The Chinese philosopher Confucius once said, “If your plan is for one year, plant rice. If your plan is for 10 years, plant trees. If your plan is for 100 years, educate humanity.” This proverb underscores the importance of long-term planning in the education system as a valuable investment.
Each year, the Nepali government unveils its policies and programmes across various sectors for the fiscal year, including the education sector. This year too, it presented its plan similar to last year making it easy to analyse that it would not fulfil its commitment.
The government’s annual policy and programme state that it will restructure universities and colleges by merging and/or splitting institutions as necessary. However, the passing of the Federal Education Act, which was expected during this parliamentary session, has been delayed, hindering the delegation of power to provinces and local-level governments. These factors shed light on the challenges faced by the country’s educational system, indicating a lack of progress in the sector for yet another year.
Current education system
The present education system in Nepal has several problems. One of the main issues with the current system is the lack of provisions for training and practical experience which hinders a student’s ability to innovate and explore.
Furthermore, Nepal also suffers from an irrational distribution of resources, an outdated and irrelevant educational structure and layout, along with an imbalanced development between urban, rural, and regional areas. These factors have led to a significant disparity between the supply and demand of educational resources.
In mountainous and hilly regions, students face challenges in commuting to school due to adverse weather conditions, geographical features, insufficient educational facilities, and lack of transportation infrastructure.
In recent days, there is a prevailing attitude among the majority of students that studying is a waste of time. This is mainly because an undergraduate or a postgraduate degree does not guarantee employment. This has led many to go abroad for better employment opportunities and lifestyles.
Many students face problems in higher education because their roots in basic education are weak. It’s necessary to reform the entire education system for the development of the country. While the government’s annual policy and programme include provisions for restructuring universities and colleges, a truly effective reform strategy necessitates the integration of both top-down and bottom-up approaches to bring about substantial and meaningful outcomes.
There is a great shortage of quality education. The education system, once considered a beacon of hope for the nation’s future, now seems to be leading youth down a path with no light at the end of the tunnel.
Education reform for economic and social development
The education system should possess foresight, vision and a practical orientation that emphasises problem-solving over theoretical knowledge. It must be designed to serve the needs of the next century and propel the country towards economic and social development.
There are high expectations among the people of Nepal regarding education reform and development, as they aspire to build a fair, just, and harmonious society through educational advancements. Recognising education as the key to the future, it is crucial for the state to prioritise education and allocate adequate resources towards its enhancement.
By focusing on these aspects, the education system can work towards bridging the urban-rural divide and establishing a more balanced and progressive educational landscape. A key principle of education should be the eradication of all forms of discrimination, while actively uplifting socially and economically disadvantaged and marginalised groups. This approach will contribute to creating a more inclusive and equitable society.
To do so, the government has to allocate resources in a rational and balanced manner and adopt strategies to ensure social justice and equality.
Regrettably, in Nepal, the mushrooming of private schools following the democratic transition in the 1990s, coupled with the government’s privatisation policies, has transformed education into a commodity driven by profit rather than a public good. This shift has resulted in private school owners and founders prioritising financial gains, treating teachers as producers, and students/parents as consumers of this privatised educational service.
The primary factor contributing to the supremacy of private schools over community schools has been the implementation of what is commonly referred to as English-medium instruction. Schools that teach in the English language are often perceived as being better as many believe that results in better opportunities for individuals in the future.
A research conducted across various schools in Kathmandu has shed light on the perceived significance of English language proficiency for increased prospects of success. The study focused on the privatisation of education in Nepal and concluded that the incorporation of English as a medium of instruction is a key contributing factor to the popularity of private schools.
English proficiency is simultaneously seen as the key to a better future, an index of social capital and a ticket out of Nepal.
Therefore, the socially and economically advantaged groups increasingly prefer to send their children to private schools. Though the education statistics show gradual progress in education, the disparities in education continue in different forms.
As middle-class families continue sending their children to private schools, government schools are deserted. Ironically, persons employed as government school teachers also send their children to private schools.
Nepal has emerged as a significant exporter of students, with many youths opting to pursue higher education abroad due to the availability of quality educational resources. However, this trend has resulted in notable challenges concerning the quality of education within the country and the issue of brain drain.
In the fiscal year 2013/14, a total of 28,126 students took permits to study abroad. This scenario is devastatingly increasing every year. Over 102,504 students were granted permits to study abroad in fiscal year 2021/22. Similarly, last fiscal year (2022/23) up to mid-March, 79,437 students chose to study abroad.
Private school charge fees up to Rs 40,000 per month although the government had issued guidelines defining fee rates according to the categories of corporate schools: A, B, C and D. This also proves that the government itself promotes elitism to education.
Private schools in Nepal often collect fees from students under various categories. These schools are rarely monitored. There is a pressing need for regulations to ensure the systematic functioning of these schools and to curb their profit-driven operations. Governments should intervene to enforce measures that prioritise the education system’s integrity over financial gains.
These schools must be forced to spend a part of the profit on the student’s welfare and improvement. At the same time, the exploitation of teachers should be eliminated by providing appropriate salaries.
The federal government should enact a new education act, which should be comprehensive and delegates the authority for formulating rules, regulations, control, supervision and implementation mechanisms to the provincial governments and local levels.
The reform should be research-based, practical, innovative and long-term oriented to promote the country’s prosperity. Otherwise, the country will face a dead end with severe consequences.