During the Covid -9 pandemic, schools were closed in Nepal. Then, I retired from my job. I was free and spent days in my house without doing any significant task. A young girl in my neighbourhood was studying in class 10 in a general community school. I wanted to teach her English to make use of my leisure time. It inspired me to learn about schools and school education in Nepal.
My curiosity led me to have knowledge about three kinds of schools: general, traditional, and technical and vocational, their classification into community schools and institutional schools on the basis of funding, and the classes running from class 1 to class 12. School level includes three levels- pre-primary level, basic level and secondary level. Pre-primary level is joined by children over four and below five years of age with an objective to get habituated to go to school and interact with friends. The basic level stretches from class 1 to 8. The secondary level runs from class 9 to 12. Basic level is divided into primary level and lower secondary level.
The primary level includes from class 1 to class 3 in one group and from class 4 to class 5 in another group. The first group offers four subjects; Nepali, English, Math, and Social study (our surroundings). The second group includes classes 4 and 5. In class 4 six subjects such as Nepali, English, Math, Science and Technology, Social Study and Humanity Education, and Health, Physical and Creative Art are offered. However, in class five only five subjects such as Nepali, English, Math, Science, Health and Physical Education are prescribed. In both classes students can take mother tongue or nonlocal subjects as optional papers.
Nine subjects such as Nepali, English, Math, Science and Environment, Social Study and Population Education, Occupation, Entrepreneurship and Technological Education, Moral Lesson and Computer are taught in from class 6 to 8. Secondary level spans from class 9 to 12, but it is divided into secondary and higher secondary levels. The first level comprises class 9 and 10 and five compulsory subjects such as Nepali, English, Math, Science, and Technology and Social Study are taught in them. In addition, two other optional courses are offered. The second level comprises classes 11 and 12. Nepali, English and Social Studies in class 11, and Nepali, English and Life Skill in class 12 are taught as compulsory subjects. Students should choose three optional subjects out of the four groups of the subjects given. In addition, they can choose one more optional paper, too.
Then I looked at the objectives of primary level education and secondary level education. The school curriculum has designed courses for each level with an objective to develop four skills; listening, speaking, reading and writing. The curriculum aims at, by the end of grade three, making students able to demonstrate an understanding of simple spoken language, respond in simple English with intelligible pronunciation, use English for communication inside and outside the classroom, read simple texts for understanding and pleasure, express opinions, ideas and feelings using simple English and work with peers to learn language together, and by the end of class 12 developing the competencies in the learners to use both spoken and written English for general and academic purposes.
They should do this in a variety of personal, social and academic contexts, read a wide variety of texts for information and understanding, read a variety of literary texts for pleasure and appreciation, read, reflect and interpret a wide range of texts, critically analyze and evaluate ideas in a wide range of level of the appropriate texts, search, select and manage information from various textual and online sources, create a variety of writing for different purposes and audiences with appropriate content, style and accuracy, produce a variety of creative and critical writings, appreciate diverse cultures, listen and respond in English with accuracy and fluency, and communicate clearly and effectively in a range of situations using verbal and non-verbal communication strategies. One day, I asked her to come to me with the English textbook. She felt uneasy and quite reluctant to come fearing that her weakness would be exposed. However, I insisted on her, and she came.
First, I asked her to read the first lesson of the English text book, but she was unable to read disyllabic words. Then, I asked her to write down on her copy the sentences I read out to her. She couldn’t write them. She was not fit for class 3 if viewed on the basis of the goal set for the primary level as mentioned above. When I asked her if there were any other students like her in the performance, she told me that her roll number was 9 among 22 students in the class. I was dead sure that she would not pass the examination, but to my surprise she got through. Now, she is in class 11.
Then, it raised several questions in my mind. How could she pass class 9 and got admission in class 10 ? Again, how did she pass class 10 and get admission in class 11 ? What and how did the teachers teach her? Did the teachers who taught her from primary level to secondary level ever teach her in English medium in the classroom as per the instruction of the curriculum ? Did they ever read the teachers’ guide provided by the Curriculum Development Centre, Sanothimi? Did they apply methods of teaching they had learned in the campus when they were students? Were they qualified for the job in a real sense?
A few English teachers tell me that they teach English in the Nepali medium as students are unable to understand English. They do not fail the students because it is against the trend of education, and pass all of them whoever attends the class. If this is a trend, then she may also pass class 12. But what is the use of the certificate if she cannot get a job in a competitive market? Her middle-aged widow is illiterate and poor. She is supporting her working as a labourer. She does not know about her competence, and is ignorant about the fact that she cannot get a job in a competitive market after the completion of her education provided that she does not improve her proficiency and efficiency. She has cherished a hope that her daughter will get a job after passing class 12, and that her days of suffering will be over. Who is responsible if the dream of a poor widow is shattered and the fate of a young girl is sealed after 12 years of investment due to the low quality education?
(The author is a retired professor of linguistics of Tribhuvan University.