Thursday, 14 September 2017

CC Camera In School

Since the use of information and communication technologies (ICT) has been an essential component of the existing school curriculum in Nepal, many schools have taken an initiative to integrate ICT into their classrooms. In the name of ICT teaching and learning, they have also started installing closed-circuit television (CCTV) cameras, which are also known as video surveillance devices as they produce images and/or recordings of the area they observe.

It can be realised that CCTV cameras have been accepted very positively by school teachers in Nepal. Recently, I read an article about a community school which had recently installed a CCTV camera, and it created a sense of excitement amongst teachers as well as students. The head teacher commented enthusiastically, “Students’ achievement has improved tremendously. CCTV has contributed a lot towards the security of the school property as well as to the regularity of teachers and students.”

Even though CCTV is a relatively new addition to Nepali schools, it has already been subjected to widespread debate in Western countries because its usage in schools and classrooms has been growing with each passing year. For instance, at least 100,000 cameras were installed in classrooms and corridors across Britain in 2012. Advocates of the use of CCTV in schools and classrooms claim that it increases the school’s safety and security in terms of teachers, students and physical property. Besides, it also helps regulate teachers’ and students’ behaviour and improve teachers’ performance as well.

On the other hand, those who are against the use of CCTV in schools argue that schools are not prisons; they do not have to scrutinize teachers and students all the time. Critics claim that the school administration is directly encroaching upon the privacy of its employees and students while the controlling environment prevents effective teaching and learning.

There have been several research studies conducted to examine the impact of CCTV in schools. Among them, Dr Emmeline Taylor’s study is quite noticeable. She surveyed 24 comprehensive schools in the North West of England and discovered that 23 had installed more than 20 cameras. A finding of this study indicates that while the use of CCTV is often attributed with numerous benefits, there is no corroborating evidence. 

Similarly, a study by the National Association of Schoolmasters Union of Women Teachers (NASUWT) in the UK states that the purpose of CCTV in schools seems to be to spy on students and at the same time to ensure that teachers are working hard. Most of the participating teachers in this research agreed that simply the use of CCTV does not aid anything in teaching or learning.

In the context of Nepal, it may be too early to experience adverse impacts of CCTV cameras in schools. The device has been taken as a luxurious item as very few schools seem to be capable of affording this. However, in the context of enough research-based evidence available to us, it is fair to ponder. Learning theories suggest that children learn better in natural setting, so teachers are always encouraged to make their classrooms as natural as possible. How can one create a natural teaching-learning atmosphere when they are acutely aware of the constant scrutiny that they are under? There are many other ICT appliances which directly help to enhance student learning. So, why to choose CCTV cameras over other more useful devices?

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Sept. 8, 2017 

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Sunday, 10 September 2017

Secret Of Staying Young

Penelope Cruz
Once I read an interview given by Penelope Cruz, a famous Spanish actress and model where the interviewer asked her why she wanted to go back to university despite having a promising acting career at her disposal. I still remember her response to this question; she said that if she went to university for her studies, she would feel young because learning makes one feel young and energetic.

One of my cousin brothers who is a university professor also has a similar view. He told me that he never feels old as he needs to deal with a young bunch of students on a daily basis and in their company my brother has to be one of them to fit into their discourse, to learn about the contemporary topics or to get a membership in their group. His position will be renewed every year with a new set of students. This makes my cousin more enthusiastic and eager to deliver his lessons in a new manner too.

I also think that as long as one is ready to learn things which keep changing regularly, they do not feel old or one’s growing age does not determine his fading youth, instead a lack of interests towards learning indicates that the person’s growth has stopped as well.

In this context, I remember one of my workmates who had spent more than two decades working in different fields. His extensive work experience may have been a reason behind his reluctance to learn new skills or knowledge that his new position would demand. To encourage him, one day I said, “Sir, this office provides us with a lot of learning opportunities, so we should learn new things which help us to produce quality work.” Contrary to my expectation his response greatly surprised me, “How long should I learn? I have spent all these years in learning and what to learn now?”

