Wednesday, 15 November 2017

Role Of Research

A couple of weeks ago I read two news stories related to medical sciences – one was about Guru Prasad Khanal’s, the newly appointed Rector at BP Koirala Institute of Health Sciences (BPKIHS), determination to heavily prioritise research work and the other was about five KU doctors being blacklisted internationally for plagiarising research findings. While the first one gives the general public hope -- BPKIHS conducts research on more than 300 diseases and treatment systems every year -- the second one is shameful and no proud citizen can take it just like that.
Doesn’t a professional as prestigious and responsible as a doctor realise the importance of research work? How can they cheat others’ work and proudly claim it as theirs? Other people may do it due to their ignorance but this should not be the case with doctors.
In the context of Nepali people not having a strong presence in the international platform, this blacklist pushes us further backwards. One should not forget that we have got all this worldly knowledge because of the efforts of different researchers who devoted their time to create knowledge. Research is only a weapon to satisfy people’s curiosities and questions.
For instance, if our ancestors had not been curious to learn about the vast and dark sky, we would not have been able to gain the knowledge of “space” that we have now. According to Cali Simboli, without research, we would not go forward. We would be a bunch of curious humans who would leave this world without knowing the things we wanted to know. When it comes to constructing knowledge, research is equally important in all fields.
Since it is related to people’s health, life and wellbeing, medical research can be considered to be the most important field of knowledge. Its importance can be summarided in the words of the Minneapolis Medical Research Foundation as, “The high quality of medical care we enjoy today is built upon years of effort by physicians, physician-scientists, PhDs, and other medical professionals investigating the causes of and potential treatments for disease. The tireless effort of these professionals has made many once life-threatening diseases and conditions just a memory.” It is obvious that such research work must be purely original to contribute in the already available mass of knowledge.

In contrast, research is taken just as a formality in most of the cases in Nepal. Otherwise, those blacklisted doctors would not dare to plagiarise other people’s findings. In other cases, a substantial number of university students can also been seen to copy other students’ thesis and defend it as theirs. What is more ridiculous is that the supervisors or examiners also do not pay attention to this plagiarism practice. What can we say about the quality of education of that university where the Vice Chancellor himself has been accused of being a plagiarist?  
It is high time for intellectuals like doctors, university teachers and students to consider research as an entirely original study which deserves to be held in high regard. They should always remember that their hard work to find new knowledge can bring forth findings that are not only revolutionary for their respective fields, but for humanity as a whole.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Nov. 3, 2017 

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Friday, 27 October 2017

Appointment In Samarra

Whenever I hear about someone’s death, particularly when it is ‘untimely’, I remember a Middle Eastern folk story “Appointment in Samarra” which was retold by the famous British playwright, novelist and short story writer W. Somerset Maugham. The story was further taken as a reference by an American writer John O’ Hara while using the same name as the title of his novel itself. “Appointment in Samarra” is a very powerful story that exemplifies the inevitability of death.   

Once there was a rich merchant in Baghdad who one day sent his servant to the marketplace to buy some household supplies. It was not long before the servant ran back, pale, gasping and trembling. He took some time to collect his breath and said, “My dear Master, when I just entered the marketplace I was jostled by a woman in the crowd. I found it quite strange and looked at her closely. At that moment I saw Death in that woman’s disguise who looked at me and made a threatening gesture. I was scared as hell and started rushing back without buying anything. Will you please lend me your horse so that I can ride away to Samarra where that nasty Death will not find me?” The merchant felt pity over his servant and lent him his horse happily.
Without looking back, the servant galloped away and disappeared within no time. The merchant was furious, so he decided to go to the marketplace and confront Death himself. Soon he saw Death standing in the crowd. The merchant approached her and asked angrily, “Why did you make a threatening gesture to my servant who was here to buy the things for me?” Death looked at the merchant surprised and said, “That was not a threatening gesture at all; it was only a start of shock. I was astonished to see him in Baghdad, for I had an appointment with him tonight in Samarra.”
The poor servant was clueless about this arrangement and continued to think that he would be safe if he went away to the far land of Samarra. Like him, we all have that set appointment at an exact time and place which cannot be escaped. Unfortunately, we forget this and engage in so many worldly affairs as if we are here to stay forever.
During this process, we may even lose sight of ourselves and deviate from our true human nature which includes love, peace, kindness, patience and care for each other; instead, we turn towards selfishness and focus only on feeding our individual desires. Soon, the time comes for everyone to face that important appointment without our notice. When we hear about such appointments we go, “Oh, no! This wasn’t expected. It is too early.”
Is it really too early? No, not at all. As for the servant above, these appointments are predestined; they are never early nor late. So, why don’t we keep this in mind? If we are able to do so we would not be so worried about things which do not really need to be worried about. Instead, we would be able to enjoy life in full swing without having to forget our true nature.  
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Oct. 27, 2017 

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Tuesday, 17 October 2017

Crazy Queries

Career counselling is not an integral part of the current school curriculum in Nepal. I have found a lot of youths have a tendency either to study the subjects of their parents’ choice or to succumb to peer pressure without considering their interests. As a result, most of them may not do well in the subjects they are studying because they feel they ‘have to’ as their interests are not involved.

