Friday, 21 July 2017

Reversing brain drain

Going abroad for higher studies is a salient issue in Nepal’s context. According to the Ministry of Education, more than 47,000 students received a ‘No Objection’ letter this year—an all-time high. Reports indicate that students were choosing to pursue further studies in a total of 78 different countries. The top destination was Australia, followed by Japan and the US.
A common reason students cite for leaving the country is that the quality of education in Nepal is comparatively low. Other reasons are that there are not enough job opportunities here, the political situation is unstable and Nepali degrees are not recognized worldwide.
But do students really go to foreign countries for quality education? If so, why don’t they come back after completing their studies? Even though there is no reliable data on the number of students who return to Nepal once they finish their study abroad, it is likely that an overwhelming majority of them want to settle down in the countries where they receive their education. 
For instance, in an interview taken by the Nepali Times, a student said, “In the future, I see myself settling in Australia.” Another student added, “It has been two years now and even I plan to settle here (Australia).” The third student went on to say, “I am currently doing my Bachelor’s in Accounting and Business. In the long run, I plan to settle here (Australia).” These interviews indicate that the students who leave Nepal for further studies are not eager to come back.
The irony is that when students apply for visas, all of them promise that they will come back to their home country immediately after their studies. They know that if they do not make this clear, they will not be issued a visa. But once these students enter the host country, they forget their promise. It should also be noted that the host countries themselves expect students to return to their homeland as soon as they complete their studies. This is confirmed by a statement by the former Australian ambassador to Nepal, Glenn White, who said, “I’d like to think educational reputation is the reason people come to Australia and not for the sole purpose of Permanent Residency.” The question is why Nepali students are so attracted to these foreign lands. 
Nobody can deny the fact that the political situation in Nepal is not stable, which can affect educational institutions here. But the quality of education here is not as low as people think. Education providers from the private sector pay considerable attention to maintaining the quality of education. Besides, there are many colleges that are affiliated with renowned foreign universities; the courses they offer are of international standards.
I do not think the quality of education is the main issue for students who leave the country. Rather, I think it is social pressure that influences youngsters to go abroad. It is a matter of social prestige if a family has members residing in Western countries. Another reason would be to earn more money and live a luxurious life. There is a cliché that when you go to one of these countries, you start earning money that’s unmatched by what you can earn here. As a result, students fly to a foreign country in the name of achieving quality education, but most of them end up running after a number of odd jobs simply to sustain themselves. Many cannot even complete their studies. Their only purpose becomes getting permanent residency in that country at any cost. 
The problem of unemployment is another driving force for these students to leave the country. Data from the Central Bureau of Statistics indicate that in 2014, approximately four million people were without jobs that suit their qualifications and skills. Furthermore, between 40,000 to 50,000 people, who have Bachelor’s or Master’s degrees, were unemployed. Another study conducted by the International Labour Organisation (ILO) on Nepali youths aged 15 to 29 shows that the unemployment rate among university graduates, at 26.1 percent, is three times higher than that of the uneducated. 
These figures point out that if university graduates got jobs of their choosing or ones that are compatible with their qualifications, they would probably not leave the country in the first place, or even if did go abroad for further studies, they would come back and work in Nepal.
Earning foreign degrees, knowledge and skills is an excellent idea. Losing thousands of youths to other countries every year, however, is not a good sign, because these people are at the height of their productivity and are important for a developing nation like ours. The concerned departments must pay attention to this pressing issue.  

