Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Education: Need Of A Practical Face

Prem Khatry :
Years ago, there was an UML Minister for Education, Modnath Prasrit was his name. Prasrit, besides being a leader and then a minister, was a scholar himself and would know the role of education in this country with a new democratic face.

On one occasion, he called upon the TU professors to join his party ranks to bring about the desired change in higher education through the nation’s senior university, the TU. In the same breath, he also gave special attention to the need to make our education practical, not text-based and lecture-based.

Our graduates in several faculties, he emphasised, were good for nothing as far as the use of education, even higher education, was concerned. "You may have an MA or even a Ph. D.," he said, "but what good is your degree when you cannot fix a very simple problem with your radio, and rather you force yourself to remain information blank for days or as long as it takes for you to carry the little machine to the nearby city and find someone to fix it on a handsome payment."

You may agree to pay the sum, but not agree to learn the little skill you may find useful in your daily life. This is what the minister’s sermon suggested that evening. His ministerial tenure did not last very long, but it sounded like the minister had his point there.

Functional being

He was not talking mega reforms in education. He was simply suggesting that the sole goal of education should be to make an individual self-dependent, a functional being, a problem-solver with adequate skill of some kind.

In the year 1979, this scribe won a Fulbright scholarship and landed in the US. Two neighbours in two different residences never go out of my mind and memory for their very unusual work (at least to the Nepali mind and psyche). The first one, a family of two brothers had bought an old house and shared it temporarily. Soon after the purchase, they began to lift the old face of the house, and in a few weeks it was surely looking different.

They would spend certain hours per day and drive nails on the board, ply sheets and wall as well as roof materials. Just the two of them completed the task of fully transforming the look and strength of the house.

The other story is even more interesting. This family of three or so demolished the old house they had bought and started the whole construction beginning with a concrete base, floors and stairs. Brick or concrete walls are not very common in residential buildings in the US, at least not in the area I lived. Lo and Behold! This family gradually raised the building using virtually no skilled manpower until the time came for plumbing and wiring for electricity.

While watching the houses coming up, it was easy to compare the attitudes - ours and theirs. In Nepal, a ninth or a tenth grader farmer boy will love not to touch any of his father’s tools and remain clean and equal in status with his wealthy friends. It is unfortunate that we have been turning a farmer boy into a non-skilled, lazy and dependent youth. This is the system of education we have been creating and fostering.

There is virtually no practical use of the education we have been imparting to our younger generation. This is also the reason why we create and maintain such a large number of unemployed university graduates as a burden to their family, society, the nation.

The other day, one young student lost her life near the Jadibuti segment of the Kathmandu-Suryabinayak Highway. She was the 15th victim of the new road with a very short history, which is still incomplete. A little earlier, the police had rounded up pedestrians and gave makeshift traffic lessons during the brief custody they were forced in.

There was this female teacher among the trespassers who came from different age groups, vocations and places. This teacher confessed she had made a mistake because she did not know that one should not cross the main road (in this case, the busiest highway), nobody had ever taught her the rule or asked her that it was illegal and risky at the same time.

Just think of the attitude of the teacher. A teacher is a role model. Children ignore the knowledge of their parents vis a vis their teachers. But here was one role model who denied that she was ever told not to cross the road at her free will.

In the west where traffic is part of work life, basic rules are made known to the child in the process of growing up. There is no rush to cross the road when there is a red light or even when there are no vehicles around. In Nepal, we will look around and ignore the colour of the light and rush to the other side as if someone at the deathbed is awaiting our arrival and would get up to say hi and live forever because we reported on time after ignoring the traffic light.

The police is tired of rounding up the violators and giving them a new dose of traffic rules and tips on how to stay alive. A violator is the happiest being here and takes pride in relating the story of his violation to friends and family many times over.

Finally, life skills are what are important while learning to be educated. Education without life skills has no meaning. This is the reason why our education system has not been instrumental in cultivating human values.

Transforming society

Formal education may make a man literate, educated but not always practical. And only a practical person can lead a dynamic life, full of challenges, opportunities and successes. It is now time the entire system of education was reviewed, tied up with life skills and productivity so that we can transform society for a better living.

source:rising nepal, 8 march 2011