Fellow Since 1989
Seto Gurans National Child Development Services
This profile was prepared when Agatha Thapa was elected to the Ashoka Fellowship in 1989.
The New Idea
Young children need intelligent, supportive stimulation if they are not to fall behind even before first grade. Agatha has been developing practical ways for poor mothers and society to provide such stimulation, despite Nepal's financial inability to pay for any new preschool program of significant scale.Her initiative, "Entry Point," is a culturally adapted pre-preschool program for poor children aged one and a half to three years old. Almost entirely self-supporting financially, it requires the mothers of these young children to take responsibility by forming rotating teaching teams of three or four.Agatha's "Seto Gurans National Children Development Services Centre," which she founded and directs, provides each of the rotating teams of mothers with a box of prototype exercises, most designed by Agatha, and easily duplicated from commonly available wastes or agricultural by-products. During their rotation in charge of the center, the responsible group of mothers uses its set of materials to challenge and stimulate the children. When their turn is over, another group with another box takes over. Only the children of participating mothers can enroll.Agatha has demonstrated in a good many villages that her idea does work. She's now struggling to create adequate incentives to ensure the model's spread and long-term viability. In addition to the missionary work she and her colleagues will undertake, she envisions the child care centers for children aged 3 to 6, which she developed and spread earlier, giving admissions priority to Entry Point's local graduates.Agatha is also thinking of how to get the Forestry Department, banks, and others to recognize the contributions and capacity of the participating mothers by giving them priority access to their respective services. Agatha is also having to struggle with helping these child care centers gain new support now that the UN is withdrawing and the Nepali Government cannot step in.Agatha has also begun impacting the problems poor children face in the first grade, where most of them now fail. Her two preschool programs should help as they spread, but even so she feels that the materials used in first grade create unnecessary barriers for poor children. Agatha has begun creating new readers using familiar, and thus more readily absorbed, vocabulary and subject matter. She intends to weave into it useful topics, such as hygiene. She also is developing early childhood development field training picturebooks for illiterate mothers and a teacher training program for her pre-primary centers.