(Published in an English Daily The Kathmandu Post Thursday, July 14, 2017 

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Wednesday, 19 July 2017

Push Your Limits

"You can't put a limit on anything. The more you dream the farther you get," according to the famous American swimmer and the most decorated Olympian of all time, Michael Phelp. When I met Nitesh Shah, I saw him as Phelps’s quote personified. I recently went to Janakpur with the programme "Youth Empowerment through Career Counselling and Motivation" for school students. This programme was organised by JKK Foundation and supported by Nepal National Commission for UNESCO (NNCU). At this time, I happened to come across Nitesh when he was presented to school children as a live example of a motivator.
In fact, he was a true inspiration for young secondary level students as he had an encouraging story to share with them. When Nitesh was still a child of eight years old he survived a deadly electrocution accident which cost him one of his hands, whilst the other was partially damaged. This, however, could not stop him from dreaming big in life.
I asked him what exactly he felt when he first realised that he had lost his hands; his response was quite surprising. With a broad smile he said instead of being sad he was happy because he thought now he did not have to go to school and study. With time, his views changed. He did not like to sit idle at home and feel sorry for himself.
As soon as he recovered from that life changing accident, the first thing he did was practise writing. He tried different ways using the partially functioning hand, joining that hand with the stump of another, using his toes or sometimes his mouth as well. With untiring practice eventually he explored that the second way perfectly suited him.
Nitesh remembers vividly at the time of crisis he found his father a strong supporter who never let his son feel handicapped. He always encouraged him to move in life as normally as any normal child would. Nitesh was a high achiever academically and he maintained an excellent record right up until he completed his MBA.
This MBA graduate does not feel as though he is different from other people, nor is he disappointed over his hands. However, the most frustrating moment for him is when he cannot do something independently, e.g., he still cannot button his shirt by himself.
As human beings we all have limitations, visible or invisible; and if we focus on them while ignoring our potential, we cannot succeed in life. I found Nitesh as a live example who pushes his boundaries to chase his dreams. If he thought by losing his hands he had lost all his hopes and life goals, he would never be what he is today. On the flip side, there are numerous people in our society who regret not having something which others have; this limited approach means that quite often, they cannot realise their dreams.
So, focus on your strengths and keep trying to hone them and nothing can hold you back to achieve what you desire to achieve. This is the lesson that Nitesh has taught the youngsters.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, July 14, 2017 

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Sunday, 16 July 2017

Information Vs. Transformation

The modern age is the age of information technology. Obviously, there is no shortage of information on each and every field that we want to look into. For instance, if one is eager to learn about ‘self help techniques’, they can gather information pertaining to the subject of a wide array of sources. Can simply gathering information change one’s life? Of course not. Taking action is more important than collecting information.
These days Facebook has become a great source of information. People post, like, and share statuses, photos, and videos enthusiastically and write beautiful comments too. They can even give nice talks and present their arguments on certain topics if circumstances call for it. The other day, I saw the Buddha’s Eightfold Path on Facebook, which made me wonder, “Do we really understand this path and implement it in our life?”
The Buddha had not wanted people to simply read his Eightfold Path and share it with others. The word ‘path’ itself indicates that we must walk on this if it is useful for us. Gautam Buddha was pretty aware of the danger of ‘blind faith’ so he warned even his most faithful disciples not to believe everything he said. He emphasised the importance for each person to test and examine the authenticity of his teaching through their personal life experiences, not through mere beliefs.
Let’s analyse the Eightfold Path briefly. The term ‘Right understanding’ suggests to us that we must understand the fact that all worldly things are ‘impermanent’ and these impermanent things bring us sufferings. The understanding of the impermanent nature of world should lead one to cultivate ‘Right thought.’ This thought enables him to let go of the things that he has been holding on to unnecessarily. It is important to choose right and positive thoughts like ‘not to hate others’ and ‘not to hurt them’.
Take ‘Right action.’ Right actions always direct to the welfare of oneself as well as others’. Another characteristic of the Eightfold Path is ‘Right speech.’ We should use nice words so that they will never hurt ourselves and others. ‘Right livelihood’ teaches us to respect all living beings equally regardless of whether they are people or animals.
Even if one follows ‘Right livelihood’ in the lack of ‘Right mindfulness’ they can be forgetful and lose their temper easily. Mindfulness practice requires consistent meditation to be fully integrated into daily life. It is not easy to change our conditioned habitual patterns, for example, to turn to the Eightfold Path overnight. For this we must employ ‘Right effort’ continuously. Finally, with ‘Right concentration’ we can sort out the priorities in our lives and will not waste time on trivial things.
To master the Eightfold Path is a lifelong commitment, not an occasional pastime or fashion. With our incessant practice, however, it is possible that we can incorporate it in our life and transform ourselves.  There are a thousand and one pieces of information like the Buddha’s ‘Eightfold Path’ that every one of us knows in words. Until and unless we internalise, practise and make them parts of our lives going into a level deeper down than the level of ‘information’ we will never reach the level of ‘transformation.’ Without transformation our learning will be incomplete no matter how much information we gather.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, June 16, 2017 

