SOCIAL scientists classify Nepalese society in many different ways to analyse how it responds to the forces of modernisation. The emphasis on caste and class categories and the rural-urban distinction often blinds us to the sharp divisions inherent in the education system, otherwise supposed to act as an egalitarian force.
Our education system has many kinds of schools and colleges. A few occupy national space while others function as provincial institutions. The former carry the label ‘private’ and the latter are associated with the government. The difference between the two is stark, both financially and in terms of functional standards. It would be strange if the differential treatment they receive did not have significant social outcomes.
On the face of it, both follow the usual procedures for conducting public examinations, and the mark they allot students have pan-Nepalese validity. From a purely administrative point of view, it would seem that schools being divided between private and public is merely a matter of managing education in a small country like Nepal. The real story is different. The two systems represent two Nepals that live together yet separately.
We can begin to understand the difference between Nepal No. 1 and 2 by looking at this year’s class ten results announced recently. There is a huge contrast in the pass percentage between them. No wonder the announcement of results cast a pall of gloom among the students from the government schools. The class ten board exam is arcane, make or break chokepoint in the educational system that perverts the concept of rigorous, impartial assessment.
The contrast between private and government schools is not merely in their exam results and functioning. It has socio-economic dimensions as well. The government schools cater to children of the poorer strata. In interior Nepal, several government schools have a chronic shortage of teachers and poor infrastructure. Nepal is still facing a scarcity of talent, and many factors are responsible for this: poor governance, lackadaisical attitude of the government towards rural schools and commercialisation of education.
The difference between private and public is endemic to our education system and common across the country. Similarity in dresses and a unified syllabus might be good and convenient but it can provide only symptomatic relief. The inefficiency of government schools in providing adequate facilities and standards of education is only one part of the problem. The deeper problem lies in our examination system which the private schools are better equipped to tackle.
The problem lies in social Darwinism and the use of exam as its instrument. This ideology promotes the view that only a few children are capable of success, the rest must fail.
Every child is talented in some way. The job of education is to spot and enhance that talent. When we assign an aggregate failure to children, we not only stigmatise them, we also perpetuate a cycle of waste in our education system. For every child who fails a public exam, Nepal loses precious resources invested in that child’s upbringing at home and education at school.
In order to reform the system in light of this perspective, government and schools need to alter their view of children and learning. Instead of pushing them harder in the race for marks, schools and governments need to focus on the haphazard processes of teacher recruitment and deployment, and the sad state of teacher education in both the private and public sector. The needs of our students are served best when the quality of education is uniformly excellent across the country.
Egalitarian education system
Needless to mention, Nepal’s education system must be more egalitarian. It should give equal opportunities to students irrespective of where they are from. If Nepal’s demographic dividends are to be maximized, the situation must change. But it is not going to be easy to stem the rot that has set in due to decades of indifference and negligence by successive governments.
(Source: The Rising Nepal)