After all, an American self-help book author Oliver Napoleon Hill was right when he said, “No man can succeed in a line of endeavour which he does not like.”  There are mainly three exit points during general stream schooling years in Nepal – at the end of grade 8, 10 and 12 respectively because students need to choose optional subjects in grades 9, 11 and after grade 12. At these points, they need career counselling at an extensive level which helps them to get an opportunity to study the subjects of their choice and excel in them.
As a career counsellor, I particularly encourage such students to identify their interests and abilities so that they can develop those interests into a career later. In the process of counselling, while some students ask really genuine questions and at the same time I have come across the strange queries which make me wonder if the students actually know what exactly is involved in career counselling. Let me describe some of their queries which do not fit within the scope of career counselling.
The most frequently asked question is, “I don’t want to study, what should I do?” Another, “I always think about girls, so I cannot concentrate on my studies, what should I do?” The third question comes, “What is the answer of this question (related to their course content)?” Similarly, “I always want to watch movies, what should I do?” The list of such questions goes on and on and it feels like the questioners misunderstand a career counsellor as a panacea who solves all sorts of problems just like that.
Available literature suggests that the main role of a career counsellor is to help students identify their interests, skills, talents and abilities and inform them about the career options presented to them. This helps students make informed decisions while choosing their areas of study which will eventually lead them to their future career.  
In this way, the career counsellor guides students towards enhancing their self-understanding instead of offering instant answers. Furthermore, career counselling revolves around students’ strengths and their ability to take advantage of such strengths. As I mentioned, my focus is also on such things.
The questions posed above reflect negative mindset of a typical bunch of students which they may harbor from our cultural practice which focuses more on negative aspects than positive ones. Their queries also indicate the importance of career counselling at our schools. If the students knew about the essence of career counselling, they would never come up with such irrelevant questions in the first place.
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Oct. 13, 2017 

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Friday, 13 October 2017

Montessori Vs. Kindergarten

Recently the term “Montessori” has been spreading rapidly in Nepal particularly in urban areas, which was confined to only the Kathmandu Valley until very recently. In most of the cases, I have heard people interchangeably using “Montessori” and “Kindergarten” education. In other cases, people name a classroom as “Montessori” but follow the same traditional instructional approach.

While it is good to introduce new teaching approaches inside classrooms, at the same time there should be a clear understanding about the approach in question. For instance, “Montessori” and “Kindergarten” are two different concepts and they should not be used interchangeably.

Even though in our context both of them are used to mean the pre-school education, they are based on the different philosophies. Let’s see some of the differences.

The main difference between these two systems is that Kindergarten is simply a level of education that is present in all formal schooling systems whereas Montessori is a medium of instruction that is very specific and not all schools adopt this method. Usually Kindergarten is the year before first grade but most of the schools in Nepal have split this into two years – naming them Lower Kindergarten and Upper Kindergarten.

The pioneer of Montessori education is an Italian educationist Maria Montessori. A Montessori curriculum focuses on student-centered or student-led lessons and activities because it is believed that every child has different learning needs and learning styles. Therefore, the Montessori system uses an open approach and children are allowed to be creative and express themselves in all aspects of their education, such as physical, mental, linguistic, emotional, social and even spiritual. 

Teachers in Montessori classrooms create an environment where children learn freely; they choose their own activities and materials. This way, teachers have a very limited role and their main job is to observe and supervise the children, which helps them to define their learning progress. In a nutshell, the Montessori Method encourages children to learn at their own individual pace without teacher interference.

On the other hand, a German pedagogue Friedrich Fröbel developed the concept of Kindergarten which means “garden for the children.” As mentioned above, all Kindergarten classrooms do not necessarily implement Montessori instruction; in such classrooms the learning environment is structured where the lessons and activities are teacher-centered or teachers decide what to teach and what activities to be used. Teacher’s role thus is pre-defined and they usually follow the set curriculum and the same techniques for all students without paying too much attention towards individual differences.

There is not a problem whether to follow Montessori Education or Kindergarten Education but the problem arises if one replaces one term for another without being aware of their underpinning theories. Furthermore, it is also not wise to use the Montessori model of education while following the same traditional teacher-led curriculum.

