University of Minnesota
At top: 
Aaron Doering and Charles Miller help several new friends with road work.

Live from Nepal: Faces of climate change

An unusual pair of professors give ninth-grade geography students a first-hand look at life on the other side of the world.

May 19, 2014

When the 9th-graders in Chris Ripken’s human geography class walked in one morning, they learned about Nepal. But nobody opened a textbook.

Instead, they talked, via Skype, with two University of Minnesota professors in Kathmandu.

Gazing into the classroom in Centennial High School, Circle Pines, Minnesota, professors Aaron Doering and Charles Miller described a harrowing drive on a guardrail-less road overlooking sheer cliffs, 70-degree warmth turning to violent storms, and a country whose inhabitants made them feel completely welcome and safe.

Nepal is one of the least developed countries, and it stands to suffer some of the worst consequences of climate change. Yet projects by people at the local—not national or international—level, have done the most to advance education and quality of life in Nepal, and will figure prominently in the country’s adaptation to climate change. One project brought wireless Internet to the village of Nangi, just outside Kathmandu, so children could be educated and learn how to adapt to the changing world without leaving their home country.

This is the kind of thinking Doering and Miller want to share, and encourage, with American students, who will also have to find ways to deal with environmental upheaval.

“Bringing the world to classrooms in real time is a big motivator,” says Doering, who, like Miller, is an associate professor in the Department of Curriculum and Instruction. “Students may have no appreciation for culture, environment, etc. Now they can see and hear it and talk to students and teachers in other classrooms about the world.”

“In the United States, we project our lives onto what we think theirs are,” said Miller during the Skype session. “Aaron asked a woman, ‘What challenges do you have?’ and she said, ‘I have no challenges.’ She was happy.”

The woman, the travelers said, lives like most other rural Nepalis: in a small house with no modern conveniences. Everyone in the village has to do everything for themselves: farm, make clothes, build and repair roads—everything.

Doering and Miller’s two-week trip to Nepal, which ended May 8, is the latest in a series of adventure learning projects under the umbrella of Earthducation, funded by the U’s Institute on the Environment. The trip was the sixth of seven Doering and colleagues are undertaking to bring remote areas of the world into classrooms of the Western World.

It’s all, he says, “to build a tapestry of voices around climate change.”

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