Post-school predicaments



Until about 30-40 years ago, a student finished school, passed his Intermediate level, graduated from college and completed university.

Graduation usually meant the attainment of a Bachelor’s Degree. The Graduate Constituency during King Mahendra’s rule was reserved for voters who possessed qualifications considered equivalent to or higher than a Bachelor’s Degree.

Educational institutes that offered merely Intermediate-level courses called themselves colleges and institutions of higher learning boasted of being Degree Colleges.

Then sometime in the 1970s, someone high in the hierarchy of Panchayat decided that independent colleges had become hotbeds of oppositional politics. They were nationalized in one fell swoop and became campuses of the central university.

Almost overnight, the Intermediate became Certificate Level, a Bachelor’s Degree was transformed into a Diploma, and people came out of university with merely Degrees rather than Master’s Degrees.

A sincere assessment of King Birendra’s interventions in the educational system is long overdue.

Perhaps all that he wished was to turn the central university into a factory of churning out Panchayat supporters, but unintended consequences of misguided endeavors of his trusted lieutenants destroyed the resilience of the nascent higher education in the country.

Those who blame politicization for all the ills of higher education often forget that Tribhuvan University was transformed into a political institution by design to be an assembly line of producing loyalists for the royal regime.

The large-scale privatization of post-school education in 1990s has brought the old system back, except that Intermediate level is now Plus Two (+2) or A-Level, and is taught at commercial institutions rather than at colleges affiliated to the university.

There is a Board of Higher Secondary Education entrusted with the task of monitoring and regulating such private service providers, but it has merely become a licensing agency with all its attendant pitfalls.

Hypothetically, it is possible for the poor to be a customer at any private higher-secondary schools. But that is as likely as one of Malangwa’s scooter-riding schoolteacher stepping into the Nano showroom and booking the world’s cheapest car.

Deterrent mechanism of the market is extremely efficient in detecting possible customers on the basis of affordability and willingness to pay.

Forget upscale boutiques of teaching, even educational shops along street corners in the city are way too expensive for most school graduates.

Not only the ones who were declared “failed,” a large number of those who even passed SLC Examinations would have to begin looking for work in the stagnant market.

The only consolation for them is that completing school itself is a privilege in Nepal where most children have to begin helping their parents after three or four years of education. Many never get to go to school, or drop out within a year without learning the 3Rs.

The conventional wisdom of the West – that school prepares one for college, college prepares him for university, university prepares her for work, work prepares everybody for retirement, which then prepares all to embrace death – has little relevance in Nepal where a tiny minority get the opportunity to follow such an established trajectory.

Here, educational attainments are not ladders that lead you vertically from one achievement to another but are merely milestones along a zigzag journey on undulating grounds.

The SLC-failed have probably already applied for passports and have begun to make rounds of manpower agencies for work abroad. The ones who have passed, especially from schools in small towns and villages, have no easy options, either.Theoretically speaking, once again, it is possible to get quality higher-secondary education at any district headquarters of Nepal. However, markets do not function that way.

Private capital looks for highest return on investment. Entrepreneurs prefer locations with higher customer concentration (potential students), better infrastructure, easy availability of labor at competitive prices (teachers and non-teaching staff) and closeness to seats of power, which could be banks, media, and government offices.

Little wonder, Kathmandu is the first choice of every entrepreneur desirous of making any new investment in the education industry. Consequently, almost all the best higher-secondary schools rated by reputed publications are based in the Kathmandu Valley.

The pressure on parents of moffusil students to relocate to the capital city is so high that some employees take pay cut, others sell their land, or rent out family houses and come to Kathmandu so that their children can attend one of the “Top 10” or any other Big Name higher-secondary schools.

However, not all of them make it to the institutions of their desire. Many would have to make do with an admission into something like Rupert Murdoch Business Academy or Donald Trump Science College. (These names are fictitious, of course, but given the way such outlets are sprouting, it is quite likely that they exist in reality.

 If that is so, sincere apologies; may they become Big Name institutions!) Such students need not despair, however.

 It is preferable that your school be proud of you than you being proud of your school.

Once in school, students for whom their parents have decided that they are going to be doctors and engineers in future and earn pots of money, there is not really much to say except that don’t just become a parrot in the cage and sneak out into the streets once in a while to recognize seasonal fruits on sale in a doko, get the smell of the rotting garbage on the corner, or observe clouds in the Kathmandu sky.

Not everyone gets what one wants from life, and given the competition for professional courses, disappointment is a distinct possibility.

The ability to handle frustrations and failure has to be cultivated assiduously at post-school levels.

Another fact what school “graduates”—yes, the term has now become acceptable—would need to acknowledge is that high scores have little meaning outside educational institutions.

What really counts in life is the ability to learn constantly, which comes from being open to criticism, deep humility, willingness to experiment, readiness to observe and absorb, and preparedness to confirm or reject hypotheses, and the modesty of accepting successes or failures merely as opportunities for further learning.

Pretty high-sounding words, huh? Try simplifying it. It may prove to be a useful lesson in navigating through loads of text that you would have to tackle during higher-secondary education.

The SLC was once considered the Iron Gate, Intermediate level was a wooden doorway, and once you reached the university, barriers were mere curtains that swung open in the direction of the wind.

Life has since become much more complicated. But that is what progress is all about: The endless cycle of complicating simple things, and simplifying complex issues forever.

(Source: Republica Nepal)