Obviously, both of these systems have their pros and cons. For example, while children enjoy learning freely in a Montessori classroom in a pre-school, they may experience difficulties once they are promoted to a more structured primary classroom and this may hamper their learning progress. Similarly, directly coming from a more natural and freer home learning environment, the new preschoolers may not easily adjust in a quite formal Kindergarten setting. Hence, it is better to clarify one’s ideas and follow which system suits them better.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Oct. 6, 2017 

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Wednesday, 11 October 2017

Hunger For Praise

We love words of praise irrespective of the truth they carry. However, we need great courage to find out if we are addicted to such words of validation. Recently, a gentleman called me and asked in an excited tone if I had read an article he had published in a magazine. I wondered how I could access the magazine which was not readily available on the market. To console him, however, I thanked him for his wonderful deed and I promised to read his article. To my dismay, the man immediately offered to come to my place with the magazine.

He read out the nearly five page long article in a breath and asked how it was. I could clearly sense that he was not ready to take any criticism at that time; instead he wanted to hear all the good stuff Hunger For Praise
about him and his writing. The gentleman is just an example. The majority of people in our society have a hunger for praise. They do not want to hear anything against them or their work. A long time ago I read a story about a king.

All that king wanted was to hear good things about him. So, he had appointed a group of people whose job was to simply praise the king from morning to evening and they got paid for that. Although those people knew the king was cruel and his citizens did not like him they had to say how generous the king was and how dearly people would love him. Eventually, his ‘admirers’ got fed up with their fake job and decided to forsake the king.
The king waited for them impatiently the whole morning but when none of them appeared even until the afternoon, the king was furious and started to inquire about them but unfortunately nobody could tell him their whereabouts. Gradually, the king’s condition began to deteriorate; he lost interest in everything; he would lock himself inside his suite the whole day. He stopped talking to people and soon the poor king died.

This way, the hunger for praise can be very dangerous. Why don’t people understand that healthy criticism is much better for them in comparison to incessant praise? They cannot tackle their weaknesses easily. They think that whatever they do is the best and they continuously look for others’ approval for that.

As long as such people are surrounded by bootlickers they believe that these people will never leave them alone but when they become powerless their so-called fans disappear within no time and their condition may be like that of the king.

If someone really produces a good body of work, this will shine sooner or later; they do not need to seek others’ approval for this. On the other hand, you should be careful of those who always extend comforting words to you; doing this they most probably have their vested interest of taking advantages from you and when they realise you are not of any use to them they will change their route.

Instead of paying too much attention towards other people’s approval if one is focused on their work, and developing their confidence through a habit of taking criticism positively, life becomes a lot easier. Observing the gentleman above, I came to this conclusion.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Sept. 22, 2017 

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Wednesday, 27 September 2017

Qualities Of Quality Education

Recently, I read a Nepali article on quality education written by a teacher where he indicated that quality education is basically related to “academic achievement” or the best examination results at schools. His statement made me wonder if teachers themselves define quality education this way, what does the term mean to the general public? 

Quality education is very important at the present time as it is one of the seventeen UN sustainable development goals. Quality education should not only be confined to examination results; they are only one dimension. There are different indicators to define this term. Some of them which are suitable in the context of Nepali community schools include the following.

Apart from a relevant and competitive curriculum, teacher qualifications and their professional development is the most essential aspect of quality education. Teachers play a vital role in implementing educational policies so they must have up-to-date knowledge and skills to impart the curriculum content to students.
School infrastructure is another dimension. There must be spacious classrooms where students can perform different sorts of group and individual activities. In addition to this, they must have access to clean drinking water, sanitary toilets, a playground and playthings.

Classroom management is also equally important. The classrooms must not be overcrowded. Research studies indicate that the ideal pupil to teacher ratio is between 1:20 and 1:30. If the student number is small, every student will get a chance to interact with the teacher and the teacher will also be able to cater individual students’ needs. Furthermore, teachers should not be absent from their classes.

Without enough resource materials students’ learning will not be effective. They include white/blackboard with its accessories and use, textbooks, a well-equipped library and varieties of teaching learning materials.
Students’ continuous assessment is also a must to find out if they have achieved the learning outcomes mentioned in the curriculum. Teachers can use a number of ways for formative evaluation and at the end of the academic year there is a summative evaluation to upgrade students from one level to another.

Without parental involvement in their children’s learning, the process of quality education will not be complete. On the one hand, in most of the cases parents do not know much about what their children are doing at school. On the other hand, research shows that parental involvement in children’s education improves their academic achievement. Therefore, there must be strong home-school partnerships to foster student learning. 

UNICEF identifies five key factors of quality education. They are healthy and well-nourished children who are supported by their families and communities; safe, protective and gender-sensitive learning environments with adequate resources and facilities; relevant content with literacy, numeracy, life skills as well as knowledge in the areas of gender, health, nutrition HIV/AIDS prevention and peace; effective teaching learning processes including trained teachers, child-centred teaching approaches, well-managed classrooms and skilful assessment; and learning outcomes via knowledge, skills and attitudes.

This way, quality education does not only include students’ academic achievement. Instead, it combines different features by the use of which every child will be able to maximise their potential to achieve learning outcomes expected of them.

(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, Sept. 15, 2017 

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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 

[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.]

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 

[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.]