If you are a parent sending your child to start school in Nepal today two issues should worry you; first, your child has only a 16% chance of passing the SLC. Second, the quality of the SLC is so low it is becoming an irrelevance anyway. If you are an employer you should also be worried; will you be able to recruit new staff who are well educated, with the right core competencies and who are committed and well motivated? If you are a student, you should be worried whether your education is preparing you for a “global life” or employment or for a satisfying career. These are all bleak signs for the nation as a whole.
A recent article by Kunda Dixit in the Nepali Times highlights a number of very concerning issues about education at a detailed and strategic level. He has ridiculed parts of the textbooks used containing errors, propaganda, and downright bad English; “School textbooks in Nepal have always been notorious for their substandard quality. They are poorly printed and produced and are awash in grammar, spelling, and typographical errors. More worryingly, they are rife with gender and racial stereotyping, brazen untruths, contradictions and examples of ethnocentrism.” Kunda has also demonstrated that the chances of improvement are downright nil because of the lack of competence or commitment to do anything to improve matters; “Dahal of Shikshak magazine thinks the education sector is not a priority for the government, and the most-neglected part of the Ministry of Education is the department looking after textbooks and the curriculum. It is a dumping site. That is where the least competent and motivated people are sent, he told us. In addition, Dilli Ram Rimal heads the Department of Education, and when we asked him about shoddy textbooks, his answer was emblematic of the pass-the-buck mentality that infests the government and also pointed to the reason why things are in such a sorry state. He replied: “It is not our job here to go through the content and quality of textbooks.”
Now, much as we agree with the importance of the points raised in this article, it’s prominence and range of responses is probably more related to the fame of the author and the publication rather than lasting outrage and desire for action. The furore over these textbooks will subside in a few days and disappear completely within a week or two. This is part of the ongoing tragedy for Nepal, there is no investigative or campaign journalism, and no journalist who shakes a particular tree until the leaves fall off. Education reform needs serious and continued advocacy, because the likes of Dilli Ram Rimal know fine well that criticising textbooks is a mere pinprick in the bigger scheme of things. Their motto revolves around the mantra of the all powerful SSRP taking time to bear fruit and they are doing their best under difficult circumstances. These are the people who think that 100 rupee scholarships, garlands for new enrollers, naming and shaming irregular teachers plus interactive whiteboards will solve everything. Plus of course the mandatory use of English medium being a panacea for quality education. What they and most education experts in Nepal have absolutely NO idea of is “how to change a complete system”. At the highest level all systems whether a banking system, a manufacturing system, or an education system have 4 major components. Within this, at the second level, there are 13 elements specific to an education system. Then, each of these 13 can be broken down into maybe 40 to 50 smaller items at the third level, and textbooks is one of these. System change needs to be planned at level 1, implemented strategically at level 2, with coordinated actions taken at level 3. Textbooks is at the lowest level of the system! So, unless this type of approach is taken by the MoE then there will be no system change no matter what educational experts may think, say or do. As Bob Dylan would say they are just “….. blowing in the wind”! And Nepal will remain a country of the uneducated.