It was as if he had learned everything he needed or he knew all the things in this vast universe. At that time I thought he did not want to grow further now, meaning he got old. Soon after that, it became clear that he could not cope with the challenging office environment and he quit his job.

Doubtlessly, a positive attitude towards learning is one of the major keys to success. If one wants to fit in this globalised and dynamic world they should never say “No” to learning. The concept of ‘lifelong learning’ also justifies this fact. In the simplest of terms, lifelong learning is defined as, “the provision or use of both formal and informal learning opportunities throughout people’s lives in order to foster the continuous development and improvement of the knowledge and skills needed for employment and personal fulfillment.”

Therefore, in my opinion learning is an essential part of life. As long as you are a passionate learner you will feel lively and young but once you start feeling unwilling towards learning you stop living purposefully too. Learning helps you keep going.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Sept. 1, 2017 

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Saturday, 2 September 2017

Everyday Heroes

Usually, we see heroes as special people who do incredible things and win people’s hearts. So, they must be a celebrity. A simple dictionary definition of a hero is “a person who, in the opinion of others, has special achievements, abilities, or personal qualities and is regarded as a role model or ideal.” And obviously they must be popular.

However, it is not always necessary that one should have special qualities to be a hero. Everyday heroes are just as ordinary as any one of us but they do something extraordinary and get noticed. Even if they do not get noticed it does not matter to them.
Photo: The Kathmandu Post

For instance, a couple of weeks ago a school girl grabbed the public attention by her genuine gesture towards humanity. It was a rainy day and the streets of Kathmandu Valley were flooded. Sujana Gole, a ninth grader, was returning home from school when she saw a man in a wheelchair, who was stuck on a flooded street in Bauddha. Without losing a second she rushed towards the man and started pulling him out to rescue him. A photojournalist was there right on time to capture this moment with his camera, and this photo created a ripple on social media. Regardless of whatever people commented on her great deed it was not a big deal for Sujata. She made it clear in an interview, “I was just doing what I felt was the right thing to do at that moment.” 
Similarly, there was a recent news story about a 24 year-old-girl, Sarita Maharjan, who happily donated her liver to her father who had serious complications with his liver. Sujata and Sarita were lucky as the media noticed them and publicized their inspirational stories. On the other hand, there are many other people in our society who do great things but such things never get acknowledged. For example, a mother in a family performs a lot of duties to make the family happy and functional; she takes care of every member’s needs without expecting any reward, praise or fame in return.

Everyday heroes possess some fine traits. They do not have any hunger for publicity; it is their instinct which pushes them towards helping others; they think they are doing ordinary actions to express kindness, courage or love but these actions wind up having an extraordinary impact on other people’s lives.

A Stanford University professor, Philip Zimbardo, conducted a study on 4,000 adults and found that 20 per cent of them qualified as everyday heroes. For him, such heroes had helped others during a dangerous emergency, taken a stand against injustice, or sacrificed for a stranger. According to Zimbardo, “Heroes are ordinary people. You become a hero by doing an extraordinary deed.” 

As humans we all have the capacity to be an everyday hero. Looking at our current situation, for instance, several parts of the nation are suffering from flash floods and landslides. All the volunteers working to help the victims are heroes. They choose to travel to the flood affected areas in order to try and make a difference in others’ lives, even though they are putting their life at risk by doing so.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, August 18, 2017 