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Saturday, 15 July 2017

Wedding City

My general understanding of Janakpurdham was that it is a prominent religious city. The suffix 'dham' itself alludes to this as it refers to the dwelling place of God. It is believed that this town is the birthplace of the Hindu Goddess Sita and it is named after her father, King Janak. Because of its historical significance, Janakpur attracts a tremendous number of religious tourists.
Last week I, however, visited Janakpurdham for an official purpose. Although I did not have enough time to explore the city and learn about the local people and their culture, I noticed a peculiar thing over there as soon as I started walking around.
I realised that the institution of marriage is taken extremely seriously in Janakpur. The local people told me that every married couple is considered to be like Lord Ram and his wife Sita and treated accordingly as well. What was more amusing was that all sorts of wedding arrangements could be found at hand.
For instance, there is a place called Vivah Mandap at the city centre where, people say, Ram and Sita met for the first time, developed their relationship and eventually got married in the same place. These days this site is used as a meeting spot for families to fix their children's marriage. Not only this, the prospective bride and groom are also given an opportunity to talk to each other. If everything goes well, people rush to Raghupati Mishtanna Bhandar which is located just opposite to the Vivah Mandap to buy sweets and celebrate the success of a marriage proposal.
Those who do not belong to Janakpur can also use the place for the same purpose; no need to book a hotel or something like that wasting a huge amount of money as Vivah Mandap is available for free and sweets are nearby.
The wedding ceremony also goes off in style. We could see various types of chariots parked outside the people's residences which our local friend Nitesh Shah told us would be hired for a hefty price during weddings. Some pairs of beautiful white horses confirmed Nitesh's statement. You can just imagine the bride and groom sitting in the decorated chariot moving slowly down the road preceded and followed by files of people. Don't they really look like Ram and Sita?
Learning about all these exotic things, one of my female officemates who is going to get married soon was disappointed. She stated that if she knew about these special features of Janakpur, she would have planned for her wedding ceremony to take place in this city. After all, a wedding is a lifetime experience, and if better options are available, why not to go for them?
Therefore, I suggest those couples who are planning to get married to think about what I just said. If you have a pocket full of money you do not need to worry about anything as there is Masala Cottage at your service which will manage everything for you. If you allow your wedding ceremony to happen in Janakpur and follow the things mentioned above, I am sure you will also feel like a God on your special day. Wouldn’t that feel amazing?

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, June 2, 2017 

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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 
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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 
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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 
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Thursday, 11 May 2017

What Is Going On?

I was more terrified than shocked when I recently read a news story about community schools in Baitadi where girls avoid going to the toilet for the entire day because of the pathetic condition of their schools’ toilets. Not only this, but the girls were also deprived of good menstrual hygiene management skills. They did not even have sanitary pads, and this led to two girls who were on their period while sitting for an SEE exam being compelled to stay back at the examination centre until everybody else had left due to their embarrassment.   
If we consider the policy document of the government of Nepal (GoN) regarding school sanitation, it says that it is committed to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017. It further states that GoN is committed to prioritising and promoting child and disabled friendly services and menstrual hygiene management in schools and monitor this in standards, design and delivery. Therefore, to ensure school sanitation the programme WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) has been implemented in community schools in Nepal.
 WASH highlights that at the very minimum, there will be separate toilets for girls and boys, every 50 students will be entitled to a set of toilets with running water – one for urination and another for defecation. Without a doubt, a huge amount of money has also been allocated to improve WASH at schools. Then, why is the situation of WASH so pitiful in Baitadi? This exemplifies the real condition of WASH in most of Nepal’s community schools. An investigation conducted by WaterAid in association with Ministry of Education indicates that currently one toilet serves 166 female students on average. Even though the number of toilets has been increasing -- one school in Baitadi has been recorded as having ten toilets -- the actual problem remains the lack of water.
No water and female-unfriendly toilets cannot particularly serve the girls who have their periods. Because of this, such girls either do not go to school while they are menstruating or they come back home early. This hampers the girls’ education program too. A world virtual conference on WASH in Schools Empowers Girls' Education highlights the relationship between menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and retention of girls in schools. 
MHM is defined by Colombia University and UNISEF as, "Women and adolescent girls use a clean material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, and this material can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstrual period. MHM includes using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials."
As discussed, most of the community schools do not fit the MHM definition above. Apart from this, WASH is a right of all school-going children. Why has the government's commitment to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017 disappeared? We are nearly midway through 2017 and school girls are still restraining their natural toilet-going urges for the whole day merely because of a lack of toilet facilities! Is it something worth being proud of?
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 5, 2017 
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Wednesday, 3 May 2017

