Overhaul Public School Education

Prem Khatry


The top warrants few examples to come to the point. Education is all about change. As the phenomenon world keeps revolving following its course like the Mother Earth, humans also keep making adjustment in their surroundings. Those humans who dream a bit more compared to the rest, turn the wheel around for the betterment of their fellows. Buddha is an example. His wheel turning effort is known in history as 'dhammachakka pravartana.' Buddha, one person was solely responsible to take the responsibility of churning the ocean of darkness with a strong rope and here was the result: Amrit, the nectar coming in incessant manner.
History of this continent has seen major changes of different types, coming forth from their heart and mind for the good of the people of this continent. And, in this process with a remarkably long history, education has been the main pillar of civilisations – from the early Vedic to later and further down to the historic periods in successive manner.
Those were the days when Sanskrit was the language of the State, the elite and the Aryas. Much later, though, the European language spread the world over with a bid to preach the Gospel of the Bible and turning the destinations as the market of their goods. One more push and there were colonial governments formed to protect the gospel and the goods. English language became the official language of India due mainly to the hard work of Macaulay Mission. The Britons saw the future of the colony in the training of official manpower. English was planted and promoted in order to create a new civilisation on the top of the ancient one existing in the subcontinent. In short, this is the saga of English, a colonial language thrust on purpose on India and other colonial states in Asia, Australia, Africa and Latin America.
By the 18th century or so English had won many native civilisations and cultures. In the times that followed English became a language of the native rulers, aristocrats, academia and administration. Nations in the periphery of the colonies were also influenced by the power of the language the monarchs of Britain spoke and great poets and writers wrote, and the universities educated their graduates hailing from different cultures and nations. The power of English was unchallenged in this part of the world.
Nepali culture and civilisation grew over the millennia observing the political and cultural development in the Indian subcontinent. There have been exchanges of ideas on education, politics, economy and culture related studies and research. In the past it was Sanskrit; then came Hindi, other regional languages and finally English. Nepali rulers, elites and upper classes took pride in promoting English as the sign of their power and prestige.
After 1950, English became a part of curricula in Nepali school education system. Missionary and English language schools became symbol of prestige and flourished with wider wings and deeper roots. This development has created classes in the system – the public with have-nots and the private with haves. English has been the measuring rod for this division. The country has also seen and felt a blow through a trend: Students with good English base head west and hardly come back. Their parents do all they can to manage fund for their higher education abroad and many of them disappear there with their children. A big chunk of the country's future is thus lost.
That English as an international language is the base for further studies in the West is an established truth in all developing nations. But this is also true that West is not always the sole heaven ruling the market of science and technology now. The most urgent need is to improve the quality of our own education through concerted effort from the elementary level. New ideas and system become the part of global education where a student is not just a robot repeating the teacher's lesson; he/she is a creative mind waiting for the right person to guide, work together, facilitate and promote the inquisitive nature of the learner and finally settle in the global work environment.
In our context, there are few basic steps the government, the school, the community and the teachers can do together. First, the gap between the public school and private school learning environment must be filled in. Second, adequate training for the public school teachers and their performance level in the class must be the priority of the government. The notion that English and only English is the measuring rod of success must be eliminated. Each subject taught at school carries equal weight in the child's personality. Third, in recent times, our laws have pushed the community to the background. Politics has been in the forefront in the learning atmosphere at school.
The urgent need today is not to demolish the private system as it has made its entry for more than half a century. The need is to create atmosphere where both sides learn from each other. This week one news came from Ilam district where few public schools have made attempt to promote English in the class. Parents have been watching this and changing their mind. The enrolment has improved. If more focus is given to Maths and Science as well, better. Parents must see that their contribution in improving the overall atmosphere at public schools is highly welcome. It may range from sanitation to beautification to even entering the class room and give talks on moral education, teacher-pupil relation, among other conduct related topics. Public schools at this time are enjoying a low to medium level prestige. Things must change.
Finally, education shouldn’t be promoting 'classes' in the society. In the new structure, some provinces seem to suffer much in terms of quality education. The private school empires must extend their hands to improve this condition by extending their hands to the government and the community. Nearly 70 years of modern education has not provided stability and expected change in our system. The reason is: we were never sure what model is best for us. We need national policy to respect our culture and learn to walk with the world outside.

(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues) 

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