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Thursday, 24 August 2017

Reality Bites

Although this incident dates back to 2009, it always haunts me. It was the time when I was preparing myself to apply for a prestigious scholarship at Monash University, Australia to continue my PhD which I started in 2008. Along with academic excellence, the publication of two articles in renowned scholarly journals was a prerequisite to get that scholarship. Since I had a good academic track record and two articles of mine were published in the NELTA Journal, the only scholarly journal available in Nepal at that time to publish the articles related to English teaching/learning, I was confident about getting the scholarship.
My dream was shattered when the scholarship committee refused to consider the NELTA Journal as a “scholarly journal” according to the criteria the university had set. Although my faculty (Faculty of Education) tried hard to negotiate with the committee to make the committee members understand the value of the NELTA Journal among Nepali English teachers, the answer was a big “NO” to give the scholarship on the basis of the articles published in the journal. At that time I was very sad and furious. I could not do anything except for turning to other ways to find other scholarships.
I only realised the flaws of the NELTA Journal when I came into contact with the international journals in relation to publication of my articles later. As I said earlier, my bitter NELTA Journal experience is more than half a dozen years old. I hope the journal has improved up to the international level by now. If it has, I heartily congratulate.
The most important thing a scholarly journal must have is some common criteria for an article to be published, such as, word-count, contribution the article makes in the related field, research-based, literature review, language use, referencing style and so on.
Secondly, the article in question must be peer-reviewed. Basically in peer review, the journal appoints two independent reviewers who review the article following the given criteria. To make their reviews unbiased the writer’s name is withdrawn from the article. There are many chances that the article can be rejected after going through the review process. In other situations, it is almost impossible for any article submitted to get accepted without being revised addressing the reviewers’ comments. A second, third or even fourth rewriting is needed to eventually be accepted and published.
In a nutshell, to get published in a scholarly journal is an extensive process, which may take a couple of years (particularly for novice authors) from the first submission to publication. With these experiences when I go back to my NELTA Journal articles I feel embarrassed. Let’s forget about peer-review. Those articles could be much better if I was given some sort of guidelines to follow. Then perhaps there would have been a possibility of me receiving the targeted scholarship. All I want is for the contributors to the NELTA Journal to not have to face the same predicament that I once had to. If the Journal claims it is a “renowned and scholarly” it must be regarded as such around the globe.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, August 4, 2017 

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Friday, 28 July 2017

Attention, Please!

It has been over two years since Nepal encountered a devastating earthquake which claimed the lives of more than 8,000 people whilst leaving nearly 22 thousand people injured and destroying thousands of houses and landmarks.
The saddest part of this catastrophe is that most of the people who lost their homes have still been compelled to live in the same unfortunate situation that started immediately after the two major earthquakes and a series of subsequent aftershocks.
The epicenter of these earthquakes was Gorkha -- a place I recently visited -- and people there are still waiting to shift from their temporary shelter into a proper house; they are hopelessly hoping for the fund that the government had promised them.
Dhruba Khankhawas is one of these people. He is from Prithvi Municipality, Rip Kafalghari. He shared his incredible story with me. He is a low-paid worker in the hotel industry who has to support four school-going children and wife. With a gloomy expression he said, “If I had enough money to build a house, I would do that. This is the third year that my family is staying in a temporary hut in our farm land. We are scared, particularly in the rainy season that we might get bitten by snakes.”
Out of my curiosity I asked him whether he had correctly gone through the process to obtain the earthquake relief fund being provided by the government. According to him, he did everything; he got the earthquake victim ID, completed all the necessary forms and followed what was going on but in vain.
The government had announced plans to give cash grants of Rs. 3, 00,000 for those who lost their home during the Baishakh 12 and 29 earthquakes in three installments. Unfortunately, despite fulfilling all the formalities, Dhruba’s family has not received even a first installment yet. He said there are many other families who face the same predicament.
The other day I read a news story that Durbar High School, the oldest school in the heart of Kathmandu city has also been waiting for reconstruction. We all know schools are the most sensitive space to be as hundreds of children go to them every day so they must be safe. The children at Durbar High School on the other hand are risking their lives by studying in makeshift tents located just in front of the damaged building which could collapse at any moment. Even though the head teacher has constantly approached the concerned departments asking for help to rebuild the school, his concerns have not been addressed yet. 
If we compare Khankhawas’ position to that of Durbar High School’s, both are suffering a similar fate regardless of locating in a village or the capital city. These are just two cases but there are thousands of such cases going unnoticed. Is it fair to make people wait for this long just to provide them with what they have been entitled to? These people have already lost so many things including their near and dear. They do not deserve to permanently lose their homes or their hope for a better and safe life in the coming years.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, July 21, 2017 

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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 

[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, 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.]