There can be little doubt that collectively Nepali society has failed to enlarge the meaning, scope, function, and purpose of education and update it to a new reference in a way that is appropriate, suitable, and sustainable with the socio-economic realities of a highly globalized 21st century world and the changing mindset of people. Because of this collective failure, we don’t have a clear and unified frame of reference regarding the purpose, scope, and function of education that provides the foundation for educational planning, research, student development, pedagogical practices, progressive evaluation of students, problem-solving decisions, and new policies.
Stakeholders–from the government to state mechanisms, university professors, entrepreneurs, educational experts, industrialists, professionals, private educational institutions, donor partners, and international agencies, educators, parents, and students involved in the education system–have their own mutually exclusive assumptions, concerns, issues, and expectations regarding the scope, function, limitations, and purpose of education. Hence, the whimsical plans and decisions, political intrusions, the negative role of student unions, poor quality, cheating, favoritism, strikes, outdated methods of teaching and learning, student dropout and decline, and systemic negligence that plague our education system are superficial expressions of this underlying problem.
From the perspective of the government, for Nepal, as a multi-ethnic, multi-lingual, and socialist/welfare-oriented state, education is a public good that is supposed to be free, inclusive, nationalist, egalitarian, right-based, localized, and can’t be excluded or differentiated among Nepali people based on their social-economic status, ethnicity, or linguistic background. Based on these assumptions, the government develops educational policies, plans, and practices. But in reality, putting lofty ideals aside, most of the public schools are simply dysfunctional and below par, like any other government-owned enterprises.
On the other hand, there is a huge private investment in the education sector in Nepal. From the perspective of private educational institutions, in a competitive market education is a consumer product, and if students and parents are willing to pay more for the education they provide based on quality, consumer satisfaction, cost-benefit analysis, higher perceived value, and investment return, there is nothing wrong with making education exclusive and specific for target customers. And, in most cases, effective, outcome-based, and quality education is provided by private educational institutions compared to public schools. As a result, we have the public and private sectors involved in the education system looking at each other from different perspectives and operating at different levels of efficiency.
Moreover, much-hyped terms in Nepali education these days–such as professional skills, a student-friendly environment, authentic pedagogy, technological integration, inclusiveness, creativity, multiple intelligences, early child development, and research-based learning–become utterly trivial when we recognize the fact that our education system is part of a society where education simply means rote learning, following the instructions of educators, passing the exams, getting excellent grades, parents showing off mark sheets of little children and bragging about their entrance into some reputed school on social networking sites, and where negative labeling of students is both rampant and justified.
Furthermore, the education system in Nepal operates with the presumption that understanding concepts, methods, and theories through textual study, interpretation, and analysis is the main purpose and scope of education. Hence, in our education system, students first grasp different sets of knowledge, concepts, methods, and theories prescribed in course content. Later on, the students are evaluated according to their ability to recall, duplicate, or resemble the selected body of information and patterns derived from the synthesis of the existing body of knowledge. In this process of evaluation, those students who are incompetent to meet the academic standards of knowledge duplication, recall, and resemblance are considered failure, or weak or useless. If knowing is the only purpose of education, then surely our students know more concepts and theories than those at foreign universities.
Here, it is important for all the stakeholders of the Nepali education system, rather than condemning and framing weak, low-grade students and students with learning difficulties as riders of ride-sharing apps, to critically ask themselves why the Nepali education system has failed to develop its exceptional and high-ranked students into problem solvers, system thinkers, and entrepreneurs competent enough to start business ventures with creative and innovative ideas like Uber, PayPal, Lyft, Netflix or Pathao.
Beyond understanding concepts and developing knowledge-based skills, most of our students don’t know how to experiment, and solve problems using different instruments, objects, items, and systems. Likewise, rather than engaging with the complexities of emerging socio-economic issues, technological possibilities, and dynamic market realities, to explore business and investment potential, most of our students prefer secure, structured, and systemic employment opportunities.
As a result, even after so many workshops, faculty development, student exchange programs, and collaborations to enhance institutional competencies of educational institutions and to develop Nepali students into entrepreneurs, system developers, and problem solvers by local authorities, international agencies, donor partners, and foreign universities, the outcomes of such initiations and programs have also been mostly limited to the exchange of ideas, prototype developments, whole lots of debates, seminars, and discussions, another phase of the project, and vacation visiting packages.
This is because, in Nepal, we have limited the scope of education within the narrow frame of academia, schooling, educators, professors, lecturing, learning, exams, grades, degrees, and classroom activities. Whereas, in reality, education as a social system needs to interact, assimilate, and collaborate with multiple possibilities, different alternatives, stakeholders, social challenges, global dynamics, and emerging market realities to find its meaning, relevance, purpose, and significance. Besides, it is possible to become educated through skill mastery, determination, experience, apprenticeship, mentorship, collaborative and self-learning.
As a result, even after so many debates, discourses, policy reforms, and international and local efforts to make Nepal’s education system more progressive, holistic, disability-friendly, inclusive, non-formal, creative, flexible, skilled-based, practice-oriented, and liberal, nothing substantial has changed. Unless education in Nepali society shifts to new criteria or finds a new frame of reference, the same old expectations, evaluations, approaches, ideals, problems, and mindsets will continue.
Gaurav Ojha is a writer, researcher and educator at different institutions. He can be reached at [email protected].
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