Education in Nepal New orientation required

Mana Prasad Wagley

Students’ exposure to the modern communication technologies has made them highly informed.

There is a big difference in the concept of learning in the industrial age and information era. The world has moved far towards a knowledge age in the 21st century from the information age. Data alone cannot generate information. Information alone is no knowledge. All knowledge cannot be considered wisdom and all wisdom does not necessarily lead to truth. Thus there is a big gap of knowledge between the “old” and the “new”— the Industrial Age public education system versus the Knowledge Age online network. Our education system has one foot on a plough and the other foot on a jet. Given the realities of these tensions, what questions should the educators be asking themselves? How do we prepare our children for the future?

The time now is not to discuss the administrative issues like teachers’ quota, their salaries, their rights and duties, local versus central control of schools, rather it is time to think how we can justify the annual ten billion rupees spent for teachers’ salary in the public schools and colleges. The inputs are justified based on their outputs. But look at the outputs of the public schools and colleges where there is no transparency and no accountability on the part of the administrators as well as that of teachers. In this era of technology we still are occupied with the old curricula of rote memorisation. Then how can our graduates be accepted into the job market? The question now is: Can traditional schools and colleges prepare students for the new society of seamless technology?

This does not mean that we did not do things right. It only should make us alert that we have to move where the world turns. People may raise issues regarding the capability of our public schools in using modern technology. But technology does not always mean sophisticated hardware. Moreover, the cost of hardware itself is decreasing. The issue is not orienting people to specific technologies, but to a future in which technology is supporting the changing social framework. It is necessary to establish “why” before establishing “how” to integrate technology into the classroom. In the future, students will need to be concerned with creating meaning, managing their identity and reputation online, developing trust, communicating with pictures and symbols, and navigating large bodies of information in a virtual global environment. In our traditional system there is no room for students to argue with what they are taught. Without question they have to swallow what is taught as the ultimate knowledge. So we are doing injustice to our children. Knowledge without discussion and argument was true in Gurukul system.

But the situation is different now. Students’ exposure to the modern communication technologies has made them more intellectual than their teachers. And this is equally true in the nursery classes. In the past teachers were the source of knowledge but now the students are the ones who can find answers by themselves. Finding answers won’t be the issue, but asking the relevant questions will be critical. Students need to learn how to express their questions, how to navigate the results, and how to differentiate the reliability of the answers presented to them. Unless students have opportunities to construct and deconstruct what they are taught, we are not providing any new knowledge to them and there will be no real education.

Does our education system provide room for argument, discussion and conclusion? Do students have their say in education? How can teachers without regular updating provide a solid bridge to the future for students, helping them ask the right questions, construct meaning, and develop strong but flexible social frameworks? Perhaps first, teachers must cross the bri-dge themselves. The Internet is relatively new, and teachers are challenged, by adapting to a medium that was not part of shaping their personal and professional development. All these imply a dramatic shift in the way the world plans to deliver schooling in the next decade. It may well be that instructional delivery will be conducted via computer, interactive multimedia, and satellite technologies throughout the world in the near future. Unless Nepal moves in this direction long lectures on Nepal’s development from the bureaucrats is worthless.

Can Nepal introduce technology in classrooms? Yes it can. If big projects like EFA and SESP supported the schools with required hardware and their networking with the centre and if Nepal Telecom provided the use of the Internet in the academic institutions free of cost we would have the solution today and don’t even have to wait till “tomorrow”. If this happens, even rural primary school children of Nepal can get education of international quality. Where there is no electricity, solar power can be the solution. Equally important is the orientation of teachers toward this rather than pending millions of rupees each year in traditional teacher training that has yielded no results.

Dr Wagley is professor of Education, TU