Vocal about vocational-Education System

The importance of technical education can’t be over-emphasized, but in doing so, we have been constantly neglecting the other, very important, aspect of education system which can offer us much needed comparative advantage.

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The education sector in Nepal has been receiving colossal amounts of investment. This fiscal year, it received 15.65 percent of the total national budget, 202 million USD in foreign aid, and huge investment from private sectors.

Though Nepal now produces a large number of specialized technical graduates every year, including medical professionals, engineers and business administration graduates, the returns on the investment in terms of quality and standard have been fairly low. Manpower production is about striking a balance between quality and quantity, and between available and demanded skill set of the workforce in the country. Therefore, this story of education in Nepal, instead of ending, begins here.

School and stigma
Nepali society focuses on formal education. Pragmatic education, like teaching a child table manners, foreign language, swimming, shopping, cooking, never found space in our school curricula. Increasingly, there is social prestige attached to parents in their children being university graduates rather than learning essential life skills. This has put children under immense family pressure to get high grades, which, rather unfortunately, are also measured as their mark of excellence.

Since our school system has negligible focus on apprenticeship system of learning, these kids’ focus also concentrates on securing theoretical knowledge. This clouds their ability to explore their talents and test their knowledge. This also bars the majority of students and adults from getting the education they deserve for their life.

Our schools and universities have made it a norm to adopt curriculum from foreign schools. Selling thick books with complex math problems or science theories would have been the right thing to do, if our schools had the resources to provide the facilities and groom a student in similar terms. The fact that many schools still don’t have labs to give students the first taste of running and testing a concept through experiment indicates how inappropriately we have assembled the education system in Nepal.

This mismatch in the educational system hits students in rural schools the hardest. Majority of students in such schools never get past the 10th grade, sometimes not even that. For that mass of students, our system is unimaginably cruel, ending all their options of further education. Since our higher education system requires students to have passed high-school, these students are left with no option but to look for employment as low-skilled laborers, or even migrate abroad in search of opportunities. In either case, there is minimum probability that they can seek personal and professional progress through those options. By being attainable only to the resourceful few, our education system provides proof enough that it has been broadening the divide between the haves and the have-nots, rather than bridging it.

This is also the reason Nepali education system is not able to feed the cyclic loop of industry-school-society. It has not been able to encourage enough investors to start appropriate industries in the first place. But, the struggle of existing industries/services to find quality manpower is another story we have always neglected. We have well trained architects and civil engineers, but we never give a thought to producing trained builders or construction workers, completely overlooking their importance to the execution of the plan. Such negligence is the reason behind the compromised quality of our products and services.

The necessity
Being honest about our standing in the world can give us an extra mile here: No matter how many specialized science and technical graduates we produce, we can never shift the center of the high-tech production and innovation and draw research, development and scholarship away from first world countries like the US, UK, and Canada for a very long time. Because of this, our home-grown graduates are lured into these countries. Hence, the end to the exodus of well-educated youths from the country is unlikely to end anytime soon. In the US, Nepal ranked as the 11th largest source of international students in 2011, with many students admitting in science, technology, engineering, and mathematics (STEM) fields. While this creates dearth of quality manpower in Nepali market, it also discourages many qualified people from taking up jobs in Nepal because of peer-pressure and job-insecurity in Nepal, and better prospects abroad. Though there is a realization of this imminent fate and future, there is predictable inaction, which is adding to the troubles of the country. This inertness must be changed through long-due education reform.

The importance of technical education can’t be over-emphasized, but in doing so, we have been constantly neglecting the other, very important, aspect of education system which can offer us much needed comparative advantage. Rather than focusing only on high-tech science schools and copied curricula, focus must be geared towards vocational education and training (VET). Nepal will have plenty to gain and provide from such acclimatization of its education system. Many sectors don’t just require financial analysts, genetic engineers, chemical experts, or mathematicians. The economy of a country can be boosted equally through small scale industries and sectors like tourism and agriculture, and energy. Such sectors hold immense potential to absorb a lot of man-power trained through VET. A multi lingual trekking guide can earn more than someone who speaks only Nepali; a farmer who knows how to use machinery or assess the quality of land for his produce will be able to harvest more.

Because we lack established and accessible apprenticeship system of learning, we also fail to provide appropriate and much needed life-skills to the majority of working-age population. Our dairy farmers don’t know how to preserve milk or make milk produces. This in turn is affecting their ability to be entrepreneurs. As long as our education system (and the support systems including financial institutions, etc) doesn’t equip an individual to explore his ability to be an entrepreneur, there is less hope the economy of country, like Nepal, will grow to its proper shape. Hence, the time is ripe to realize the importance of under-represented and under-estimated sector of apprenticeship system of learning.

source:Paudel, Barsha(2013),"Vocal about vocational", republica,9 Sep 2013
photo courtesy: usaid.gov
The author is an Economics graduate with interest in Public Policy

2013-09-09 | EducateNepal


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