Reflections From Nepal and Bangladesh

Brett Wigdortz, Founder & CEO, Teach First

Last month I spent a week visiting two of Teach For All's youngest partner organisations—Teach For Nepal and Teach For Bangladesh. Both visits were truly inspiring and further pushed my sense of possibility for Teach First's own work and the progress of other partners around the world.

At Teach For Nepal, I was stunned to learn from CEO Shisir Khanal that some of their placement schools were as long as a two day walk away from the city during the rainy season. We drove to some of their closer schools, which were four hours’ drive away, to observe Fellows in their classrooms. Working in extremely isolated communities where some of their pupils walk for over an hour or two each way, the participants are already starting to make a real impact. Although the teaching was exciting to see, for me the most inspiring experience occurred when we were about to leave and a minibus full of university students pulled up. They were friends of a Teach For Nepal participant who had organised for them to come to the village for a few days to work with the children and their parents, helping to introduce to them the possibility of higher education.

I've seen similar examples around the world of our teachers opening up new possibilities to their pupils and finding creative ways to close the gaps that might exist between these young people and young people from other backgrounds. These university students never would have made it out to this village without the Fellow's entrepreneurial instinct and belief that his students deserved to have all options available to them.

It was also a great surprise to meet three Teach First ambassadors working at the Teach For Nepal summer institute and having a fantastic experience. Theare keen to use these experiences in Kathmandu to improve their own teaching in England. The visit got me thinking about the possible excuses we might make in supporting 'isolated' communities in England, which in reality are at most an hour or two away from a major city. As urban schools in England have started to improve, the gaps between these and our rural schools continues to grow, showcasing an important part of Teach First's future strategy in order to meet our national Impact Goals.

While in Kathmandu, I also had the opportunity to work with Teach For Nepal's staff and board of directors, who really impressed me with their belief in what is possible and their constant quest for improvement.

From there I took the one hour flight to Dhaka, where I met Teach For Bangladesh’s CEO Maimuna Ahmad and her team, who were supporting their inaugural cohort during what we call at Teach First the “valleys of death” period a few months into the first year of teaching. Instead, I saw a lot more “hills of happiness.” The most eye-opening moment for me was visiting a class with 106 eight and nine year olds in a single small room. Under conditions that many of us would consider impossible, I saw the Teach For Bangladesh fellow calmly organise his class—differentiated between tables based on ability, and using some of the more disruptive boys to assist in transitions by having them lead the class in a few verses of “I'm a little teapot.” It was a fantastic lesson in remembering what is possible whenever any of our teachers worries about how they can differentiate pupils and successfully lead a class of only 25 to 30 children.

It was also a real thrill to spend time with Teach For Bangladesh's employee team. They are a vision- and value-focused group who are currently concentrating on supporting their first cohort, recruiting a larger second cohort, fundraising, and building a network of senior supporters. They have a lot on their to-do list, which reminded me of the early years of Teach First.

I would like to sincerely thank Shisir and Maimuna and their teams for so generously hosting me during such busy times, and for all of the lessons their work has given me to take back to Teach First.