Himalayan Children’s Home – Evaluation, by Michelle Bissanti

Himalayan Children’s Home – Evaluation, by Michelle Bissanti

Educational Program Overview and Evaluation

Prepared for the Pointing Out the Great Way Foundation

by Michelle Bissanti  M.Ed.


MCEC – Mustang Cultural and Educational Center

Himalayan Children’s Home, Dhaulagiri Secondary School

Jomsom, Nepa



The Pointing out the Great Way Foundation is financially supporting 26 mixed age children to attend Dhaulagiri Secondary School and live and study at the Himalayan Children’s Home.

The Dhaulagiri Secondary School is run by the Nepalese government and follows curriculum and guidelines set forth from the Ministry of Education. The Himalayan Children’s Home offers housing, meals, educational support, and an educational program centered on Tibetan language, culture, and practices. The Mustang Cultural and Educational Center (MCEC) oversees the Himalayan Children’s Home and the program for children is designed, implemented, and taught by Geshe Sonam.  MCEC is registered with the Nepalese Government with the aim of preserving the rich cultural heritage and raising the socio economic status of the Himalayan and needy people who are deprived of basic education and primary health care.

The following evaluation will:

  • give a brief overview of education in Nepal
  • state the mission and objectives of Mustang Culture and Education Center
  • give a broad view of the program at the Dhaulagiri Secondary School
  • describe the education and life experience of the children at the Himalayan Children’s Home under the direction of Geshe Sonam
  • present elements of excellent educational practice
  • through the lens of elements of excellent practice, give commendations, recommendations, and suggestions based on the site visit, interview with Geshe Sonam, observations and research


Brief History of Education in Nepal

Historically education was reserved for the elite groups and the royal family in Kathmandu and other urban areas.  Only 250 students were served. In 1951 Nepal’s Ministry of Education and Sports was established. Political reforms opened access to schooling and participation rates rose exponentially. The Ministry of Education oversees all aspects of education in the Kingdom of Nepal.

The Nepalese government is committed to the goals of UNESCO’s Education for All initiatives, which is committed to seeing all students of primary age accessing good quality primary education by 2015.  Currently there are over 34,000 primary and secondary schools in the country, 9 university level institutions, and over 1,000 colleges and affiliated campuses.  There are three types of schools in Nepal: community schools, institutional schools, and higher secondary schools. Community schools are run by the government or community. Institutional schools are often referred to as “private”.

Currently, the school system consists of primary, lower secondary, secondary, and higher secondary education, lasting a total of 12 years. After the secondary level (completion of 10th grade) students take the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) Examination, which is required for admission to upper secondary.

The School Sector Reform Program was implemented in 2009, which aims to restructure school education by integrating the levels into basic education (grades 1-8) and secondary education (grades 9-12). The hope is that this will boost school retention and overall enrollment.  A vocation stream at the secondary level (beginning in grade 9) is being introduced. Students would have the option to follow a two-year curriculum leading to the Technical School Leaving Certificate. The commitment is to have this reform program implemented by 2015.    (Education in Nepal  Wikipedia, 2014) 


Mustang Culture and Education Center

The Mustang Culture and Education Center (MCEC) has been founded by venerable Geshe Sonam Gyaltsen to realize his most important missions. Geshe Sonam was born in Pangling village in Mustang district in 1971.  At the age of 9 he moved to Dolanji in Northern India and spent over 33 years learning Tibetan Bon Philosophy, religion, culture, history and Bon ritual in Menri Monastery, the highest education center of Tibetan Bon community. After completing his Geshe degree, the highest qualifications one can achieve in Tibetan monastery, he decided to return to his home in Mustang with intentions to re-establish his traditional culture and to promote high quality of education there.

One of MCEC’s objectives is providing scholarships for children in Mustang and preserving the indigenous culture.

Since there is a lack of quality education in the villages, the children in the villages need to move down to Jomsom to attend boarding school for a quality education. Providing a quality education at the Jomsom boarding school ensures that the children will learn to read and write as well as learning their native language and history, an opportunity that they might not have otherwise. Sending them to a boarding school some distance from Pangling decreases the likelihood that their families would keep them out of school to work the farms. At the same time, because the school is only a 4 hour walk from their home village, the children will not lose touch with their families. In addition, the children will have an opportunity to learn Tibetan language, history and culture after school curriculum. The goal is to produce educated younger generation who can become carriers of indigenous culture. (www.mustangcultureandeducation.org)


Dhaulagiri Secondary School

Jomsom, Nepal

This is a community school run by The Nepalese Government and servicing children all over the Mustang region, in particular Jomsom and middle Mustang. Some parents pay for boarding and those children live at the school, others live close enough to commute day to day.

