Arts and culturecan be an innovative approach for the youth to take action against climate change

Helen Silvester is the British Council’s Regional Director for South Asia, overseeing its mission to build connections, understanding and trust between people in the UK and in India, Pakistan, Bangladesh, Nepal and Sri Lanka.

She brings a wealth of senior leadership experience and passion to this position and is no stranger to the region having previously undertaken roles as Director West India and Deputy Regional Director South Asia.

Most recently she served as Regional Director for the Americas from 2020 to 2024, leading the British Council’s work across 13 countries in North and South America, and the Caribbean. Silvester has a strong interest and background in education. She started her career in the British Council as a university lecturer in the Czech Republic, moving into regional advisory roles and then to a position as Regional Director Education for Wider Europe from 2012 to 2017. There she led education strategy and programming across 15 countries in Eastern Europe. Before joining the British Council, she was a teacher in Portugal and teacher trainer in Thailand.

Silvester holds a Master’s Degree in Education with Distinction from the University of Leeds and an Honorary Fellowship from the University of Wolverhampton awarded for her contribution to education worldwide. Beyond her professional accomplishments, she enjoys an active lifestyle that reflects her vibrant personality and curiosity about different cultures. The HRM Nepal caught up with Silvester to learn British Council’s partnerships and collaboration in Nepal. Excerpts:

Q. What is the main purpose of your visit to Nepal?
A. I started my role as the Regional Director for South Asia in January but I’m not a stranger to the region. Previously, I’d served as the Deputy Regional Director some years back. Nepal is one of the five countries I cover in South Asia, together with India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka. This trip is part of my re-introduction to the region. It is also an excellent opportunity to meet our brilliant partners and stakeholders, spend some quality time with amazing colleagues in the country, and ensure our portfolio and work are aligned with the priorities of the Government of Nepal and supports the goals of the UK Mission here. Additionally, we want the Government of Nepal and our implementing partners and stakeholders to understand the value and complementarity we bring to the work of other development and implementing partners in supporting reforms and development in Nepal.

Q. What is the most exciting aspect for you in this region?
A. The work that I do in this region is really exciting. Because of the impact and scale. Across the region, we connect with 10,000 organisations and reach over 250 million people every year. We are seeing growing cooperation between the UK and people in the region – Nepal, India, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka.

Q. British Council has been in Nepal since 1959. How would you like to assess the cooperation with Nepal?
A. Since its establishment in 1959, the British Council in Nepal has been dedicated to promoting mutual understanding and opportunities between Nepal and the UK. British Council initially started just a reference room in Kathmandu and then evolved into a famous British library, which was closed in 2007 as we no longer have the resources. We are really pleased to have given all of the resources to the public library here. Now, we’ve a new offer particularly for young people, which is digital library that has 50,000 publications and new publications coming over the time. Across South Asia, we have 40,000 members.

Looking at its history, in the 1970s, British Council facilitated educational reforms, including the founding of a British type school (Budhanilkantha School) and the introduction of English courses at Tribhuvan University. The 1970s and ’80s focused on institutionalising English education and providing scholarships in various fields. Then 1990s saw the introduction of Cambridge A-Level programmes and initiatives to enhance English language teaching. The 2000s marked a shift towards more inclusive education co-operation and building on themes like climate change, along with significant support for teacher training. Recent projects, like the EU-funded Dakchyata skills development programme and the ADB/EU funded School Sector Development Plan, highlight our ongoing efforts in support of the Government of Nepal’s reforms in education and vocational training. At present, as we celebrate our 65 years in Nepal this year, we remain committed to strengthening further the connections between our two countries in the area of education, arts and culture and the English language, supporting the priorities of Nepal’s government, empowering youth and women; and enhancing skills.

Q. British Council has been supporting in skilling people, developing curricula, promoting SMEs and green economy along with core cooperation areas of education and culture. What are your priorities in Nepal?
A. The priorities at the moment are supporting the government on school system reform, particularly on teachers’ professional development, where we do have considerable expertise globally. Supporting the development of TVET (Technical and Vocational Education and Training), including green skills and the role of public-private partnership is our priority. Further, we are working on strengthening higher education partnerships, including Transnational Education and encouraging student mobility; providing access to English language teaching, learning and UK qualifications, at scale, through school system reform and opportunities for individuals to build skills for employment and unlock global opportunities.

In addition, engaging youth networks to develop skills and bringing their voices and ideas to tackle global challenges like the climate crisis have been given priority. The British Council surveys young people between the ages of 18 to 34 in the G20 countries every year. We ask their perception of other countries in the G20 and also what they consider the most important challenges in the world. And for the last few years, climate and sustainability is the talk everywhere across the G20. That’s why it is really important to listen to young people’s voices because they are the ones who are going to make a difference.

