnertime, they have a chance to sit down together and talk— sometimes they are given real life problems to solve.
If they are chosen to stay at SMD, we move them about: jobs include working in the Academic Office (word processing, preparing exams, answering the phone, running errands for the Academic side of the school), working in the Director’s Office (the hardest job there is…a lot of multitasking, handling PR, corresponding with sponsors, publishing, etc.), working in the school’s stores (handling inventories in three languages…this is where all the supplies for children and live in staff are issued e.g. clothing, soap). Other duties include keeping inventories for the AV equipment, films and CDs, and working as classroom aides. Seniors also work in the hostel (the boarding side of the school), supervising at homework time (‘self study’) and giving tuition. We help them open bank accounts.
Seniors are given ‘Reading Angel’ training so they can help younger kids in and out of the classrooms. (Reading Angels is flash training in early skills acquisition, psychology, classroom management and phonics). Our older Seniors are the trainers and offer the training programme for our own teaching staff as well as for adults from other Kathmandu schools.
For nine years, our Seniors also volunteered as teachers for Pawo Gompa, a nearby monastery which didn’t have enough money to hire teachers for their small monks. Our Seniors ran the entire teaching programme. Just recently, Pawo Gompa hired one of our graduates.
Out of necessity, our Seniors do many of the tasks that teachers normally do, because the Seniors speak Tibetan as well as Nepali and English. SMD could not run without them.
While they are giving service, the Seniors are also expected to go to all Dharma (Buddhist) teachings as well as prayers/meditation at least once a week. They must attend Saturday Group every week, to learn critical thinking, and gain awareness of global issues and individual responsibility (as the Buddha taught).
- The kids have to go back to the mountains to district headquarters to get papers.
- Translations must be done by government agencies here in Kathmandu.
- All translations need to be notarized.
- Corruption in every contact with the government slows things down and ups costs.
After all this, we start the process of applying for a visa. This takes at least four months and often longer. We tell the kids that they can never believe they’re going abroad until they’re past the Immigration counter in Kathmandu airport and actually sitting on the plane.
The whole process costs us $600 to $800 in pre-travel costs (documents, translations, notarizing, travel gear, clothing, etc.). Visas and medical costs vary, but most are several hundred dollars. Pre-travel costs for Australia were almost two thousand dollars, money we had to raise separately.
In offering scholarships for SMDers to finish high school, the following independent schools have been extremely generous:
- Appleby College, Oakville, Canada
- Atlanta International School Atlanta, USA
- The Bavarian International School
- Bishop Strachan School, Toronto, Canada
- Hotchkiss School, Connecticut, USA
- Inter Community School, Zurich, Switzerland
- Institut le Rosey, Rolle, Switzerland
- Ivanhoe Grammar School, Melbourne, Australia.
- Mulgrave School, Vancouver, Canada
- Red Cross Nordic United World College, Flekke, Norway
- St. Julian’s School, Lisbon, Portugal
- United World College of the Adriatic, Duino, Italy
- West Island College, Calgary, Canada
- Lindsay Thurber Comprehensive High School in Red Deer, Canada (LTHS has taken two students into their IB programme. LTHS is a public school. In this case, financial support has come from two families in Red Deer.)
- Shawnigan Lake School, Vancouver Island, Canada
In addition to paying tuition, room and board, these schools cover school supplies, text books & laptops, medical & dental, clothing, and pocket money. Most of these schools also pay an annual return ticket. Very often, the host families contribute funding too.
The generosity hasn’t been limited to scholarships. Support flows back to SMD. For example, Appleby College, West Island College, ICSZ and the Bavarian International School offered accommodation and help with travel costs when our Director visited. The Inter Community School Zurich and the Bavarian International School sent teachers to give inservice training to our teachers. The ICS community sponsors many children and they and the Bavarian International School both fundraise for SMD.
It costs at least $600 to $800 and as high as 2,000 USD/year for tuition at the ‘plus two’ schools in the valley. We do our best to keep students with us, and send them to another school for roughly $1000/year.
University in Nepal
On average, tuition costs about $400 to 800 USD/year to finish an undergraduate degree (three years’ study in Nepal). By the time our students get to university, we hire them as teachers and they pay their own way through university.
General Medicine (Paramedic Training)
Tuition for this three-year programme costs $3,500 to $4,000 and doesn’t include texts, transportation, uniforms, exams and equipment, but students can start as soon as they finish Class 10 (SLC) and the curriculum includes grades 11 and 12. Students must live with us while they are in the programme. When they finish, they can run health posts or lead a casualty ward team of ten. Health Assistants are, in essence, ‘barefoot doctors’ who can do almost anything except major surgery.
This training is particularly useful at altitude, where there is no healthcare at all. It is also possible to work in private hospitals with this certification. In addition, it allows for further study at Bachelor’s level in Public Health or in Health Education, or two more years of training to become a physician.