French School

Features Issue 20 Aug, 2010

To know the origins of the  French School of Katmandou (le French spelling!), is to have some understanding of the incredible community spirit, which pervades in ‘La Vallee’. Back in 1987, a group of eight families seeking a conducive learning environment for their children in a bilingual setting were guided by the inspiration of Lieve Aerts and Anita Laughez to form a school called ‘Badaboum’. This name suggests how involved the children were in the formation of the group, for the onomatopoeia ‘Badaboum’ mimics the sound toy blocks make when they tumble to the ground.

With a plan designed by Lieve’s husband, artist extraordinaire Robert Powell, with input from Marina Shrestha of Paper Moon, and well known Kathmandu designer Yasmin Rana, the kindergarten opened its doors in Gairidhara.

The teaching faculty evolved so that the school now has many Nepali staff as well as long time resident expatriate teachers. Locals include Ram Maharjan, who was also instrumental in the formation of the school. He was invited to teach at the school shortly after it was founded and has been here since. He looks after the kindergarten classes and speaks enthusiastically about his work, giving the impression of someone completely committed to his work. According to the current principal of the school, Sebastian Autin, the teachers here, along with the other Nepali staff, are the foundation the school stands on. This includes the kitchen, gardening and other staff, some of whom have been with the school for over a decade. All express satisfaction at working here. Why? Because they say it is a small familiar community where everyone is comfortable with their work, and the relationship with their employers is one of cordial professionalism.

The school moved to its present location in the lane opposite the Shangri-la bakery in Lazimpat less than a year after it opened, and Badaboum’s reputation as a bilingual, artistic, and stimulating school started to grow. This was not in small part because of its experimental methods, where children conduct activities from offering their Surya Namascar in the morning, to composing articles for their journals which appear annually in the school magazine “Tika Topi”, and all within what has become essentially a tri-lingual (French/Nepali/English) setting with a French curriculum.

As the school attracted more international students, it became apparent that a primary level was needed. Here the French Embassy, through the Ministry of Education offered financial support for building and materials. At that point, it was deemed appropriate to change the school’s name to ‘The French School Of Katmandou’. The present team of teachers is hired from France, as well as locally, forming a strong group of French as well as long-term resident teachers from Nepal.

The growth of the school has continued to reflect the needs of its students. There are 60 students from a dozen different backgrounds, including many from Nepali, French-speaking, and mixed heritage. (Scholarships are also offered here, especially to Nepali families.) There are two French/English bilingual kindergartens, and two sets of primary class from grades one to five. One set is taught in French and follows the French curriculum and the other is taught in English, with each class having a maximum of fifteen students. There is also a secondary school, up to grade twelve, following the French curriculum by correspondence. All these classes are taught in French, and are recognized by the Ministry of Education in France. All subjects follow a diverse curriculum of the academics and arts, including mathematics, language arts and science, gardening, knitting, painting, clay modeling and drama. There are sports, music and French classes daily and from 3 to 5 students take Nepali language lessons.  Small class sizes permit indivicual attention in a one-room schoolhouse atmoshpere.

Equipped with modern teaching facilities, the school still encourages a hands on approach to all activities.  Classes participate in field trips integrating Nepali culture and drawing, writing, and other projects. The children often find themselves at world heritage sites learning about the marvelous tapestry that is the fabric of Nepali life. The yearly rhythm of the festivals is a backdrop to the curriculum. Every Friday, the children have an opportunity to present their weekly work to the whole school. The school has a variety of festivals from the French ‘Mardi Gras’ carnival, International day, to Nepali day, including art exhibits and musical presentations.

Lucy from Poland has been here since 1991 and is currently the school’s English teacher. She says that she has loved being here and really enjoys her work. Fatiha is one of the French teaches who looks after the kindergarten class, while Bindu and Sony are Nepalese teacher assistants who have been working here for a number of years. All three say they enjoy their work here. Moni, another teacher assistant, has been here 6 years, while Arnaud, a full time teacher here also say education here is fun, with lots of field trips and plenty of interaction between students and staff. Ram Maharjan, one of the oldest serving staff here, tells me that the style of teaching here is more practical and the emphasis is on helping the child to build their skill in approaching problems at a practical level.

Sebastian Autin, the director of the school, also teaches along with the other staff, and has been here for over three years. He has been teaching professionally for over twenty years – of which he has been  director for ten years. The school follows the standard French curriculum found in all of France and all French International Schools. This, according to Autin, allows students studying within this system to join any other French school in any part of the world and not suffer a loss in learning continuity. He says one of the fun things at this school is the fact that the whole school goes on field trips together, which allows for closer interaction of the entire school, and a richer learning experience as compared to larger schools.

Most students here are bilingual (some multi-lingual), and each learns at their own pace. Sebastian also says that because of the small numbers in this school and the close interaction between students and the teachers, all the students learn to live together well. Learning here is a more personal experience, and students get more personal attention from teachers. The teachers also say that the fact that the school is so small also means that the teachers meet and interact very often. The French School of Katmandou thus forms a very closely-knit learning community, for students as well as teachers.