Hillary school attains Himalayan heights

Khumjung Secondary School established by Edmund Hillary sees a 100% SEE pass rate

A classroom at Khumjung Secondary School in Solukhumbu.

Khumjung Secondary School became the the top-performing school in Solukhumbu district last week in the 2024 Secondary Education Examination (SEE), achieving a 100% pass rate with exceptionally high personal scores. 

Khumjung’s 27 students, comprising 15 girls and 12 boys, had two pupils scoring A+, 12 scoring A, 11 scoring B+, and two scoring a B. Khamsu Wongdu Sherpa’s A+ score of 3.9 Grade Point Average (GPA) was the highest for a boy in the district.

Solukhumbu topped the 14 districts of Kosi Province with a pass rate of 87%. Nationwide, 47.86% of students who took the SEE in 2024 passed the examinations. 

Khumjung Secondary School NT
Khumjung Secondary School achieved a 100% pass rate to become the the top-performing school in Solukhumbu district in the 2024 SEE.
Khumjung Secondary School NT
Teachers attend a school based training programme at a computer lab.

Much credit for the results have gone to former Headmaster Ngawang Dorjee Rai, and the new incumbent, Kancha Nuru Sherpa and his team. Unlike other community schools in Nepal, the students of Khumbu Pasang Lhamu Rural Municipality take the exams in English.

“We are very proud of our exemplary Quality Educational Programme, which is supported by the New Zealand Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade,” said Alexander Hillary, grandson of Edmund Hillary who runs Himalayan Trust in New Zealand that supports the school. “We aspire for the best, we listen to what is needed, we discuss with local leaders, and we rigorously monitor and evaluate in order to get the best results.”

It would have been the great grandfathers of today’s high-achieving Khumjung students who long ago answered Edmund Hillary’s request of what he could do to help the Sherpas. Their answer was: “Our children have eyes but they cannot see. We would like you to open their eyes by building a school in our village.”

Khumjung Secondary School NT
Edmund Hillary, his family, and friends took a hands-on approach to the school's construction.

Last year during the Everest 70th Anniversary celebrations, pupils of Khumjung Secondary School took time out from their study schedule to welcome local dignitaries. Thronging their sprawling school compound in the Everest region were descendants of Edmund Hillary and Tenzing Norgay, who together first scaled the world’s highest mountain in 1953. Also attending was former New Zealand prime minister, former head of UNDP and patron of Himalayan Trust, Helen Clark.

“I am so impressed by the wonderful results in national examinations by Solukhumbu students,” Clark said this week. “I am pleased that the Himalayan Trust has long supported schools in the region so that young people can develop to their full potential.”

The Khumjung School started as a two-room ‘schoolhouse in the clouds’ -- the very first classroom in the Khumbu Edmund Hillary built with his own hands, with family and friends in 1961. Reimagined as a New Zealand-designed Visitor Centre, the modest tin building’s colourful displays feature the legacy of the Sherpas and the history of Mt Everest.

Khumjung Secondary School NT
The aluminium building of the school built in 1961 and the school today (below).
Khumjung Secondary School NT

The Himalayan Trust supports 108 schools in five rural municipalities of Solukhumbu with resources and equipment, training and salary support for teachers and scholarships for students to pursue higher studies.

Pasang Dawa Sherpa, Chair of Himalayan Trust Nepal says: “We are delighted that Sir Ed’s humble beginnings have reached such impressive heights. Our schools can easily match the standard of Kathmandu-based schools with their overall achievements.”

In Chaurikharka below Lukla, the Mahendra Jyoti Secondary School came second after Khumjung. Of their 52 pupils, 12 passed with an A grade, 36 with B+, and four with B. 

Khumjung Secondary School NT
The first batch of students ofKhumju Secondary School.

Deputy Mayor Tashi Lhamu Sherpa says: “We are so pleased with these overall results. High standards of education give our people options for their future.” 

With the support of the New Zealand-based EduTech Nepal, 43 computer labs have been set up in Solukhumbu schools, integrating technology with teaching and learning. Says founder Mike Chisholm: “The EduTech mission is to transform education with technology. We are thrilled with the recent SEE results, particularly the encouraging marks for ICT and computer courses.”

The Himalayan Trust is the Nepali NGO that implements these projects, navigating within the national school system. Although aware of its limitations, flaws and curriculum controversies, the accomplishments of Solukhumbu students are being recognised whilst hoping for reform and future improvements.

Khumjung Secondary School NT
Peter Hillary and his son Alexander Hillary are Chairman and CEO of Himalayan Trust New Zealand, raising funds for Nepal including from the NZ government. Photo LISA CHOEGYAL

Besides the ones in Khumjung and Chaurikharka, Himalayan Trust has built 42 schools in Solukhumbu including in Kharikhola, Nunthala, Junbesi, Loding, Bhakanje, and Thame. It has also supported the establishment of Solukhumbu Multiple Campus, says Mingma Norbu Sherpa, CEO of Himalayan Trust Nepal.

Nepal’s first female warden conservation officer Sushma Rana Magar manages Sagarmatha National Park from her headquarters above Namche, and says: “I hope pupils will study conservation, I would love to see more Sherpas becoming wardens and district forest officers in future.”

In a very different world today, and education has given Sherpas options and confidence to lead in many fields beyond mountaineering and trekking. Graduates have excelled as teachers, nurses, doctors, dentists, physiotherapists, hoteliers, engineers, scientists, singers, and professors. They serve as government ministers, ambassadors, honorary consuls and political leaders. Sherpas own airlines, operate helicopters and fly jets. 

Says Edmund Hillary’s son Peter: “My father’s vision was to deliver a strong education program to the Everest region of Nepal and secure a brighter future for as many children and young people as possible. I think he would be immensely pleased with these results, as are we.’ 

Lisa Choegyal