Wednesday, 7 June 2017

Crux of the matter

In Nepal, the success of school education is usually evaluated using the Secondary Education Examination (SEE) results. There is a huge discrepancy in the results of public and private school systems; the student pass percentage rate is approximately 80 percent and 20 percent for private and public schools respectively. However, in 2016, the numerical grading system was replaced by the letter grading system, which does not categorise students as having “passed” or “failed”. But still, if we consider student performance in the SEE, private school students do much better than their public school counterparts. This gap in educational performance has remained prominent through the years.

Many studies have shown that a child’s learning abilities later in life are directly affected by their
early grades. This has been forgotten amid the huge emphasis put on the SEE results. Therefore, those working to improve high school or college results may need to focus their attention on a milestone that comes far earlier, for example whether students can read well by the end of the third grade. Subject content will become increasingly complex after the third grade, and students who do not have adequate reading skills are more likely to fall behind.
In 2014, the Government of Nepal (GoN) formed a partnership with the US government to conduct the first early grade reading assessments for students from grades one to three in public/community schools. They aimed to collect baseline data on the foundational reading skills of Nepali students. The result of this assessment was quite shocking; 34 percent of the second graders and 19 percent of the third graders were not able to read even a single Nepali word correctly. Teachers have received the bulk of the blame for their alleged inability to teach effectively. However, we cannot overlook other contributing factors behind students’ low performance.
As indicated above, there is no denying that children’s early years lay the foundation for their development later in life. In the Nepali schooling system, basic education includes Early Childhood Education and Development (ECED) up to the eighth grade and an early grade reading programme focuses on students from grades one to three. The ECED curriculum clearly indicates that the main objective of this programme is to prepare students for formal schooling by emphasising their holistic development. This indicates that this is the most important phase during which students should be directed towards their future learning. Research also shows that 90 percent of brain development takes place in the first five years of a person’s life.

Well-trained teachers are therefore needed to handle the ECED curriculum. Unfortunately, however, government policy certifies that female teachers who have passed the eighth grade and have undergone a 16-day professional training programme are eligible to teach children under the ECED programme. Many of these teachers have limited exposure and cannot adequately prepare children for primary schools. Similarly, teachers who have passed the 12th grade and have attended a 10-month government training programme are considered qualified enough to teach children from grades one to eight. These qualifications are hardly enough to help foster a child’s foundational learning.
Additionally, most public schools in Nepal lack resource materials. There are still many schools in which access to textbooks is always an issue at the start of the academic session. In such a situation, how can one expect students to enhance their reading skills? 

Research has proved that parental involvement helps cultivate children’s literacy skills. In the context of Nepali public schools, a home-school partnership is almost non-existent. In contrast, looking at good private schools gives us quite a different picture. They have well qualified teachers and resource-rich classrooms and libraries. Parents who send their children to private schools also seem to be more concerned about their children’s education. As a result, students in private schools outperform those in public schools by quite a margin. They are given a stronger foundation and this is often reflected in their SEE results.
The GoN, the US government and various (I)NGOs have formed a partnership to implement an early grade reading programme. However, so far an encouraging improvement in children’s reading skills as a result of these interventions has not been seen. If various organisations whose work is related to the early grade reading programme pay attention to upgrading teachers’ qualifications, supplying sufficient and age-appropriate reading materials and fostering home-school partnerships, the reading performance of the target group will improve. This improvement will result in better performance by public school students in the SEE. Otherwise, this programme will also turn out to be yet another unsuccessful project.
(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post on Friday, May 19, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]









