What began as a meeting during a recent international educators conference turned into a visit to Nepal for Odyssey Academy teacher Naveen Cunha.
In July, Cunha and his wife traveled to Kathmandu, Nepal, to work with high school students and their teacher Gagan Acharya at the Himalayan WhiteHouse International College. According to Cunha, it is the only school in the country focused on STEM — science, technology, engineering and math.
“In that part of the world, you do have the government schools — public schools — but you also have a lot of private schools, and this is one,” said Cunha, who is originally from India and went to high school in England. “Most of the private schools are focused on a particular thing, whether it’s business or medicine or something, so they try to offer some unique programs for the kids. This one was focusing on STEM.”
Though he works with eighth graders at Stephen F. Austin Middle School in Bryan, Cunha said, the students he was with for his week in Kathmandu were 11th and 12th graders.
After establishing the connection with the school last month, he said, he is working with Acharya, who is also an engineering student in Nepal, to develop a curriculum for the class.
“We’re looking forward to doing some activities together,” Cunha said. “I know we can’t FaceTime or do teleconferencing because they’re 11 hours ahead of us, so just when they’re coming to school, we’re leaving and vice versa. So that part won’t work out, but maybe they could record videos and share them.”
He said he also hopes the connection opens doors to future collaborations in different subjects where it fits.
“This is one of those open-ended things,” Cunha said. “We’re not exactly sure where it’s going to go, but I think at least our kids and their kids can learn about each other’s cultures, why we do things, how we do things. A lot of times we look at our differences, but I don’t think we look at our similarities as much as we need to. It’s like, ‘Yeah we like to learn stuff, too.’”
While visiting the school, Cunha said, some of the ideas were new to the Nepali students, especially concepts such as working in groups instead of individually. Some of the questions they asked dealt particularly with how the ideas presented to them would help them in the future and what they could get out of the lessons.
Cunha modeled his activities on what he does with his students in Bryan.
“You have a real-world problem, and you try to just do some team activities to try to solve it,” he said.
The examples he uses in his classroom, though, do not always translate to Kathmandu, Nepal. To connect the lessons to the Nepali students, he said, he turned to the country’s 2015 earthquake.
“All around the city, you still see remnants of that. … Around every corner there’s historical buildings that are being held up and people still working on it because tourism is a huge, huge, huge income for them,” Cunha said. “So they remember it vividly.”
The first step was to show them why it is important, and then he tasked them with finding solutions.
“You will have another earthquake, so people think about ‘What can I make my buildings out of? How can I make them sturdier?’ ” Cunha said.
Those real-world examples are what connect with the students and make them want to return to Nepal after studying at the university level, he said.
Cunha said he hopes the connection established between the students in Bryan and those in Kathmandu will give both sets of students a new perspective to problems they are studying in class or facing in their communities.
“I think that has a lot to do with the way people solve problems,” Cunha said. “… In the classroom, I think, it’ll be a great way to enrich the students’ lives and experiences, just getting different perspectives to the same problems and issues and hopefully expand their horizons.”