Higher Education: Way Forward

 Dev Raj Dahal                

The prosperity of a nation largely depends on its educational attainment. Every generation of citizens needs the renewal of education attuned to new knowledge, policy and solution of problems. The coherence of live institutions – families, schools, colleges, universities and think tanks - spawn vital knowledge to end ignorance and folly. It enables people to become good citizen and caring humans to all living species on which their own survival and progress rest. Release from “socially inured” position endows Nepalis a hope for choice, builds their capacity to lift self from rude rationality and realise constitutional rights to education.  Education as a public good helps citizens to love reason against the eloquence of fate and fits to grasp the flow of life. It cannot create good society if it cannot control selfish human nature corrupted by crass greed. A good society goes beyond ‘rights discourse’ to capture the realm of inner vigilance whereby citizens develop character, feeling, thinking and acting for themselves and the Other.

The modern educational values have falsified the bourgeois division of the public and the private sphere. It granted relief from the perils of unsteady politics and burdens of scarcity in life. The Nepali state has outlawed the denial of rights, gender bias, domestic violence, child abuse and even suicide.In Nepal, the use of scientific reason in social modernisation has erased the vitality of faith from intellectual belief and free will. The fusion of education and technology has enabled citizens to ease livelihood means- agriculture, service, medicine and modern industries, etc. and partially relieve physical burden on human and animal labour. But the new social stratification, technology, migration and changing labour market demand the coordination of human passion and desire for the expression of conscience. Scientific outlook entails rationalised skills, not dehumanising strain for “excelling in academic score” which is morally wrong.

Nepal’s education has enlarged the size of educated citizens. An  awareness of the poor from global transformation has fostered social and gender equality with manifold change from personhood, family, society, public institutions to intra-state and post-national public spheres. But the desire for wise leaders gifted to transform this troubled nation into a stable one is infected by feudal pyramid. As a result, the poor are only decision takers, not makers.

New education theories put citizens in the context of life-world, go beyond lecture and textbook and enable them to become mindful mediator of change. Teaching and learning centres, research institutes, academy, councils, board and unions of teacher and student of Nepal entail normative and practical vision to raise the poor’s educational mobility beyond elite politics, a politics which brutally splits the rich from the poor, serves only the ruling class and cuts the chance to lift society to progress. So long as political actors continue to depersonalise students and teachers by converting them into a sullen, conformist mob eager to join their shouting match, not binding to their dharma, quality education stays alluring. Dignified citizenship rests on an awareness of ‘existential condition’ and leap into a progress on cognition, values and disposition and the creation of rational public order to break poverty trap in Nepal.

 Challenges: The faculties of higher education hope for meeting borderless educational comparison. It is a hope that is partially fulfilled in Nepal owing to structural and cultural walls created by social, economic, political and legal conditions and uneven state of global partnership. These arid malaises block the standardisation of its academic culture allowing its products to become innovative and adaptive to zeitgeist. A partnership with the state, private sector, civil society and international community can build the confidence of faculty members and whet personal integrity. Thriving Nepal can be within the reach of every citizen if the national vision of ‘right to education’ fits with the ‘right to work,’ aiding them to assume fulsome feeling, scholarly generosity and ‘civic duties.’ The selective use of science by powerful elites has, however, commercialised public goods leaving the faculty of ‘humanity’ in the universities desolately stare at the erosion of ethical standard and social science faculties set up to resolve policy problems and address functional needs of society only enveloped to phobic self-absorption. The risk-aversion tactic has stripped social science from the “social” without the veneer of science. As a result, the spring of social revolts finds its origin in the apathy of both to desolate human condition. Wider participation of academics and teachers in the long-term plan cycle would enable them to sketch curriculum fit for inter-generational justice and overcome the lags of national plans and international duties.

The other vices - political instability, patronage, brain drain, migration of youths, massive capital flight, corruption and weak execution of laws and policies bend the goals of education. They impose barriers to recruiting talented, non-partisan and unselfish leaders in the academic sector. Capital flight can be partly recovered by the remittance of migrant workers. There are, however, no way for compensating the rise of mediocre, brain drain and their lack of ethical duty to serve this nation which is so vital to beat a battle between market efficiency and social justice.

 Way Forward: Leaders with transformative desire need to look for ways where the nation has advantages, lift the weak sector and solve social problems using the scientific, historical and philosophical reflection. In Nepal, social pressure for the equality of opportunity and outcome is rising in higher education. In this context, the usual forms of ‘learning curriculum only,’  ‘rote education’ and ‘standardised tests’ devoid of contextual sensitivity cannot nourish academic virtues. The macroeconomic policies, espoused by the governments, so far unveil a lack of social learning of planners from citizens’ living conditions, national reflection and even assume accountability for their failure. Isolation of Nepali schools, colleges and universities to national needs have bred ‘multiple sclerosis’ of bodypolitik. No cause justifies the nation’s recoil to backwardness and debilitation of intellectuals. Any feasible solution to higher education of Nepal, therefore, needs ‘systemic thinking,’ a new vision, vocation and stepwise solutions:  Granting autonomy to higher education from party control is a must in setting vision, policy and recruitment of gifted teachers, administration, finance, management and goal-orientation. Problem-solving culture needs to shift from alien bound concept and practice to a discourse on reflection of human condition and build national society cohesive and spirited.

Democratisation of higher education can open it to all levels of society and close the emotional distance between the urban and the rural areas and private and public education. Public financing of education can provide better opportunity for talented persons of lower social strata. Private sector can also subsidise the poor to bridge the gap in access, equity and quality. This can surmount democratic deficits created by neo-liberal lure to turn education into ‘economic model’ fabricating two kinds of citizens divided by wealth and power and, thus, widening development gap. Nepal can bridge the gap between demand of skilled workforce and shortage of supply if proper financial and career-enhancing incentives are in place. A knowledge society demands free flow of information, feedbacks and innovative citizens.

The distributional outreach of higher education among geographic regions, social and economic classes and gender to build positive impact on citizens’ ideas, institutions and leadership virtues is no less salient for social modernisation. Contextualisation of education both to support internal needs of the nation and facilitate its safe adaptation can balance between indigenisation and universalisation of curriculum. Collaborative research with the institutions of higher learning abroad can help Nepali scholars to know the new body of methodology, tools and knowledge and international scholars to understand Nepal’s cosmology. Civic education for each generation of citizens can build the capacity of the most talented Nepalis and connect them to ethically informed ‘common citizenship’ which is a requisite to make its democracy functional. It can cultivate the virtue of ‘common humanity’ for a peaceful world. 

Treasuring the memory of intellectuals, poets, artists and researchers can build organic linkage of research with teaching and elicit their commitment to social learning as an ethically sensitive and responsible member of a political community - the state. Scientific generalisation of recent data is no substitute for experience derived from the native soil. Public policy demands synthetic, not disciplinary, rationalist, empirical or analytic knowledge only. It colonizes the minds of academic community and blinds them to Nepal’s complex reality. Higher education needs to supply the public institutions with qualified leadership filling the polity’s needs and cultivating resocialisation, reconciliation, social cohesion and rebuilding resilient Nepal. It can shut the free-ride of many ‘fraud’ educational institutions and brokers engaged as salesman or those working to conform only alien standards than national needs. Effective linking of Nepal’s higher education to actionable policies and strategies helps to partially attain Sustainable Development Goals and liberate it from pedantic self-indulgence.

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