All About Commitment

I feel that the "NO Horn" policy of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Department and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has been implemented quite effectively; this is not something that I’ve had the luxury of getting used to as a long time resident of the valley. These days the valley roads are found peaceful in the absence of unnecessary and haphazard honking, and it is impressive. These are the same motorists who used to blow the horn of their vehicles as loudly as possible until the last day of Chaitra; how come they suddenly stopped this from the first of Baishakh?
This was all made achievable due to the high level of commitment of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Department. They seem to be determined to make the Kathmandu valley as "horn free" as possible.
 Some people might have thought that this policy would also fail like the majority of other government policies and they habitually blew their horn, but unfortunately they got caught and fined. A report by the Metropolitan Traffic Police indicates that from the first of Baishakh up until the fourth of Baishakh, 657 motorists in Kathmandu, 161 in Lalitpur and 33 in Bhaktapur were fined. Considering the massive numbers of vehicles on the roads of the Kathmandu valley, this number is very nominal. All in all we can say that the "No Horn" policy has been successful so far.
Another such a successful example is "No Load-shedding in Kathmandu." This has been made possible by the continuous efforts of a single person, Mr. Kul Man Ghising, the managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority. This time last year, we had to put up with up to 18 hours of load-shedding every single day. It is amazing that people are not suffering from even an hour's load-shedding this year. Mr. Ghising has managed to do all of this through developing internal management and some import of electricity from India. Furthermore, he has also taken an initiative to control leakage of power and the practice of unfair distribution. His ultimate goal is to make the entire nation load-shedding free.
On the other hand, there came other policies like ‘no use of plastic bags’, ‘no littering on the roads’ and ‘no spitting through bus windows’. Even though there were fines declared for those found infringing upon these rules, people did not care to comply. Why was this the case? The answer is as simple as there was a lack of commitment on the part of the concerned people, so the general public did not bother to follow what the authority said.
It can be concluded that announcing policies is not that big of a deal; the effectiveness of implementation is what really makes a difference. If the people who are responsible for implementing something are really committed to bringing about change, then nothing can stop them as the above "No Horn" and "No Load-shedding "examples show. However, if they are reluctant towards implementation and follow up sides, history shows that policies alone cannot succeed. 
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 28, 2017 
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Saturday, 22 April 2017

Not A Smart Choice

It has hardly been a month since students sat for the Secondary Education Examination (SEE), and most of them have already become busy with their ‘bridge courses’. Bridge courses have become a fashion these days; it seems as though those students who do not take such courses are going to miss out on something very important in their life. Are they really that important?
I do not think so. In fact, this break is very significant for the SEE students. They have completed 10 years' of schooling, so they now have a chance to reflect on those years to better prepare themselves for the future. Instead of devoting their time to bridge courses, they can do numerous other things which will be more valuable. For example, they can go for skill development programmes, such as basic sewing, cooking, typing, writing, public speaking, basic first aid and many others. These life skills are always useful.
 Another alternative is travelling. In Western countries, almost all students take a gap year after they complete their schooling, and they utilise this time to learn more about the world. For this, they usually do backpacking which allows them to go to different countries where they work for their daily expenses. They travel carefree and learn many life lessons. Then, they think they are ready to enter the next phase of their life, i.e., either further studies or work.
 Although backpacking is not common in Nepal, young adults are able to, at the very least, explore different parts of the country which are accessible for them. Additionally, they can discover various activities to do which interest them.
Bridge courses rarely challenge students, as most of them are only operated for business purposes. I talked to a couple of students who took such courses, and their responses were negative because they did not find them helpful to hone their study skills. Basically, the providers of these courses claim that they prepare the students to get through different types of entrance examinations so that they can study the subjects they like in grade 11.
An entrance examination is a standardised aptitude test which measures students' collective knowledge in different skill areas, such as verbal, mathematical, analytical and writing skills. Different colleges have different test formats and students can obtain them from the college where they intend to apply. The students who are good in studies at their school can easily pass the entrance exams if they collect a certain amount of information about the format of the exams and timing. In terms of subject matter, what they have learned so far will be enough as the entrance tests measures their potential to perform well in future. A student who does not have the ability to do well, let's say, in mathematics cannot excel in this subject even if he attends a bridge course.
Therefore, I suggest the SEE takers to choose better options over merely a bridge course so that they can better utilise this break from rigorous studies.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 21, 2017 
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Friday, 21 April 2017