The school offers education beginning in Nursery School, and continuing through Primary, Lower Secondary, and Secondary enabling the children to complete the 10th grade.  There are between 300-400 students enrolled at the school and 30-40 teachers on staff.  The maximum class size is 20-25 children and the minimum is 10 or 11.

The curriculum at each grade level consists of:

English – grammar/language arts




Nepali Literature

PE (football) / Art (drawing and free expression)

In the Kindergarten year students are introduced to the English and Nepali alphabet with more literature and books being introduced in the First Grade.  Geography and Science are introduced in 3rd Grade.  Physical Education is introduced in 5th Grade.  Computers and Technology are introduced in 6th Grade.  Most of the curriculum and programs are taught at the school.  However, beginning in 3rd Grade, Field Trips and educational tours are introduced to teach the children about their community and culture. Around 7th and 8thGrade, students begin visiting temples and more extensive research and note taking is taught. There is also the opportunity for children to take 3-4 day trips to various local communities for a more immersive experience.

The school year is year round with various holidays and vacation time throughout the year. Children have an extensive holiday in the winter when they are off during December and January.  In the winter the school day is typically 10:00 – 4:00 and in the summer the school day begins at 9:00.

The students are assessed through term exams. They take an exam after 1st term and feedback is offered to the family regarding their progress and areas needing focus. After 2nd term the results of their exams are used to determine progression to the next grade.


Himalayan Children’s Home Program

Logistics and Building 

The Himalayan Children’s Home is situated in the heart of Jomsom, a short walk from the Dhaulgiri Secondary School. The Home is a hostel type structure where the 26 children sponsored by the POGW live and study Tibetan language, culture, and practice. 7 of the 26 children live close enough to return to their family home to sleep each evening, returning to the home each morning for lessons and practice.  The structure has space for 4-5 bedrooms for the children.  They are divided up boy/girl by mixed age as the older children help and assist the younger children. There is a separate bathroom for both the boys and the girls with a spicket for bathing. There is a main room where the children meet for lessons and meals. Geshe Sonam lives at the home as well as a housemother who cooks and cares for the children. There are a two or three other rooms for meetings, and a small kitchen. The structure is two stories and all of the rooms look out over a courtyard that offers the children space to play and gather, sheltered from the afternoon Jomsom winds.


Daily Schedule 

5:00 am children wake and wash up

5:30  morning prayer with meditation – Tibetan alphabet – lama’s language

7:00  tea and light breakfast/snack

7:30  study – preparing for the day, answer questions, one on one interaction and support with Geshe Sonam

8:30 full breakfast

9:00 prepare – get dressed – walk to school

10:00 – 4:00 school day at Dhaulgiri Secondary School

4:30 pm children return to the hostel – change clothes – tea and biscuit

Children work on homework.  Geshe Sonam assists children with homework and checks the children’s work.

6:00 – 7:30  playtime – Children choose how to spend their time

7:30 dinner – followed by evening prayer – teaching of prayers

finish work and review

9:00 bedtime



Details of Program designed and taught by Geshe Sonam

The morning prayer and meditation consists of the teaching of prayers with specific focus on memorization. The meaning of the prayers can be particularly hard to understand for the younger or less experienced children. For the younger children it is more experiential with the emphasis on memorization. This helps them to focus and concentrate. Chanting can help them with this process.

Geshe Sonam watches attentively and carefully and can see through the children’s eyes and body posture their level of concentration.  As he sees children understanding and mastering, he will ask them to help as a “teacher”.

They begin with a one-line mantra, the Three Heart Mantra.  They begin slowly and patiently paying careful attention to the words and rhythm.  After beginning with something short, they will progress to Guru Yoga, using the 1st abbot of Menri and a mantra consisting of 4 sentences.  They might progress to the Bodhichitta Refuge, 4, 5, and 6 lines. They will continue attention training by teaching more prayers.  It is essential that the children practice everyday, as this is how they will come to focus.

