For far too long, the emphasis on the education system has focused entirely on primary and secondary education, at the expense of higher education. While we recognize the reasoning behind this emphasis, we are more interested in providing a comprehensive platform to build on the success stories from that system.
At Samaanta, we recognize that academic excellence does not depend only on the classroom, even as it remains an important element of education. Our fellowship takes into account all the various elements that enrich the educational experience and provides them to the fellows to give them the best chance of success.
The education system is sold as a story of hope, where any student who works hard can reap the fruit of their labour. The reality, particularly for the rural poor, is completely different, as talented students are discouraged from pursuing their dreams because they have neither the financial nor the social capital to turn them into realities. As our experience with the first six fellows shows, there is a clear niche for Samaanta to facilitate meaningful higher education in Nepal.
First, even talented students from community schools lack the courage to dare and to dream. Our efforts facilitate the process of gaining our fellows access to to some of the best, most established, and most reputed colleges that provide quality education in the country. Although our scholars achieve high scores to get “full” scholarships through HSEB, we nurture in them the courage to dare to seek admission in these colleges.
Second, the associated costs of higher education are often well beyond the means of many meritorious students from rural communities. We pledge to support our fellows pay for all the associated expense for their “free” education, which can cost about Rs 1,50,000 per student per year . Samaanta’s fellowship covers the shortfall after parents contribute whatever they can afford as their share towards their children’s education. Note that we place no condition on how much each family has to pay, but simply expect them to contribute as much as they can (without having to sell their cow or their land) towards their education. This helps the fellow and their family own their education while also ensuring that financial shortcoming will not be an impediment to higher education. We are helping cover the costs of uniforms, exam and lab fees, transportation, stationery, and daily snacks, as well as providing a small living stipend. In addition, for the first batch of fellows, after realizing that the students had to commute up to four hours a day (including two hours of walk time), we have also placed them in boys’ and girls’ hostels so that they can focus on their education more so than their tiring commute each day.
Third, most students face serious transition issues because of the language barrier. Community schools are predominantly Nepali-medium whereas the best colleges are all English-Medium. In order to facilitate successful transition, Saamanta has enrolled all our fellows into a reputed English Language Programme.
Fourth, the transition to a big city as well as a big college can be quite intimidating for new fellows. We seek to ease this difficulty by introducing a Big Brother/Big Sister programme so that older students can guide our students in these new colleges.
Fifth, access to higher quality education does not always lead to easy transition in the employment sector. Many of our target students also lack the social capital required to prosper in today’s competitive age. Samaanta addresses this problem through our mentorship programme. We link the fellows to young working professionals in their fields of interest, so that they can understand their aspirations better and engage meaningfully with their dreams.
Sixth, access to higher education in the form of 12th grade alone is not enough to get students a competitive edge these days. Increasingly you need a Bachelors’, Masters’ or even a PhD degree, along with other skills and qualifications. Over the course of our fellowship, we provide our fellows numerous opportunities to participate in leadership trainings, computer courses, and entrepreneurial sessions to help their professional growth. In addition, as long as they remain committed to their goals and meet our targets, we support them through their tertiary education and/or employment pursuits, as per their interests and our resources.