Some good plans to improve national education system: compulsory education and english language

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Recently I read two interesting news related to the education sector in Nepal. The first one is about the plan to make English as official language in all community schools, starting from primary level, within ten years.

The second is a drive by the Department of Education, the implementing arm of Ministry of Education, to force new compliance standards in terms of making education compulsory in the country.

Let’s start with the latter. It is not that education is not already mandatory, it is but the Department of Education is now coming up with a mechanism that will deny access to social security or any other public entitlements to families who are denying their children the right to education.

The plan, still to be officially approved, will require strong coordination with Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development and possibly with the Ministry of Women, Children and Social Affairs.

The initiative for the first time ever links social security entitlements with the right to education and lays out a framework to punish those not complying.

On the paper it is a good proposal but surely the implementation will be hard and complex also because the country does not have a very strong social protection system and only few people are actually are part of it.

Especially children who are out of the education system are the ones who are from the most deprived families. We see them every day, in local restaurants, in the public transportation and crossing the border with India and in many of households where they end up working.

Possibly the way to reach out these children is, on one hand, strengthening the social security system, with a well defined poverty line based categorization of the population. Only in this way, the poorest families will be able to avoid sending their children to work.

Here we go back to the importance, complementary of having a stronger social security system, to design and implement a strong child protection system centered on the family. Regardless of their level of poverty, struggling families, if properly supported, can offer a caring and loving environment for their children. Any other options, including residential children centers, come second and should be the last preference.

On other hand, informal education, tailored made classes for working children might offer another important aspect to a very complex problem. We should not forget that working children are in this situation out of necessity and not choice.

Coming to the first news, making English mandatory in all schools within a reasonable framework of ten years, the step is definitely a welcome one. As written in an editorial in the Republica daily, English can be a pathway to a more equal society, a lift towards more opportunities. Though positive as this development is, it will be indispensible to make local languages teaching a reality first.

In the country there is good expertise and I remember a couple of years back working with SIL International, a small but very dedicated, high expertise not for profit organization focused on innovative multi-language approaches. I learned from SIL that multilingual education is possible and doable in Nepal like in many other countries all over the world.

Introducing native languages together with Nepali and English must be a step by step approach. You get your foundations strong by starting your education only in your native language and slowly, progressively, you start studying other languages like Nepali and English. The more you advance in your educational path, the less time you will spend studying in your native language till reach a point where you only study in English or Nepali or both. The concept is that in order to excel in a foreign language, first you need to master your own native language.

Right now I am amazed to see students with no understanding of English being forced to study math in English language text book or studying English with texts entirely in English language.

How hard must be? I come from a country with a very low English language penetration and I know by my personal experience how difficult it is to learn this language. it requires a lot of commitment and belief but it is worthy because I believe that English language can be really your lift up to a better social mobility.

I am proud of my mother tongue language but I know very well that English is one of the most powerful tools to succeed in a competitive job market. Of course you can make it also without it, no doubt but commanding a good working English is definitely not harm and certainly a plus. Why, then, making it only exclusive only to the better off children?


Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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