Geshe Sonam explained that he uses sound meditation to focus on the sound, the rhythm, and the feeling that arises.  This helps them to identify when they feel peace arising.  While he explained that he does not teach the nature of the mind, in learning to focus they cultivate positive thinking that brings their mental mind into a positive way of grasping.


Free time 

The children have a half-day on Friday and they have Saturdays off.  These are times when the children enjoy playing ball, working on puzzles, and engaging in educational games.



One area that Geshe Sonam feels is important to foster is the sharing of traditional stories.  Storytelling is an important part of developing and carrying forth the traditions of a culture. Inviting elders to tell traditional or local stories would be a way to enhance the teaching of culture.

Another area that Geshe Sonam felt strongly about was that the children have time with their families. The bond and connection that the children have with their mothers, and families is important and he wants to foster this so that it remains a healthy part of their life and development.

During the 2 month period that the children have off from school in December and January, Geshe Sonam encourages the children to return to their home for one month.  Spending time together with their family and immersing themselves in the life of their family is important. The second month he plans to organize special programs for the children at the hostel.  This will allow them to have time together at the hostel engaging in activities and projects that will foster their relationship together as a community and “family”.



Elements of Excellent Educational Practice 

Based on my own experience as an educator over the past 20 years, the following is a list of elements of practice that I have found important and in many cases essential. In various ways I have worked to implement them within my own classroom and work with children, or have valued them within the educational organizations that I’ve worked.


High educational standards, strong curriculum and instruction, personalized teaching 

The goals of the program are dedicated to the belief that all children can achieve. Curriculum is designed and implemented based on standards and developmentally appropriate criteria. Children are engaged appropriately and modifications/differentiation is in place as needed.


Child centered learning – project based

The ideas, questions, wonders, and insights of the children are valued, and often directly guide exploration and discovery within the classroom.

A project is an extended study of a topic usually undertaken by a group of children, sometimes by a whole class, and occasionally by an individual child.  The study is an investigation into various aspects of a topic that is of interest to the participating children and judged worthy of their attention by their teachers. (Roopnarine & Johnson, 2005)

The projects are inspired by the experiences of both the children and the adults and can lead children to a deeper understanding of the world around them.


Cooperation and Collaboration – 

Teachers work cooperatively and collaboratively within a structured system, making planning and discussions about children more effective.  There is time, weekly, for teacher meetings, preparing, parent meetings and professional development.


Documentation and Assessment –

Documentation is a form of assessment that allows the child to be at the forefront of their educational process. Students are able to describe their accomplishments and the methods and processes they used in discovering new knowledge. This can happen through transcripts of children’s remarks, work, thinking, photographs, art, portfolio. It allows parents and teachers to become more aware of children’s learning and development. It helps develop teaching strategies and promotes professional growth.

Traditional assessment is also useful in monitoring student progress where results are interpreted to improve student performance and instructional programs.


Devoted, Strong leadership

Leadership fosters collaboration between school and community.  Leadership fosters trust between teacher and student and an environment where children feel safe, cared for, and understood – where they feel they can open to their true potential.


Parent/Family/Community Involvement 

Parents and community are involved in achieving goals in the best interest of the students, mentoring and outreach are in place to foster learning between students and community


Professional Development

Opportunities are available for teachers to explore their practice, develop their skills, and strengthen the educational programs in place for children.


Key Elements of The Reggio Emilia Program  July 20, 2010 www.education.com

SERC Equity Exchange Education: Best Practices in Education www.ctserc.org 2014


Commendations, Recommendations and Suggestions 

The following commendations, recommendations, and suggestions are drawn from the above list of excellent elements of practice. The focus in each area is based on what seems most significant to the efforts underway at the Himalayan Children’s Home.

Commendations – This section reflects areas of strength or areas where there is already a commitment and development underway. 

High educational standards, strong curriculum and instruction, personalized teaching 

Regarding this element, I believe that the curriculum and program in place through the Dhaulagiri Secondary School is sound and supported by the Ministry of Education and their goals to reform and strengthen the program into 2015.  I would suggest staying informed of the Ministry of Education’s goals into 2015 to see that goals are met or re-established.

Geshe Sonam is doing an exceptional job supporting the children in their studies and managing their learning and growth. He has substantial time set aside each day for study and support in areas that the children need more reinforcement.  He is dedicated and committed to attending to the needs and interests of each child.

