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Ed: These are notes I took at the recently completed International Democratic Education Conference in Nepal.

I’m at the International Democratic Education Conference in Nepal. This is the 25th I’ve attended since we had our first meeting in 1993. Today is the first day of this IDEC. They expect over 400 attendees.


It wasn’t easy getting here. There were potential problems all along the route. The first leg was 15 hours from JFK in New York to Delhi, India. Unfortunately they scheduled me to leave on the next flight to Kathmandu, Nepal only an hour later. Then they told me I had to get my bag, recheck it, go through security again, etc. On my way to baggage, Air India intercepted me, told me my bag was taken care of, guided and carted me around the terminal, put me on a bus, and I somehow made it on the flight. I was sure the bag wouldn’t make it, but it did!


I visited the Sri Aurobindo Ashram/orphanage here seven years ago. The transformation to get ready for the IDEC is astounding. Among other things they have built a hotel on their 2/12 acre plot that will go on to serve tourists to give ongoing support for the orphanage. All this work was very expensive and a big gamble. But it is now a beautiful destination and jumping off point for touring and trekking in Nepal. The rooms are comfortable with individual bathrooms, stone paved walkways, a coffee shop, and spectacular views of the Himalayas. They hope you will consider coming here and tell everybody about this new destination. The income from the hotel will support the Ashram indefinitely.

They take care of 160 orphans here and over a hundred more at their two other sites. Nobody pays for the children. They grow almost all their own food. The students are involved in everything and they do it with a smile. Their graduates run one of their sites in the mountains for trekkers.


Vedananda is organizing the conference. He came here as a 4 year old. I met him as a 12 year old at AERO’s 2003 IDEC. He now has a master’s in math and physics from Germany and is principal of their school. He works with Ramchandra, the founder of the Ashram, who ran away from here to India as a 12 year old, educated himself there, and returned 20 years later to found the Ashram. He met his younger sister for the first time when she was twelve, and the two of them went to an apartment in Kathmandu and later bought this land on the outskirts to start the ashram.


So far I have seen people from Korea, Taiwan, England, Australia, USA, India, and Sri Lanka. They are transporting them from the airport over miles of rutted roads.

It’s now two days later and I’ve been so busy I haven’t had time to report on any of the amazing things going on here.


We now have teachers and students from many additional countries. These include Germany, Spain, Estonia, the Czech Republic, Hong Kong, Netherlands, Belgium, and South Africa, off the top of my head. In all there were 500 people from at least 30 countries.

I’m happy I arrived a little early because I was able to witness the students and staff at the Ashram frantically getting ready for the IDEC, which started yesterday. Among other things they were putting the final touches on the giant tent that houses the official IDEC meetings and keynotes. Last night it was full as they had the opening ceremony, which included a lot of ceremonies, introductions, and amazing traditional dancing by the students.

It’s clear that Vedananda has thought of everything and Ramchandra has transformed the 2 1/2 acre school campus to a beautiful destination. The most common comment about the Ashram from participants is “magical.”


The food has been terrific: vegetarian, mostly grown by them. Although they now have several major building here, every other square inch is dedicated to growing food for here. They also grow food on their other campuses in Terai and Gulmi.


They are also broadcasting some of the IDEC on the Internet. Derry Hannam in England e mailed that he saw my intro virtually. He couldn’t make it here. Yaacov Hecht couldn’t either, with the war going on there but he joined the opening by Zoom. Peter Gray made a Zoom presentation later.


The workshops are going on full swing. I saw some of the presentation of Charley Moreno on the democratic public school in Estonia.


I am going to list some of the other activities of today to give you a feel for the ways things unfold at this IDEC.


1.   At the morning IDEC meeting there were a lot of announcements of workshops to take place today. People also made other general statements, such as a plea for IDEC to make a statement opposing the UN Rights of the Child using the “right to compulsory education,” and changing or clarifying it to mean the right of every child or family to have education for their child. I announced that my workshop would be everywhere and people could stop me anywhere to tell me or ask me anything. People took me up on that. For example I helped one woman who was volunteering at a school she loved in India but wanted help to figure out how she could expand that and still be involved with her IT work, but she hated the corporate world that came with it. I give her some solid suggestions. Many people stopped me to ask if I could give them table tennis lessons.

2.    I went to the video documentary of the Estonian public democratic school.

3.   I went to a workshop about democratic process in one school.

When taking a group picture afterward I suggested:

“Don’t block the light. Let the light come to you!”

Maybe a profound and apt photographic observation? : )

4.   I talked to many people about their schools during meals.

5.   I talked to a woman who wants to host the IDEC I 2025 in Austria. She and I were the only people here from the first IDEC meeting in Hadera in 1993.

6.   I talked to more people I’ve sometimes known for decades from around the world, leading the promotion of learner-centered education in their countries.

7.   In the evening there was a powerful presentation by the students of various kinds of dance and music.

There was a lot more but I’ve run out of time to report it. Can’t keep my eyes open any more.


OK, day three of the IDEC continued with action and surprises. Maybe the biggest and most important was that the Minister of Education of Nepal accepted the invitation to attend and made a dramatic stop here at 4 PM. I was asked to be on a panel to welcome him and the whole IDEC went to the big tent. He sounded very supportive of democratic education and said he was here not to talk but to listen. This was a potentially big event and we all wondered what he might subsequently do to support democratic education in Nepal.

I participated in several other panels.


Every day in the evening there were impressive musical and dance performances by the students.


There were two student panels in which they made comments, took questions from the audience and then asked questions of them.


In my keynote I noted that I don’t believe in keynotes, that the talks of “experts” was antithetical to our approach. Instead I had a group of volunteer students brainstorm questions for which they were seeking answers. I called this a demonstration of Orgranic Curriculum. We then voted on which to discuss first. Some were very profound, such as “What happens after death?,” and “should children be able to decide their gender?”


On the final night we had an “IDEC meeting.” I put it in quotes because the IDEC is not an official organization, by original design. This was David Gribble’s idea, to prevent squabbling, exclusion, etc. It has generally worked well for 30 years. In the meeting we discussed a proposal asking the United Nations to change the wording giving the “right” to compulsory education. We had a presentation by the Taiwanese group about next year’s IDEC. And we had a heated discussion about where we might hold the 2025 IDEC.


On the last day I helped to run an auction to raise seed money for the Taiwan IDEC. Following that we had a beautiful closing ceremony with Nepalese dancing and singing, participant comments and final words from Ramchandra, founder of the Ashram/orphanage.


That evening a group of 200 left in seven buses for an expedition into the mountains. They call it the Himalayan IDEC. They are still there as I write this.


Overall it was a magical, wonderful, idea-filled IDEC which will go down as one of the best. 

Ramchandra, Ashram Founder


Jerry with Heather Yang from Taiwan which will host the next IDEC. They are with the symbolic IDEC guitar which is passed to each host.

Yaacov Hecht

Ramchandra's mother in gardens

Students playing Badminton

IDEC Meeting

Please send your comments and questions!

Note: In the next day or two we will have our regular e news. I wasn't able to send one when I was in Nepal. Then in a week our youth-led conference starts. Don't miss it! More info or register HERE

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