Sunday, April 10, 2011

Open University . Will it open in Nepal?

In the past, several efforts have been made to establish an Open University in Nepal, but all in vain. In 1993, when an open school proposal to the Minister of Education was presented, his first question was “Would it help us earn votes?” The team explained to the minister the importance of open education in Nepal, and returned. The minister sent that proposal to the Ministry of Education (MoE)which took almost a decade to study the proposal. Then it was heard that the MoE was not positive towards that.

In 1997-98, a proposal for open education was submitted to the Vice-Chancelllor of Tribhuvan University to start open mode in education, management and humanities and social sciences. The proposal outlined the major activities to be carried out with a promise of reducing TU’s load within three years.

The then VC of TU Kedar Bhakta Mathema talked this matter with the Chancellor (then King ) and also to

the Indian Embassy for resource support.

However, his attempt proved futile, and he responded to the person who submitted the proposal “Mana, your proposal was very good…existing TU can not afford resources for that… I tried my best with the chancellor and the Indian Embassy…but no positive response, sorry for this….”. Well, the second attempt also failed.

Later, a group of like-minded experts wanted to try it through their NGO ‘CHIRAG’, to initiate open learning and distance education in Nepal. They worked with Canadian colleagues and with the COL experts, with funds from CIDA for Open University. They conducted a feasibility study and suggested Nepal government to do a list of things to establish such a University in Nepal. Rounds of talks with the MoE and NPC were held.

People seemed excited and responded positively that added fuel to the initiators. That is the reason why the same group also prepared a detailed plan of physical, human and monetary resources for Open University in Nepal. For the first initiative, they proposed Open Learning and Distance Education Center (OLDEC) in Nepal, utilizing the then Distance Education Center premises at Sanothimi, linking it with Nepal Television at Singha Durbar.

Rounds of talks were also held with the authorities of NTV and Space Time management to use television technology in education. Both the TV stations gave their nod to the proposal. In the mean time, a group of people outside the government took initiative for the Open University. They organized several consultative meetings with concerned stakeholders and came up with “Open University Bill”, which they submitted to the MoE for further action. The MoE authorities including the Minister for Education congratulated the team for their effort in doing such an important task, and promised to get the bill approved by the parliament. The MoE itself constituted an Open Learning and Distance Education (OLDE) Committee in 1999 under the chairpersonship of then Secretary of Education to suggest the government with modalities of OLDE in Nepal. The committee comprising OLDE experts suggested the government with alternatives of programs and resources. The report must be gathering dust in some cabinet of the MOE even today. Despite the effort, the MoE merged the Distance Education Center (DEC) in NCED in early 2000, erasing Nepal’s history of distance education effort of more than two decades. The DEC was named to institutionalize Radio Education Teacher Training Center which had launched teacher education through radio since 1980. Meanwhile, a group of people outside the MoE, basically the same advocates of OLDE, gave the much-needed pressure on the MoE to establish an Open University in Nepal. As a result the government showed its commitment in the Ninth Plan to do so. In the announcement of government program in the Parliament, the then king said, “There will be an open university in Nepal, the work of which will start immediately”. People were happy that they had attained success in such an important endeavor for the development of the country. However, to their despair, the MoE delayed it, and to their surprise the then education secretary threw the file of Open University under the drawer, and forwarded bills of other universities to the parliament.

The education minister makes the commitment, but how long will he stay in the MoE? By the time the university bill is passed by the parliament, he may already have been out of the government because of the fluid politics of Nepal. That means another minister would have to understand the whole process again. So, the commitment from the minister is temporary. The bureaucracy should be strong towards this end, and push the matter forward, but our history shows that it is also not trustworthy. Unless the government itself is seriously committed, Open University will not open in Nepal. At this point, we can only wish “Let an Open University be established in Nepal”.

Dr. Wagley is an educationist

source: The Himalayan Times(2011), 10 April 2011