Real Brahmacharya

On the basis of traditional knowledge I used to mean that Brahmacharya is a term used to indicate a significant aspect of religious disciplines of the Hindu tradition, according to which a man remains unmarried throughout his life to devote himself to God’s service. Sometimes this made me question, “Why should one be deprived of marriage to serve God?” “Don’t the Gods enjoy the company of their partner Goddesses?” “Then why the same Gods order poor human beings to observe Brahmacharya?”
Thanks to Alistair Shearer, a translator of Patanjali’s ‘Yoga Sutras’, who cleared my doubts. He argues that from the earliest times Brahmacharya has been wrongly attached to sexuality. In fact the true meaning of Brahmacharya is “moving in the Immensity” or “living in Reality.” He urges that Brahmacharya should not be confined merely to sexuality, instead it should be taken in its widest sense as true “chastity.”
Alistair’s interpretation of Brahmacharya has provided me a framework to understand this concept more deeply. In fact Brahmacharya is to live a life truthfully. There is no problem with a faithful marriage but if a married person involves in adultery, then his Brahmacharya is seriously jeopardized. A Brahmachari must be pure in his thoughts, words and actions. It is relevant to relate a story of two monks here.
Once there were two monks who needed to cross a river. They were about to step into the water when they heard a female voice behind them, “Excuse me, will you please help me to cross the river? Because I’m scared to cross it alone.” Monk A turned back, smiled compassionately at the woman and replied, “No problem. Come on lady, hold my hand.”
Monk A took the woman safely to the other side of the river, left her there and continued his journey, following by monk B. They walked silently for a while. Then monk B curiously asked, “Hey friend, aren’t we taught not to touch a woman? Knowing this, how you dared to hold that woman’s hand?” Monk A looked at his friend blankly and replied, “She needed help so I helped her to cross the river. As soon as I took her to the other side, my duty was over, and I forgot her. But why are you talking about her now?” This answer made monk B feel ashamed. Even if he did not touch the woman he was carrying her in his mind all the time. On the contrary, his friend was simply fulfilling his duty without thinking about her.
Similarly, every Brahmachari should be as truthful inside-out as monk A who can clearly differentiate between responsibilities and lust. There is no harm in a marriage itself since it is a beautiful and strong institution in our culture. In addition, whether to get married or not is entirely a personal choice because the God has given all of us a free will. A problem only arises when the married person forgets the value and purity of marriage and involves in extra-marital affairs or such things. Most importantly, when someone sets a higher goal to achieve, then the lower goals seem less significant for him. It should be noted that all human beings have the potential to be in Brahmacharya and serve the God with true actions, words, thoughts and emotions.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 14, 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.]

Saturday, 8 April 2017

Levels Of Traps

Right now, one lot of students have just completed their Secondary Education Examination (SEE) and another is preparing for their twelfth grade exams. Soon, these students will face a dilemma when it comes to choosing what direction they want to head towards after receiving their results.

It is unfortunate that in our society, a majority of parents expect a lot from their children. In general, they do not care about their child's interests and abilities, but pressure them into studying one of medicine or engineering. To make the situation worse, a number of educational consultancies sell these young people sweet dreams of becoming doctors and engineers without breaking a sweat.

Problems arise when students do not get the right information at the right time. Since the secondary and post-secondary education systems in Nepal have been going through a transition phase, the task of deciding on a career has become even more challenging for students. As there is a tough competition and a limited number of spots available in the medical and engineering fields, only a few students succeed in the university entrance examinations to study these subjects. In an effort to live their dreams through their children, parents often see sending their children to India to pursue medicine or engineering as the next best alternative.

Unfortunately, these young school leavers do not have sufficient information about Indian colleges or universities to choose what is best for them by themselves, so they inevitably depend on educational consultants. Those who got relatively low scores have a meager chance of getting accepted into an authentic Indian college. Most of the consultants are simply money-minded; they do not care about students' future. They make students believe that they can find a medical or engineering college for them; only, they do not tell them that it is highly likely that the college is fraudulent.

Most students are probably unaware of the existence of a government body, the University Grants Commission (UGC), which is responsible for the coordination, determination and maintenance of standards of university education in India. Recently, the UGC released a list of 23 fake universities on its website, and it is obvious that the degrees provided by such universities are useless. Similarly, another authoritative organisation, All India Council for Technical Education (AICTE) also published a list 279 fake technical colleges or institutes. It is clear then that students should not trust educational consultancies blindly.

What they can first do is their own research. These days, almost all students have access to the Internet, so they can quite easily determine which colleges seem genuine; contacting a consultancy should be considered an option only once this step has been completed. If hesitant, they can ask for their family’s help. Parents have just as important a role as students when it comes to making decisions about education; it is crucial for them to avoid pressuring their child to study specific subjects without considering their wishes. Parents should never forget that their child will only realise their full potential and excel when studying a subject they love and enjoy.
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 7, 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.]