“While doing my PhD in the US, I was convinced that I will return to Nepal after working for a year or two here. But it's been three years since I completed my doctorate, and the long thought about ‘homecoming’ is nowhere in sight!” Medani Sangroula, a postdoc research associate at MIT, wrote on social media this week. The main reason for his change of mind, he writes, is the education prospects for his children.
Sangroula is a perfect example of the ‘well-intentioned and self-exiled’ Nepalis who have got access to a ‘better’ life in developed countries through their education. Now associated with one of the best institutions in the world, he has all the right to think about his personal ambition and progress. Most of his education was done in Nepal and now, he is hesitant to return because of the lack of matching education facilities for his offsprings in his home country.
From this perspective, the decision is a no-brainer. “I am pleasantly surprised by the science paper of my son who studies in grade 3. School education in the US is free, while in comparison, good quality education is not affordable in Kathmandu’’, he writes, obviously referring to the poor government schools and some of the costliest private schools of the valley. Combine this with the country’s poor health infrastructure and returning to the country becomes unthinkable for many Nepalis.
It's an open secret that our education system, combined with the health system, have become the most lucrative business for the politically connected influential ‘mafias’, and unethical business practices are common. Marred by corruption and irresponsibility, people don't trust the government-run hospitals and educational institutes on quality either. But a major contributor for this decay is also brain drain. And Like all things, politics is at the center of this vicious circle.
Political turmoil, long uncertainty and the natural preference of our society to work abroad--the lahure culture--have caused mass migration of both skilled and unskilled Nepalis. As of today, a third of our working population is estimated to be outside the country.
Remittances contribute almost 40 percent of the GDP, and they have saved the economy from crashing, but unproductive use of capital, barrening of arable land, lack of focus in production, and completely derooting of the traditional farming system based in a family set-up have caused us to import almost everything that we consume. The fiscal deficit is at a dangerous level.
The biggest impact of this mass exodus is on our politics. The long overdue revolution to purify politics through a youth intervention has not gained any momentum as the youths are mostly away. But most ironically, the hesitance of qualified people like Sangroula to return to Nepal also contributes to the poor state of our educational institutions.
Despite this gloomy picture, some committed education leaders are trying to make an impact at the grassroots, both at community and private schools. Gyan Pande, a teacher of the Mirmi Basic School in Kaligandaki Rural Municipality in Syangja district, is one such champion. His struggles in the school for the past 15 years have given great results: school activities are mostly run by independent and motivated students and school teams excel in almost all district level competitions. The students also produce their own weekly radio program that is aired across many FM stations.
Another example of an individual with proven commitment to changing the status-quo for the better, in the private sector, is Pratibha Dangol, the founder of Kamane School in Hetauda municipality. Dangol has focussed on experiential learning principles and worked hard to educate parents to accept her progressive ideas of using the community as a curriculum. Happily accepted by the local community, she now has plans to build her school as a base to create a research and training center for experiential learning methods in pedagogy for other teachers too.
In Kathmandu, Sauriya Khanal, the founder of Prasiddha Model School, is fighting hard to establish an educational institution founded on the principles of excellence and affordability. After returning from the UK, she invested her savings and also some ancestral assets to build a school on progressive ideas. Now she is trying to raise funds for a residential school that “provides a combination of high quality international education with Nepali Values, with botany at its heart and moral education as its soul”.
I have brought in these examples in my column with a clear aim: to bring to light the efforts of many such individual champions who are putting their best foot forward to make it a better country, despite all the hurdles. The criminal-minded dark forces are well connected and their nexus will be unbreakable unless, like the late Ujwal Thapa used to say, we make a syndicate of the ‘good people’.
Those who are working hard to make your home better are crying for help--the least you can do is support them.