Domino effect

2014-04-05

Republica National Daily

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Social sciences have over the years made great effort to bring rational argumentation into play on social, political and economic issues that were traditionally seen only through the lens of personal beliefs and religion. Now, social sciences are taught almost everywhere in the globe and social science research findings extensively dispersed, increasingly through the means of information technology.

Social sciences offer classificatory, methodical as well as explanatory tools that allow us to see, name and elucidate the social developments. Sadly, Nepal’s social science experience has been a very different one.

Public conferences like “Changing Dynamics of Nepali Society and Politics”, jointly organized by the Social Science Baha and the Alliance for Social Dialogue, offer some new insights into the contemporary political debate on identity formation, state restructuring and other issues. However, social science research in Nepal is in its infancy as problems continue to exist in teaching methods, access to library, learning foreign languages, knowledge of theory and funding, among others.

Social science, by nature, is a process of learning and teaching. In Nepal’s context, Tribhuvan University can be a fertile soil for its development. But although some attempts like establishing greater coordination between departments have been made to improve the deteriorating condition of social science research, these attempts, in themselves, are not enough to address the prevalent problems. NGO/INGOs have, for their part, covered a large section of Nepal’s social sciences.

However, their research objectives do not align with the interests of common people. Similarly, Nepali universities like TU that conduct social science research have long suffered because of the tendency of their teachers to hold multiple jobs.

Another major problem is funding. Because of insufficient funds institutions (and some universities and private research centers) have been unable to conduct meaningful research. Likewise, social science in Nepal has continuously been ignored by the government. The focus of the National Education Program is scientific and technical education, not social sciences. As political analyst Krishna Hachhethu says, “The government treats social science research as its step child.”

The government does not seem to be interested in investing in social sciences. The universities and other research institutions, too, are incapable of providing enough funding for this sector. The rapidly increasing private research centers and NGOs have tried to broaden the scope of social science research but their works have largely been neglected. Since most NGOs and private research centers rely heavily on university teachers and researchers, and with TU unable to provide the needed manpower, the social science sector continues to languish behind the hard sciences. As Sociologist Chaitanya Mishra puts it, “Research and teaching are interrelated”; teaching should facilitate the quality of research in universities.

The neglect is clear from the fact that at TU a student need not write any analytical paper/thesis at the post-graduate level, nor does he have to take a mandatory course on research. It is one of the reasons students who pass out from TU seem to be comparatively less informed about research than those who pass out from foreign universities. Similarly, there is no mandatory system for students to prepare and give presentations and to get them to attend seminars/workshops.

The methods/skills that most Nepali universities apply are also responsible for deteriorating research culture in Nepal. Nepali researchers, steeped in classical theories, have failed to harness the power of technology, which predictably results in poor output. There is also little coordination between researchers and faculty members.

Moreover, private biases and prejudices retard the development of social science research in Nepal. The scope of research is often very limited, and cannot contribute to the larger societal transformation. Some Nepali researchers see research as a tool to make money and are often working only for the limited benefit of NGO/INGOs. According to sociologist Mishra, sponsored research culture is thriving in Nepal. These researches seem blissfully unaware of research ethics.

Another hurdle is language. Most of the available research materials are in English and many Nepali researchers find it hard to access these material. Media researcher Pratyoush Onta also believes that most of the problems Nepali researchers are related to language or theory.

Lack of archival facilities is another problem. Nepali researchers have no access to sophisticated library systems. Although some NGO/INGOs have contributed to make books available for Nepali researchers, that is nearly not enough.

The recent conference “Changing Dynamics of Nepali Society and Politics” greatly contributed to idea formation and knowledge building. These kinds of conferences and public discussions should be organized on a regular basis.

Another thing that needs to change is the highly-charged political atmosphere of Nepali universities. Although universities are supposed to be scholastic centers, they have become hubs for student politics. Students have, instead of studying, learned to participate in rallies by bunking their classes.

Thus, in order to make social science research more professional and more tuned to the needs of the society, social science research should be made mandatory in all social science programs in our universities, the teaching methods should be enhanced to meet international standards, and most importantly, the government should give the sector the priority it gives to other hard sciences.

Pranjali is a student at Nepa School of Social Sciences

(Source: Republica National Daily: Published on November 19)