Moreover, we are providing inclusive education, particularly for girls and building connections in arts and culture that support open societies, enhance the creative economy and protect cultural heritage. That includes helping young creative entrepreneurs like we see at the ‘Youth and Climate 2024’ symposium in Kathmandu, to build skills to develop sustainable businesses

Q. The entrepreneurs who participated in the symposium were mainly startups and they also exhibited their products. After witnessing that, how do you think could Nepal promote startups by adopting environment friendly production techniques? Also, how can they be upscaled and made commercially viable in your opinion?
A. The work that we are doing in the Creative Green Economy focuses on the quintuple bottom line, putting the planet, people, place, profit and purpose at the centre.

I am not a climate expert, but I am told that, it is essential that local knowledge and resources are emphasised, and policies are created to support smaller-scale businesses that manage production with a minimal carbon footprint.

Policies should encourage businesses to put the planet at the centre of their production chain and to research and explore greener alternatives within their practices. It is also important that these businesses are promoted locally and internationally, which could reap commercial benefits for the producers.

Through our ‘In Our Hands’ programme, we have developed tools and resources that can help entrepreneurs think about sustainability within the scope of their businesses, such as The British Council Crafts Toolkit and resources around the circular economy and the quintuple bottom-line.

Our partners in the UK and Nepal have been working closely with entrepreneurs as mentors and will continue to do so to help them upscale and bring their products and services to the market. Some of our partners include Edinburgh Napier University, Applied Arts Scotland, Kathmandu University, Nepal Art Village and Story Cycle.

Q. Considering the manifold impacts of climate change, how can it be integrated into education and culture to minimise impact, intensify preparedness, and initiate adaptation and mitigation techniques?
A. Education and culture can play a major role in minimising the impact of climate change by creating awareness of its impact and supporting adaptation and mitigation techniques. This is even more important in the context of involving young people in climate discussions and actions. Although young people are most affected by climate change, their representation at the policy-making level is limited in Nepal. This situation calls for more capacity, networks and resources for young people. Integrating climate issues into education and culture can provide young people with the capacity and voice for climate action.

Climate can be integrated into both formal and non-formal education curricula. Various countries have integrated climate as a theme in various subjects, highlighting its scientific, social and economic aspects. Climate education can engage with strong local and indigenous knowledge and promote solution- and action-focused programmes. Similarly, arts and culture can be an innovative approach for youth to take action against climate change.

The British Council is working towards addressing climate change through education, English, and arts and culture, which are our core work. We believe that climate issues should be addressed through multiple facets and education, English, and arts and culture have a prominent role to play.

Q. How are you planning to reach out to a larger number of people across the country, as there is demand for credible English language learning opportunities?
A. In terms of English programmes, our vision is to support the Government of Nepal’s plans to improve the quality of English education by establishing high-quality education systems for the teaching, learning and assessment of English. It is critical to understand the challenges and opportunities in this area and the role English can play in developing the human capital needed to achieve the Government of Nepal’s ambition to graduate to Middle-Income Country status by 2030. Last year, the British Council and the Government of Nepal jointly conducted research to identify the continuing professional development (CPD) needs of teacher educators in Nepal. Based on the research, this year, we are supporting the government in developing a comprehensive CPD framework, which will be used to upskill all teacher educators across the country. With the CPD for teacher educators in Nepal being mainstreamed, thousands of teacher educators will enhance their skills, leading to quality teacher training and quality teaching of English in classrooms.

Through our Teaching English Programmes (internally known as English Connects), this financial year, we are providing professional development opportunities to more than 100,000 English language teaching professionals and practitioners to upskill their teaching skills. This is our technology-enabled, open-access programme available to individual teachers and teacher educators of English.

Q. Are you satisfied with the results delivered by your team in South Asia and Nepal?
A. Absolutely, we have a very talented team who work extremely hard to deliver impactful work. For examples, we deliver tens of thousands of examinations across Nepal; directly train over 1,650 teachers and 40 teacher educators in English proficiency, pedagogy and core skills. Our trained teachers will benefit over 150,000 children. Thanks to our interventions, over 100,000 English teachers and teacher educators can access professional development webinars/resources across all seven provinces in Nepal.

We support over 4,500 school leaders on school leadership and teachers’ professional development and the development of multilingual and inclusive education policy standards for all 753 local municipalities.

We have developed skills of over 200 youth entrepreneurs, engaged with over 10,000 students, 500 young women and queer individuals, 100 educators, academic institutions, cultural organisations and universities to increase active participation in civic discussions and stimulate actions to respond to global challenges, including gender inequality and climate change.

Through the Girls Empowerment Mainstreaming Sustainably (GEMS) project, co-created and delivered with VSO Nepal, we have established 32 school clubs in community learning centres to improve the English, digital literacy and life skills of 459 girls, and increased health awareness among over 23,000 women and girls in marginalised communities across two out of seven provinces of Nepal.

That means thousands of young Nepali people can access and benefit from the world-class qualifications we deliver on behalf of UK awarding bodies. Youth, especially young women and girls in Nepal, have the skills and confidence to understand their rights, pursue their education and engage in the issues that matter most to them to influence policy development on Sustainable Development Goals. This enhances the social mobility and economic prosperity of young people and, in return, contributes to the development of the entire country.

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