He is designing and tailoring study of Tibetan culture, language, and practice to the developmental level of each child and is implementing this into each day. His knowledge in this area is unsurpassed and his ability to tailor it to the children is stellar.

Devoted, Strong leadership

Geshe Sonam clearly offers devoted and strong leadership skills.  The children are safe and well cared for and it is apparent that they feel trust and a healthy connection to Geshe Sonam. He advocates for them within the school community.  He is also dedicated to fostering a collaborative relationship with the community and the families. Geshe Sonam brings a depth of wisdom and compassion to his work with the children and is deeply committed to this mission. In addition there is a house mother employed at the Himalayan Children’s Home who lives at the home, prepares meals, tends to the day to day needs of the children, and provides a warm, loving presence. 

Parent, Family, Community Involvement

There is a commitment in place on the part of MCEC and Geshe Sonam to keep the relationship between family and community strong. Geshe Sonam has goals in place to continue to support this area of development.


Recommendations – This section identifies the areas that might benefit from the most immediate attention. Development of these areas would strengthen the foundation of the program, and support the children as they continue their education. 

Documentation and Assessment 

Because the program at the Himalayan Children’s Home is so new, and many of the children in the program are coming from a situation where they did not have access to formal educational training, it would be important to pay careful attention to their progress. It would be helpful not only to ensure that they comprehend and are able to progress with their class work and study, but also to attain a base line for each child so that moving forward the children can be adequately supported.

While it seems as though assessment happens on a regular basis within the Dhaulagiri program, it is essential that the information attained be shared with teachers at the Himalayan Children’s Home, primarily Geshe Sonam, and in turn shared with the child’s family. In this way the children can be best supported in the areas that need extra focus or challenged in the areas that come easily to the child. It would be ideal if the Himalayan Children’s Home could keep records documenting any communication from the school regarding each child’s progress, how this information is communicated to parents, and what action is taken in response to this information. In this way, as the children embark on their educational path, there is clarity around their needs and progress.

Documentation is a wonderful way to keep a record of each child’s work.  The method of keeping a portfolio allows the child to become a part of the assessment process. Goals can be set, work gathered and documented through various medium including photographs, and next steps can be easily determined. As children become more responsible and involved in their learning and growth, they develop an understanding of themselves as a learner and a deeper commitment to their growth and education.

Because the child’s movement to the next grade is very much dependent on performance on the end of the year examinations, assessment, documentation, and support are critically important to the success of each child from grade to grade.

I would suggest that Geshe Sonam set up a communication system with the school and teachers of each child to keep abreast of their progress.  This could be a monthly communication that is made to him letting him know of any specific areas that the child needs extra attention, as well as areas that the child displays growth and understanding.  This would greatly help Geshe Sonam as he works diligently to address and support the needs of each child.

As far as documentation, it might be useful to have an outside source work with Geshe Sonam and the children, instructing them and helping to set up a documentation system that could be easily carried on by Geshe and the children independently.

Personalized Teaching

If the above assessment and documentation goals were met, then the goal to focus on personalized teaching would fall into place.  Once assessment and documentation highlights the needs, interests, strengths of the child, then focus can be placed on how to best move forward supporting each child’s growth. Materials and tools needed by Geshe Sonam to support these educational needs might be able to be shared directly from Dhaulagiri Secondary School or supports from other sources including the Pointing Out the Great Way Foundation.

Suggestion – This area reflects things that would be helpful to a school but not immediately necessary.

Given that this is a new program, I feel attention to the above stated recommendations should be the primary focus. Geshe Sonam stated some wonderful goals he has for developing the relationship between the children, school, and families. I would suggest that he continue to develop these areas, as they will add richness to the program and connection to the families, community, and culture.

– storytelling involving families, and members of the community

– supporting and developing the relationship with children’s families

– designing a month long program for the children at the hostel during their two month winter vacation to foster their relationship as a community and family




Geshe Sonam Gyaltsen – interview   Jomsom, Nepal June 2014

Key Elements of The Reggio Emilia Program  July 20, 2010 www.education.com

Mustang Culture and Education Center www.mustangcultureandeducation.org

National Center for Education Development Nepal www.nced.gov.np 2014

SERC Equity Exchange Education: Best Practices in Education www.ctserc.org 2014

Wikipedia: Education in Nepal  www.wikipedia.org  July 2014


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