Education is not just something you get in the classroom and it alone cannot define who and what you can be...
I am aghast at and completely overwhelmed by tragedy at seeing Nepali students ending their lives on account of not making it through the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) exams. A spate of reports on recent events showed that a student from Kaparkhori village in eastern Chitwan committed suicide after learning that he had failed the SLC. This story was identical to the case of another student in Parsa who hanged herself after learning that she hadn’t passed the exams. In despair, seeing no refuge and no means of escape, the examination results pushed young persons to end their lives. This is madness. It is tragic in the ways that a tragedy can be. But it also raises the issue of what constitutes an academic qualification in Nepal’s national consciousness.
With this year’s passing percentage at 41.57 percent, the plummeting figure of successful examinees provides a glimpse into the government’s investment in education. What do you expect from the many government-run schools with scarce libraries and books? From the ever intensifying street bandas and regular demonstrations that put daily life on hold and rob every Nepali student of knowledge? From poorly facilitated teaching methods that reduce students to mere memorisation of science definitions? And from a government that lauds itself on empty undertaking to improve the quality of education?
While at this, there are private higher secondary schools and colleges with western-sounding names boasting of better educational facilities. The Higher Secondary Education Board estimates that there are around 250 schools and colleges in Nepal that label themselves as foreign-sounding institutions to increase student enrollment. But this is mockery. I myself was a victim of such a farce as I attended an educational fair in Bhrikuti Mandap when an ‘international’ college named after America’s NASA space agency ended up not offering a space cadet course. That killed my dream of becoming an astronaut. I was deliberately taken in by the misleading name. More so, how ambiguous can it be to name an institution a ‘college university’ when both terms contradict each other? Worst of all are the tags of the words ‘global’ or ‘international’ without any worldwide affiliation, which mislead you even more.
From where I stand, I see the need for Nepal’s education to enlarge its coverage and deepen its quality. If there’s one thing that will bring Nepalis out of the rut of poverty, it is education. Good for those who can afford private institutions. However, in service of the exorbitant fees that they collect from students, private schools must fulfill their obligation to promote equality, fairness and provide opportunities to young people to engage in meaningful skill-enhancing activities. Private schooled students deserve that. More so, they deserve to be taught how to speak in correct English.
Filling Nepal’s education gaps are overseas institutions. Those who have lost faith in the system, government or private, invest in the possibility of enrolling abroad. Here, education-consulting agencies hunt students like vultures and assure them of expediting their enrollment in the United Kingdom, the US and other countries. A chance to pursue their dreams in metropolitan cities, far from polluted Kathmandu. As their families sell lands to finance their foreign education, some of them end up in jail or are deported back home because of the failure of education-consulting agencies to conduct standard briefing to prospective students on what the requirements are prior to studying abroad.
Just this month, three Nepalis were arrested in the Philippines for failing to obtain immigration stamps upon arrival. They were Nepali students enrolled in Southwestern University in Cebu City who claimed that no one told them to clear this with immigration—a sad excuse for violating the law. Were these not part of the ‘briefing’ that education-consulting agencies need to do? My heart bled for them. Sadly, for the three Nepalis, they were sold a big lie. It is insulting to students in general.
But let’s ask ourselves, why stick to formal education to educate this country? With the technological revolution, the possibilities presented by the computer and the Internet are boundless. All you need to do is provide access to them and technology will spread learning much faster than classrooms are capable of. Defying conventions, learning from the web has become a global language that most of us use with ease. If the government can make these available to everyone, they can get rid of textbooks and schoolbags that cost months of bread for the poor.
Truly, the problems in Nepal’s education are huge and the challenges are daunting. The percentage of students not passing in SLC exams in this country is frightening, and the longer this issue persists, so will the mortality rate associated with failing the SLC. But though daunting, lifting the bar on education in this country is not hopeless. The government does not need to foot the bill for all this. That’s where partnership comes in, from private institutions and innovative ideas that challenge the ordinary.
We do have some pretty bright rays of light on the horizon today that are making ripples in the local community. Bimala Kc lives in Liwang, the headquarters of Rolpa district. She has a small tailoring shop. A seventh grade dropout, her dressmaking skills allow her to earn at least Rs 9,000 a month to sustain her living. She arms herself with a rudimentary knowledge in mathematics to manage her business. Much so, by doing this, she is living beyond Nepal’s average income. Bimala lives an exemplary life by refusing to be defined by the labels of education. She soared above that label and rose beyond that definition. Bimala has done it, and so can the thousands of Nepali youth, for no other reason than that it is the right thing to do.
In many ways, I grieve for those who ended their lives due to the tragic SLC results. In the end, your education will free you from the clutches of poverty, indifference, smugness and mediocrity; but education is not something you get in the classroom alone. More so, your education does not define who and what you can be in life.
Posted on: Kathmandu Post