The importance of education cannot be passed up in any country. Education is the pillar of development. That is why education is development in a sense. As in other countries, the Nepal government has also prioritised education. Moreover, one of the Sustainable Development Goals (SGDs) is related to education. Education is mentioned in SDG 4, which aims at ensuring inclusive and equitable quality education and promoting life-long learning opportunities for all.
Before the dawn of democracy in 1951 in the country, the state of education was in the doldrums. During the Rana oligarchy, there were virtually no educational institutions for the general public although the first formal educational institution, Durbar High School, was established in 1853. But the school was meant for the children of Ranas and other elite families only. The general public was deprived of education for fear that they would revolt against the Ranas.
After democracy was restored by overthrowing the Rana oligarchy in 1951, the horizons of education extended to the public as well. During the period of 1952-54, there were around 10,000 students in 300 schools. At the time, the adult literacy rate stood at five per cent. Afterwards, the number of students and schools/colleges kept on going up. In 2010, there were 49,000 schools in the country. And the adult literacy rate reached 63.9 per cent. In 2021, the literacy rate shot up to 89.88 per cent in 2021. The country is aiming at 100 per cent literacy but the outbreak of COVID-19 has hampered the government’s efforts at attaining the goal.
Education in the country is highly commercialised. On the one hand, there are government/community schools, while on the other there are private schools. The fees are costly in private schools. They are competing among themselves to attract as many students as possible. They have better facilities than government/community schools have such as good classrooms, laboratories, well-equipped libraries, learning materials and research facilities. They also organise workshops and seminars as part of learning activities. However, some government/community schools are doing well now despite lack of funding and other resources.
The New Education Plan was introduced in the country in 1971. It is said that the quality of education deteriorated after the plan was adopted. There is no doubt that quality education should be imparted to students. These students supply the required manpower for development in the future. But the quality of education largely depends on the education policy of the government. The government has adopted an “education for all” policy focusing on educating people living in the rural areas. However, rural students flood into Kathmandu and other city areas to pursue higher education after completing SEE exams. This clearly shows that the rural areas are still backward in education.
The private education sector is contributing to enriching education. The government and policy makers should recognise their contributions. As the private sector cannot formulate education policy, it is the government that formulates such policy. Such policy needs to be revised keeping abreast of the times. In fact, the government and the private sector should act synergistically to revamp the education sector.
It is the unvarnished truth that many Nepali students prefer to go abroad to pursue higher studies. This is because the quality of education in the country is not up to the mark. In most cases, courses in foreign countries are based on research. They are designed in such a way as to enable students to develop problem-solving and analytical or critical thinking skills so that the current job industry requirements can be easily fulfilled. Most Nepali students do not come back to the country after completing their courses in foreign countries. This has given rise to the brain drain, which costs the country dear.
Nepali courses do not help promote research. Most students gain knowledge through model papers, old questions and answers and suchlike learning materials. Students have a tendency of pursuing degrees not for knowledge or skills but for certificates. Their main purpose is to land a good job. Most are disinclined towards taking up a job that is not compatible with their degrees. On the other hand, the job market is limited. Educated unemployment is a common feature. That is why there is a trend of migrating to foreign countries for employment.
The time has come to take stock of the overall education scenario as to why education has not improved as desired. In this regard, several factors may be identified. Political instability has not come to an end since the restoration of multiparty democracy. No government has survived a full term. Political turmoil coupled with bureaucracy has impacted the education sector to a great extent.
Education is not based on a practical learning approach. Students are not motivated to learn on their own through research and heuristics. Their main aim is to get certificates and find a job. So they lack self-confidence and required skills such as analytical skills or critical/lateral thinking skills.
The need of the hour is to improve the quality of education so as to the stop the exodus of students going abroad for higher studies. There are, however, some good omens on the horizon. The trend of Nepali universities being affiliated to renowned foreign universities is on the rise. Many students also want to pursue studies in such universities. Such universities can compete with both national and international universities. Students who get degrees from such universities will develop self-confidence because they are equipped with knowledge, experience and skills by working on a project or in the field and they are capable of coping with even complexities at the workplace.
After all, education is a Weltanschauung and the government should make enough investments in the education sector. Such investment is meant for producing skilled manpower for development. The government should also work hand in hand with the private sector to revamp and rejuvenate the education sector.
(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000. firstname.lastname@example.org)