Monday, July 20, 2009

Reward good work

Nepal’s education sector has done pretty well in the last two decades. I vividly remember my high school days back in the late eighties. Back then, there were no English medium schools in small towns, not even in many district headquarters. In eastern Nepal, one had to go to major urban centers like Biratnagar, Dharan or Birtamod to avail education in the English medium. But today, things are different. Every small town of a decent size has English boarding schools. The quality of education provided by the English schools operating in rural areas may not match with the ones in urban centers like Kathmandu and Biratnagar but at least kids today have an opportunity to learn English right from the primary level. It is not about the superiority of the English language over our mother tongue; we live in a different world today. The domestic and international job market today is quite different from even a decade ago. A person with a command over the English language has better career prospects both within and outside the country.

The School Leaving Certificate (SLC) pass rate which hovered around 40 percent in the early nineties has significantly risen. This year’s pass rate of 68.47 percent has surpassed all previous records. But there still lies a huge disparity in the success rate. English medium schools outperform their Nepali medium counterparts in almost every part of the country. If we take the percentage of students that pass SLC from English schools out of the equation, the percentage of students who pass the “iron gate” may still be quite low. Furthermore, students passing SLC from English schools are the ones who mostly secure distinction or first class. When I passed SLC in the early nineties, all 50 students in my class secured first division, whereas only about a dozen secured first division in the local public school of my hometown.

It is important to make civil services attractive and well-paying so that competent individuals see it as a career option. In India, medicine and engineering graduates forgo high-paying jobs in private sectors to join civil services.I, for one, always questioned the reason behind the failure of public schools in Nepal. While educationists who design the curriculum for public schools have become millionaires by securing donor-funded contracts, schools and students that stick to the curriculum continue to falter. Certainly, something must be wrong somewhere. Why are English medium schools successful while public schools struggle? Is it because English schools are able to attract the best brains to teach by paying them well? That does not seem to be the case in reality. Uttam Sanjel’s Samata Shiksha Niketan charges a fee of just 100 rupees per month but his students seem to be doing pretty well. In this year’s SLC exam, five students from the school secured distinction.Many like Bhawana Tamang, who scored distinction in this year’s SLC exam from Samata, would not have had a chance to avail education in English medium if it was not for Uttam Sanjel. For thousands of children, whose parents like Bhawana’s mother do odd jobs to keep their children’s dreams afloat, Mr Sanjel has provided a hope. He has proved that quality education can be provided at a minimal cost. People like Sanjel who are doing the hard work every day in the trenches make Nepal and Nepali feel proud. They are the real heroes that have the vision and potential to change the face of the nation unlike politicians whose rhetoric does not match their actions.

The time has come to overhaul administrative, foreign and security service exams to attract bright, competent and eloquent people like Bhawana Tamang. Nepalis envy Indian bureaucrats for their bullish attitude towards us but we often overlook their educational background and competence. Almost half a dozen of my friends from the University of Delhi are now in Indian Administrative Services. These men were among the brightest and the most eloquent in the college. There may be some competent men who have opted to become civil servants in Nepal but from my experience of having interacted with our service men within and outside the country, in diplomatic missions in India, Europe and the United States, I can tell with 100 percent certainty that my Indian classmates that are now in Indian civil services will easily out compete our men anytime, anywhere. It is a matter of shame but we should admit the fact and correct the system so that competent people get a chance to serve the nation. Officers posted in diplomatic missions around the globe keep themselves busy issuing passports to the Diasporas, stamping visitor visas, certifying Diaspora’s property documents and attending local events organized by the local Nepali organizations. Convincing foreign investors to invest in Nepal and lobbying for an increase in multilateral and bilateral aid is simply beyond their ability and competence.

It is, thus, high time that we overhaul our civil services to attract the best brains. Like India, it is important to make civil services attractive and well-paying so that competent individuals with sound academic background see it as a career option. In India, medicine and engineering graduates forgo high-paying jobs in private sectors and research opportunities at world-class universities to join civil services. Adapa Karthik, who topped the 2008 Indian civil services examination, did not accept a Harvard research scholarship. This shows the respect that young Indians have for civil services. On contrary, those that fail to get professional education and do not have sound academic background aspire for a civil service career in Nepal. That is where the problem lies. We need to pick the best brains, not the leftovers. Let the younger generation with sound academic background take over and bring about changes at home and transform Nepal’s image abroad.


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