Dev Raj Dahal
A nation’s civic life is marked by the quality of education. An educated workforce makes a nation more innovative and successful in achieving overall progress and adapting to global transformation underway where intercultural interface is fertilising ideas about elevating good life. High-quality education awakens Nepalis to know their intrinsic values. It enables them to make meaningful choice for a rewarding life in consistent with their rational nature, see judgmental ability, participate in making provisions and production of public good and reduce the burden of life.
The rise of civilisation is credited not only to the stock of knowledge it holds but its prudential use in society, economy and the state and the system for its transmission across generations to enable them to become master of their own destiny. This is why the lineage of sages of Nepal, the seekers of truth, reconciled great heritage of rational thought with wisdom in its educational ideals, simplified the curricula in dialogical story, song, mantra and poetic forms and spread awareness for their civility and cosmopolitanism.
Knowledge was socially constructed and mediated by experience. It helped Nepalis for long to substitute instinct by decency and justice in their behaviour, beat the corruption of power and its spiral and keep a just civic order. Its power of critique of the governing structures eased life’s huge promise, know issues, use tools to enrich society’s welfare level across diverse spaces and solve its interrelated problems arising out of social diversity and complex geopolitics. As the scholarly scorn for manual work thinned, the use of knowledge for work is reshaping Nepal’s new ethics.
Investing in education implies financing the nation’s secure future. Education is a public good like security, rule, health, nature and culture whose gains can be shared by all Nepalis. This year’s budget outlay for this sector is 10.69 per cent which is woefully deficient to shore up teachers’ training, student subsidy and scholarship, library and research lab update, extracurricular activities, solution-oriented research, publication of journals, etc. crucial to fortify human capital and recreate shared prosperity and good governance. A fairer society envisaged by the Constitution of Nepal requires equality of opportunity for citizens in education, health, income and lifespan. A greater level of economic justice means improving the quality of education in its three-pillar edifice and policy - public, private and trust-based - that fit well with what Joseph Stiglitz calls “their talents, needs and desires” that maintain social contract. He adds that the structure of education must match the modern advances in technology and artificial intelligence for national renewal, economic ascent and new frontiers of inquiry.
In Nepal, it is difficult for the poor citizens to match the call of modernity. Likewise, younger citizens are burdened with debt, unemployment and jarring socialisation by political parties, interest groups and media unable to catch up the changing didactic spirit by linking research output to teaching and praxis. Private education alone cannot help the unhappy poor for a settled life in a marketised world and acquire critical resource in times of scarcity if the public and trust based educational institutions do not spur an ability to compete with elite private schools, colleges, and universities. It requires a shift in the balance of power from the commercial world to democratic polity, especially in favour of the marginalised and increasing the access of remote and backward areas to quality education.
As a public good, education requires enormous public support from tax. The SDGs vision of “no one is left behind" captures its thematic values for breadth and depth in Nepali Constitution’s right to education and Education for All. By now Free and Compulsory Education Act is enacted while drafts of Higher Education Act and Technical Education Act are ready for parliamentary approval. The Higher Education Act seeks a coherence of all universities and aims to offer competitive opportunity for study and research and uplift the nation’s educational and academic standards by turning it dignified, qualitative and outcome-oriented. These are pivotal elements to beef up the nation’s academic milieu, technical and vocational scale and its competitive edge as a cradle of Hindu-Buddhist civilisation.
The only question is how they are properly executed and whether leadership has political will to overcome the obstacles emerging from pressure tactics of new class of nomenclature of functionaries enjoying privileges, vested interests and partisan unions of teachers, students and civil servants gripped by their members’ selfish loyalty and insular interests. Educational mafia tends to throttle reforms meant to improve quality and thus the return from educational investment of the state.
Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli has recently detested those who are engaged in perpetual political strikes and agitations through their unions rather than serve their duties to improve educational quality, not impeded by unfairness of the domination of mediocrity that penalises the talented, non-partisan ones and kills the self-esteem of honest. The crippling performance of education sector is a sign of its declining outputs who are neither fit for farm, nor industry not even leadership ability in the politics of policy making.
In an effort to democratise, Nepal’s education up to grade 10 is made free and the nation promises to scale it up to 12 with standardised curriculum. It is in this phase, cultivation of social and emotional ability and stability is vital to whet civic virtues thus cutting the wild manifestation of human nature. It thus shapes habits, character, culture and practices essential to liberate self from the fetters of fate, archaic tradition, prejudice and tutelage. Rousseau’s negative education aims to erase these traits enabling students to find a milieu and resource to grow compassion, judgment, sentiment, feeling and understanding, grow mature, acquire conscience, social spirits, creativity and happiness for the rest of life. They bear positive results for building national character and soul a rational force to express opinions and patriotism.
Nepal’s intellectual history combined practical experience and wisdom to enable its educators, leaders, businesspersons, civil society and citizens experience freedom, make ends meet and sustain business and initiatives without terribly consuming the nature that feeds on life’s essence. Education helps to define the worldview and seeks desirable social change. Knowledge mediated by experience make one not repeat the faults and steer the right course. The fading of this Nepali tradition has marked the rise of borrowed knowledge, laws and policies in every aspect of life. The ceaseless deflation of native tradition and its domination by disciplinary social sciences to fit division of labour and specialisation of societal functions have left with cognitive dependence, the colonisation of mind and body. Meritocratic, indigenisation of universal values and inclusive educational system can provide high social mobility where dynamic sectors lead the laggard ones.
Educated manpower is not a commodity to be sold and bought in the uphill curve of the consumer market. The research institutes of public universities need to be revitalised to serve as think tanks as they are distinct from business think tanks and donor-driven institutes standing for the interests of their funders and supply fewer pertinent inputs to national public policy. In a socially diverse nation like Nepal contextuality, inclusivity and equality in education can create a possibility for transformative advance through the use of applied science and humanities.
Knowledge fuels courage to speak truth. Modern knowledge system, however, inverted Nepal’s ancient tradition of freedom unhindered by social, economic and political system and other causal determinism and yielded it to calculating nature crucial for the control of citizens, not their participation in the production of knowledge, policies and public goods. Mechanical learning, not distilled by contextual and practical wisdom, streams no view of rational progress. Therefore, cross-cultural fertilisation of knowledge and collaboration with the advanced parts of the world are keys for improving the methodological rigor and scientific inquiry without losing native sense of care, compassion and mindfulness.
A creative life flourishes with learning about changing ecology, family, community, society and international relations where culture, economy, media and technology play central roles in fostering justice. Nepal’s problems in managing educational institutions properly, modelling of private schools along economic models to fit market needs, not justice, and excessive partisanisation of entire educational edifice have muffled the ability of state to get the talented manpower vital for national progress.
Remedies lay in inviting Nepali diaspora to national knowledge system, providing talented ones incentive to stay in the nation, mobilising engaged citizens to control and clip power’s propensity to split spoils and siphon off public budget to patronage politics and engaging the returnee experts and labour from international job market and learning from their income generating skills to life local society. Autonomy of educational institutions and fair recruitment of authorities can contribute to reform initiatives, acts and policies, bring the system on track, orient the authorities to duties and balance intellectual culture and vocational education to leap Nepal forward from its cloistered condition.
(Former Reader at the Department of Political Science, TU, Dahal writes on political and social issues)
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