Past visitors to Pokhara will be all too familiar with Lakeside with its international menus, trekking stores and coffee shops all pandering to the wonts of Western tourists. But take the time to turn off the main drag and head up from the lake on Phewa Marga and the myriad of cheap hotels and barber shops gradually recede to stores that cater for the local people. The road has recently been widened and now lorries, buses and and hundreds of mopeds compete for road space and the imported Indian habit of ‘horn supremacy.’ You could be forgiven for missing Shamrock on your first visit. A former hotel there is little to separate it from the surrounding buildings, but behind the entrance gates there is a style of education taking place that is unique in Nepal.
Shamrock has space for 60 students but finances currently only permit for 36 places. The school caters for children from the age of 11-16. At 16 the children, in common with many other countries take an SLC, or school leaving certificate. This is their passport to higher education and an increasingly competitive jobs market for those that want to succeed. None of this is unique to Shamrock but this is also a boarding school functioning on very firm principles. The day begins early with an hour’s cleaning and by 7.30am the corridors, classrooms and toilets are sparkling clean. Breakfast for the children is a roll and boiled egg and then based on a rota a group will begin the food preparation for lunch. Lessons start at 10am after private study and take place in one of half a dozen classrooms. These have space for no more than ten pupils but one can easily see the small class sizes allow for those that need individual attention while an opportunity for the gifted to excel. And excel they do. The students graduating from Shamrock do so with high marks and are full of promise. Indeed a few of the very best students are kept on as wardens and part time teachers. They might be unqualified but in return for their board and lodging and modest pocket money they make for great role models. Like the younger students they too take their share of chores and food preparation. And lunch is delicious, simple vegetable curry most days eaten on the tiny patio that serves not just as outdoor dining area but as playground, assembly and performance venue. It doesn't take long to see how seamlessly the students work together. They all share the common cause of academic success and this unites them in their purpose. Us visitors would do well to remember that Nepal is still a nation bound by the caste system and all its constraints on individual potential. But here at Shamrock these shackles are cast aside with apparent ease by this young and progressive generation. I note that every student and teacher washes their own plate after lunch before making their way back to lessons.
At 4pm there is time for sport and armed with a football and a wide array of bootleg European strips the students head down to lakeside to let of steam with some impressive agility. The girls are no exception here and either pay football or rounders before returning for supper and evening activities.
I left Shamrock with a warm feeling but an uncomfortable figure in my head. Last year the school cost £34k to run. All of this for the education of the entire school. At the school where I am fortunate enough to teach this sum pays for just one student annually. It’s a wealth divide that at best needs addressing and at worst is morally indefensible.