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Experiential education is a form of learning through hands-on activities and reflection. It is a powerful tool for developing students’ civic-mindedness, personal efficacy and leadership skills. Duke University students are running an experiential camp for Nepali students to further their education as a part of the Karsh Mentorship Initiative program.
Economic Inequality in Nepal
Today, more than a third of Nepal’s 12.6 million live in poverty, and poverty remains highly stratified. Children from large households, illiterate families, rural regions and from the “untouchable” Dalit caste remain the worst off in society.
Economic issues in Nepal correlate with observed disparities in educational outcomes. Because the regimented curriculum is still heavily oriented towards the needs and aspirations of urban elites, students from rural areas are more likely to drop out or repeat grades. The lowest enrollment rates are among Dalit children, who report discrimination from teachers and peers. Former Executive Director of KMI and Duke University graduating senior, Carter Zenke, describes these issues as the reason the KMI was formed in an interview with The Borgen Project.
The Karsh Mentorship Initiative (KMI)
Laxmi Rajak, Duke University Class of 2015 graduate, founded KMI in 2014 to create accessible, meaningful educational opportunities that would propel students to success. Rajak, a native Nepali, was systematically denied educational opportunities as a result of her gender and membership in the Dalit caste. In partnership with Nepali secondary schools, the (KMI) brings a team of Duke University student-mentors to Nepal each summer to teach “change-making skills” — teamwork, leadership and civic engagement.
Each of these skills is taught through classroom discussion, play and student-designed projects. “Rote learning, such as memorization and rehearsal, tends to prevail over meaningful learning, for example, curiosity-driven projects,” said Carter Zenke. “This is particularly the case for students already marginalized in society. It’s the core reason the Karsh Mentorship Initiative exists.”
Rajak herself attended SOS Children’s Villages, which provides education for children who have lost stable parental care. Now, SOS Children’s Villages is one of the schools that KMI partners with to run its two-week experiential education camp. During the summer, KMI holds additional camps at Charkhandi Vidhya Mandir (CVM) School and, historically, Shanti Niketan School. During the summer of 2019, KMI invited a school for adult women who had been denied education as young girls into its coalition.
How KMI Works
In its first week, KMI has each student chart his or her life graph to indicate the important moments in life. Students are encouraged to reflect on and discuss their graphs with one another. Student-mentors also lead collaborative problem-solving exercises to enhance leadership skills and collaboration.
The two-week-long camp concludes with a student-designed social impact project. Students form teams and choose a challenge in their community to tackle, such as pollution, gender discrimination or child labor. Then, with guidance from student-mentors, the teams design and implement a solution. Former social impact projects have involved placing waste bins to prevent litter. Students have even protested on government corruption.
More than 250 Nepali students have completed KMI’s experiential education camp. Several students have been returning participants; others have joined the Duke University students as student-mentors to new campers. Through formal evaluations, KMI has found that bringing experiential education to Nepal’s classrooms has had lasting, positive impacts on students’ self-confidence and sense of civic responsibility.
“One day, two twelfth grade boys showed up to KMI’s activities. They introduced themselves as alums of the very first year of KMI,” Zenke said. “They had heard we were conducting evaluations and wanted to help as best as they could. One student, Pradip, told us that KMI is what raised his critical consciousness about his community.” In the future, Zenke hopes to see KMI expand to create a global network dedicated to researching and building purposeful, accessible educational opportunities.