Thursday, 1 June 2017

Number Of Deaths We Die

The word ‘death’ itself is very scary. For ordinary people it means the end which abruptly discontinues physical life in the material world. Unlike ordinary people, spiritual people define ‘death’ quite differently.
For example, one perspective says that we die every day when we fall in a deep sleep because at that time we drop all the things that we claim we hold onto in our waking hours, and embrace divinity; no one is upset with this temporary death. Maybe, it is because when we wake up everything is as it is or we do not have to lose anything that we are attached to. We rarely actually seriously consider whether or not that deep sleep is similar to death.
A more convincing definition of death than the one provided above is based on an important Hindu scripture Bhagavad Geeta. In Chapter 1, when Arjun drops the idea of fighting against the Kauraba army, which was formed by his near and dear people, Lord Sri Krishna tries to convince him to not be a coward at the last moment but to fight instead in the 17 chapters that follow. During their conversation, Lord Sri Krishna raises the topic of different stages that a human body goes through in Chapter 2, Verse 13.
In a lifetime, a person usually goes through infancy, childhood, adulthood and old age. When an infant enters childhood, his infancy dies. Similarly when he enters adulthood, his childhood dies and when he reaches old age, there are no traces of adulthood. This shows that an essential nature of life is impermanent and it is subjected to constant change. If it is not so, why don’t we have the same physical features or even the same face that we had in our childhood?
This view leads us to the truth that life is simply a process from birth till death, whether it is of a worm or a human being. All living beings and life events which are visible are impermanent, they keep changing and losing their old characteristics while at the same time gaining new ones. Then eventually they perish. No one can do anything to resist this phenomenon.
It is worth thinking about the irony behind our tendencies; we die numerous deaths in our lifetime, yet why do we fear the day when we have to face our own death or the death of the ones we love? It is rooted in our ignorance. Unfortunately, we cling to the view that all things that appear in this world and that are accessible to us are real, and we can always have them. Despite our incessant and careful guarding, one day, when the right time comes, they abruptly disappear from under our nose, making us suffer tremendously. And holding onto human bodies is not an exception.
It is said that the power of ignorance is as strong as the power of knowledge. In short, we all know that death is inevitable; one who is born must die. If we could realise this truth and accept death as an integral part of life, our ignorance would turn into powerful self-knowledge or self-realisation. Only when this happens can we understand that in fact we are not bodies but souls and the souls are eternal. This realisation changes our fearful condition to a blissful one, the nature of an eternal soul.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 25, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]



Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Tug Of War

On the basis of physical facilities, teachers' quality and qualifications, responsibility and transparency, operational procedures and educational achievement private schools in Nepal are categorised into A, B, C and D categories. The government has decided the definite fee structure for these schools.
However, there are still fears over fee hikes at the beginning of every new academic year. Considering the policy document, it clearly says that once any private school increases the fee the school cannot increase it for three years; and for this also there is a system.
As per the Education Regulations, private schools can review their fee structure as per their classification. For instance, B category schools can charge fees up to 25 percent higher than C category schools while A category schools can charge fees up to 50 percent higher than C category schools, by taking permission from the District Fee Determination Committee. To monitor this there is a Fees Monitoring Committee located in all District Education Offices as well.
Despite these rules, this year has been no different when it comes to unregulated fee hikes; there are a number of private schools that have been accused of increasing fees unlawfully. As a result, student unions affiliated to various political parties are protesting against this hike. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education claims that it has already begun monitoring private schools in Kathmandu after being informed that they were charging students irregularly.
Why is there this mismatch then? According to well-known educationist Prof. Dr. Mana Prasad Wagley, "Private schools have virtually colonised the country’s education sector. Now they have their organisations like PABSON and N-PABSON which have become stronger than government bodies." This may be one of the reasons that private schools are ignoring the government directives and hiking their school fees haphazardly. Another reason could be the obvious gap between public and private schools' quality of education.
It is clear that, in most cases, the academic performance of private schools surpasses that of their public counterparts. Therefore, almost all Nepali parents prefer to send their children to private schools ranging from A to D categories according to their financial capacity. The private school operators are acutely aware of the fact that parents do not have other options but private schools, so they practise monopoly in the absence of strong competitors.
Doubtlessly, money matters substantially; if you pay more you will get more. However, private schools cannot raise school fees with complete disregard for the law. As indicated above, transparency is one criterion that is used to assess the “grade” of a private school, yet it is a trait that many schools to be lacking to a large extent.
It is good that the student unions are raising their voice against this irregular fee hike, but at the same time they should make sure that their protest is not affecting school children's studies. I also suspect that they may have put pressure on institutional schools just to collect donation for the upcoming local election, and as soon as the election is over, their protest may also disappear. If not, they should come up with a permanent solution as early as possible so that the issue of absurd fee hikes does not have to be brought up every year.
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 12, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]