Inching Towards Quality Education: Dr. Krishna Prasad Acharya
The broad areas of education are access, equity, resources, employment and quality. Whether it is a developed or developing country, education quality is a globally demanding issue. There is a direct link between quality education and employment opportunities. Also quality and competitiveness are interlinked. Competitiveness brings quality.
Quality denotes a good faculty, reformed curricula, resources, external examiner in students’ assessment, competition, teacher/student ratio, instructional materials, practical education, a universally-accepted degree and a friendly environment. So quality education indicates not only educational infrastructure and sufficient resources but also expert academic staff and research-oriented teaching.
After the 1990’s when the government followed a liberalisation policy and globalisation process, a number of higher educational institutions, mostly in the private sector, have been established in Nepal. Every educational institute claims to provide quality education to the students. So parents as well guardians are in a dilemma as to which campus is best suited for their children.
One major indicator of quality education has been the pass percentage in the board exams. The question of quality has arisen in the public schools, in which the government allocates a major chunk of the budget. The government has earmarked Rs. 86.03 billion (around 14 per cent of the total budget) for the overall development of the education sector for fiscal year 2014-15. But can the quality of education be improved in our country where teachers are under-paid and not motivated? Moreover, many teachers are not trained or qualified. Still many teachers in the public and private schools have been found possessing fake certificates. So how can we expect quality from those teachers?
Most of the private schools and colleges in Nepal are committed to providing quality education. This can be discerned from the results of the SLC Board and Higher Secondary Education Board. Private schools and colleges have performed better than the government or public schools. However, passing the examination with a higher percentage alone does not necessarily indicate quality education. A student must be able to compete in the global market.
Before 1990, there was only Tribhuvan University (TU) to handle higher education in Nepal. The main motto of TU is to develop skilled human resources by imparting quality education. As of now, there are a dozen universities and an equal number are in the pipeline. It is not easy to establish a university that requires physical infrastructure, educational facilities, experienced professors, a friendly environment, guarantee of quality of education and resources. But these requirements are not taken into account while establishing a university in Nepal. What matters here is political connection.
The inquiry conducted by the Commission for the Investigation of Abuse of Authority into the misappropriation of budgets in some universities has created doubts among the people. How can the higher authorities of these universities convince the parents and the students that they will provide quality education and follow the university calendar? Since the education sector should serve as a model in society, the embezzlement of funds within the universities by the concerned authorities will inevitably create misunderstandings and negative feelings in the society. As a result, these universities will lose the trust of the people.
All the plan documents of the government have emphasised on education quality. For example, the long-term vision of the education sector in the current 13th Plan (2070/71-2072/73) is to ensure quality of education for all Nepali people. Similarly, the objective and strategy of the Plan related to education also emphasise on improving the quality of education at all levels. The University Grant Commission (UGC) has launched the quality assurance and accreditation programme for higher education in Nepal. Hence, the current national plan on education, Education for All (EFA), National Plan of Action (2001-15), School Sector Reform Plan/ SSRP (2009-15), and ICT in Education Master Plan (2013-17) have highlighted the promotion of quality education for all.
The Kathmandu Declaration of the recently concluded 18th SAARC Summit has mentioned ensuring quality education in all institutions by reforming the curricula, teaching methods and evaluation systems adequately supported by physical, technical and other facilities. It is clear that plans, policies, programmes, acts and budget speeches have placed stress on education quality as a main agenda. However, the scenario tends to be different in practice.
We can proudly say that the TU medical college at Maharajgunj and Engineering College at Pulchwok are providing quality education. Their graduates have been able to compete in the global market.
There are more than seventy private colleges in Nepal that are affiliated to foreign universities. Those affiliated campuses undoubtedly provide quality education to Nepali students. For example, some talented Nepali students at the A-level have achieved the highest marks globally. Many Nepali students have performed well in foreign universities because of the quality education imparted in the home country. Kathmandu University (KU) has the reputation of providing quality education within the country. But TU has to manage more than a hundred thousand students whereas KU charges a relatively higher fee and enrolls not more than 5,000 students.
Because of the quality education provided by some colleges and universities of Nepal, most of the students from the Terai and far western region of Nepal flock to Kathmandu for higher education. Earlier, they went to India for higher studies, mostly to Sitamarhi, Mujaffarpur, Darbhanga and Patna in Bihar; Gorakhpur, Lucknow and Kanpur in Uttarpradesh; Almoda and Nainital in Uttarakhanda, and other colleges along the border towns of India. That they prefer Nepal to India indicates that Nepal now provides quality education in many disciplines. However, because of the political instability in Nepal, students of the lower middle income families still go to India, while those from the middle and higher income families migrate to foreign countries for higher education.
Thousands of Nepali students have gone to foreign countries for higher education. According to the Ministry of Education, annually, more than 20,000 students leave for different destinations, excluding India, mainly to the USA, UK and Australia. There are many reasons for going abroad. While conducting a doctoral research, this author found that around 13 per cent of the aspiring students cited the low quality education in Nepal as one of the reasons (push factor) for migrating to foreign countries for further studies whereas 17 per cent of the surveyed students who were planning to go abroad cited quality education in the destination country as a major pull factor.
The research shows that 87 per cent of the students accepted that the institutions in Nepal provided quality education. Nepal's colleges and universities hold great potential in attracting foreign students, especially from the SAARC region, if they can improve the quality of education because Nepal holds great natural beauty and exceptional climatic conditions.
(The author is associate professor at Camad College, Kathmandu, firstname.lastname@example.org)