Nepalese PhD Student at EdUHK Aspires to Turn “Chalk and Talk” into Fun STEM Lessons

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Even as “STEM” has become a buzzword, gaining global popularity in the education sector in recent years, there are still some parts of the world where universities do not even have a humble laboratory in which to conduct experiments.

Mr Parbat Dhungana came to The Education University of Hong Kong (EdUHK) in 2019 to pursue his PhD study, with the mission of bringing about positive changes in education in his home country Nepal.

Mr Dhungana, formerly an assistant professor at a university in Kathmandu, Nepal, discussed the challenges facing his home country in training science teachers. “As the only laboratory at my university is 30 kilometers from the faculty of education, meaning a 45-minute drive each way at least due to the road conditions, I had to conduct lessons in the most basic way to avoid the inconvenience of commuting for students. As a professionally trained academic in the education sector, I was of course fully aware that chalk and talk was not a desirable strategy from a pedagogical perspective, but I simply had no choice.”

Having been in the teacher training field for over a decade, Mr Dhungana is perhaps among the most qualified stakeholders to diagnose the problems plaguing Nepal’s education system. As the Himalayan country is stricken by poverty, corruption, and natural hazards, Mr Dhungana said most schools do not have the basic facilities required for science education. What makes the situation even worse is that educators there cannot live off their meager teacher’s salary, so they have to rely on other engagements, such as part-time jobs, private tuition, or small farmland work, to supplement their income. “As they are occupied by different matters besides their teaching duties, they rarely find time to explore innovative pedagogy to stimulate their students’ interest.” According to Mr Dhungana, these are perhaps the reasons for the declining interest in science among Nepalese students.

To Mr Dhungana, studying at EdUHK has been an eye-opening experience, enabling him to immerse himself in a wide array of educational technologies and innovative pedagogies. He said he has discovered inexhaustible potential and possibilities for science education and is now geared up to explore affordable and compatible technologies, which he hopes can be implemented in Nepal to overcome the barriers he mentioned.

Specializing in Science and Sustainability Education, Mr Dhungana is undertaking a research project involving a mobile logger. This is an award-winning innovation invented by an EdUHK expert, which enables students to design and conduct creative and scientific experiments by collecting authentic data for their research, thus extending the students’ experimental activities beyond the school environment. Mr Dhungana is now trying to modify the logger design in the hope of further reducing the cost so that it can be used in Nepalese secondary schools in the near future.

Another of Mr Dhungana’s aspirations is to develop an online learning platform for sharing class materials among students and to set up an academic unit dedicated to long-term STEM education when he returns to his former university workplace.

Professor Yeung Yau-yuen, from the Department of Science and Environmental Studies at EdUHK and Mr Dhungana’s PhD supervisor, said, “As teachers, it is most rewarding to see our students, from different parts of the world, applying what they’ve learned in classrooms back home. Science and technology can shape a better world, and education even more so.”

Mr Dhungana is an awardee of the 2019/20 Hong Kong PhD Fellowship Scheme, a prestigious scholarship established by the Research Grants Council. Its aim is to attract the best and brightest students from around the world to pursue their PhD studies at Hong Kong universities. Including Mr Dhungana, a record of 12 EdUHK-nominated candidates were awarded the fellowship in 2019/20, signifying the popularity of the University’s academic and research postgraduate programmes among prospective students all over the world.