Once again, a mere ritual was performed in the observation of Education Day last week, despite education being held in high esteem since time immemorial in the country. It began with the distribution of the medals by the Head of State to the excelling persons in different levels of education, and abruptly ended with few of the seemingly lazily orchestrated programs.
It is well-known that education contributes to knowledge, which is considered as the greatest of the assets as described in one of the most popular Sanskrit verses (bidhya dhanam sarba danam pradhanam). The verse further states that knowledge held by a person can neither be stolen by thieves nor can it be confiscated by the state; it is not divisible among the brothers as are the other assets. The other riches peter out when spent, but knowledge increases the more it is imparted.
The primacy of education has also been echoed by renowned Professor Paul Kennedy in his seminal book “Preparing for the Twenty-First Century”, which sold like a hot cake in the market, and was one of the best sellers. He writes that countries need to invest more on education in the new millennium, as it helps in solving three of the problems being confronted in the new century in the form of Technological Diffusion, Population Explosion and Environmental Degradation. His contention was that the new century will be invaded by changing technologies at a faster pace; it will encounter problems of the increase and decrease of the population in the developing and developed countries respectively, and there will be deterioration of the environment. Education will help on account of an educated person being more receptive to changing technology, sentimental to population explosion, and sympathetic to environmental degradation.
Nepal has been investing more than 4.5 per cent of its GDP yearly on education, as can be seen by the budgetary allotment of Rs. 64 billion this year. Despite a fair allocation of the resources, the quality of our education is far from desired even if in the quantitative terms it has taken an astronomical jump from 10,000 students in 1951 to more than 7 million now. Quality is considered as the trinity of efficiency, equity and effectiveness. The overall literacy of a mere 57 per cent as among the lowest in SAARC countries shows our appalling deficiency. Low efficiency is also manifest in the form of high drop-outs in the primary, secondary and tertiary education. Similarly, at the SLC level, the pass percentage was only 55 per cent this year. What is more worrying is the enormous quality divide between public and private schools.
This year, whilst the pass percentage was 46 per cent from among 80 per cent of the students coming from public schools, it was a towering 88 per cent from the remaining 20 per cent of the students from private schools in the last SLC result. The pass rate is also not encouraging in the higher education, as reflected by a pass percentage of merely 55 in the Tribhuvan University (TU) exams, which caters to almost 90 per cent of higher education demand in the country. In one of the surveys, only 57 per cent of the students thought that quality education is provided by TU. The absence of TU’s name from among the five hundred top universities of the world amply reflects this harsh reality. The employment of only 18 per cent among the TU graduates is another exposure of its mediocrity. Equity is another glaring gap in the education sector of Nepal. Primary education is accessible to a low number of the students of the lowest income quintile. Still lower number of such students end up studying in the secondary and tertiary education. Despite all that investment in education, the returns seem to be dismal, which reflects the taken-for-granted approach prevalent in Nepal as regards education.
Cost effectiveness could be portrayed as a black smear on the face of the education sector in Nepal. Though higher education has been proposed to be delivered based on cost recovery, the cost recovery of TU hovers just around 15 per cent.
The quality of education has tumbled in all the three fronts of efficiency, equity and effectiveness. It is more alarming if we view it from the dimensions of gender, ethnicity, caste, disability, language and religion. That just goes to show how the failings are so glaringly visible to anyone.
There are many factors contributing to this sorry state of affairs. But, the irresponsible behavior of the political parties in general and the Maoists in particular has added fuel to the present fire engulfing the educational scenario of Nepal. Many of the teachers had either to lose their valuable lives or migrate during the conflict just because they did not share the Maoist ideology or pay the forceful donation. It would be a smack of folly to seek to enhance education by subjecting teachers to physical and mental torture. Despite this, the politicians highlight the need of an enriched education on the occasion of the Education Day in Nepal, which is thus mere rhetoric than reality.
Dr. Pokharel is Professor, Institute of Engineering, TU
(Source: The Himalayantimes)