Beyond formal education for children

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Education, health and community development strategies must espouse reflection from children’s perspectives.

By Dev Raj Dahal

Devraj DahalIntroduction
The debate on educational reforms has surged worldwide. This reformist passion has, however, barely touched the education of children, the future citizens. It is entirely wrong to presume that children are juvenile for which they need to be socialized with bookish knowledge and enforced discipline and punishment to mould their character. Many schools do not think that children are capable of imagination. They express curiosity and create a moment of pleasure. Sensible educationists argue that children can feel the context, draw pictures, diagrams and cartoons, express feeling and sentiments, do caricature, write poems and become mindful. They do have intelligence to know many things. They possess interest in learning in a favorable environment and faculty to judge good and bad. Still others measure children’s learning ability by the score they secure in school examinations, sports, arts, essays and poetry competition. Ironically, most of Nepali students in schools fail in social studies paper. In the high schools, colleges and university their interest in humanities such as literature, political science, culture and history is no longer stronger.  

Teachers and parents, assuming themselves authority figures of knowledge, ask children to follow their passion. They prize those children who perform better in examination while for those who relatively fare low in grading are transferred to less competitive schools. In wealthy family, parents hire tutors for additional teaching of children at home. They assume that childhood is a crucial period of learning and they, therefore, burden them with bagful of books and home works, exert pressure on them to passively cram ideas and impose strict obedience. When children are given no space for imagination, reflection and freedom they develop a culture of silence and nurse a sullen character. Educationists affirm that self-activities of children, where parents and teachers become only engaged facilitators, instinctively develop their learning curve, inspire them to reason with teachers and parents and become smart. Improvement of non-physical inner aspect of consciousness of children is essential to build their character. This is the basis of the spirit of inquiry enabling them to link the meaning of words in the context of life and connect child rights to free will. It seeks to balance outer career pursuit and inner moral character.

Educational Problems
Deprivation of children from essential needs, rights and welfare affronts their dignity as person. There are certain problems in children’s education in Nepal that needs to be sorted out. First, as merit system has become competitive parents and teachers do not know its costs which have buckled the life of children under stress. Emotional instability of Nepali youths is the outcome of improper socialization during their pre-school and schooling stage and suppression of their personal experience by either tradition or reason. Subject-centric education hardly cares for the taste and interest of children. The parents’ dream of converting children successful in their future lives seizes their childhood privileges and an ability to use artistic inner drives. Private school management often advertises the successful students as a role model in the mainstream media to attract the enrollment of more and more children the rationale of which is only wealth accumulation. This success is largely measured by marks they secure, not on the basis of overall cognitive, social and emotional development. Like in party politics, they mould the mind, body and spirit of children and shape their future direction. The government sets rules for its reinforcement. The absence of openness of children toward the future limits their tremendous possibilities and evokes their spontaneous reaction to the past.

Second, market-oriented model of education in Nepal with the separation of public and private schools has produced two kinds of socialization. Poor parents have less money to pay unfair amount of fees for their children in private schools which maintain certain educational standards. Private schools have become status symbol for many parents. This has discriminated children of public schools, obstructed the realization of their talent and negatively influenced their career prospects in the future. Barring some exceptions, public schools in Nepal are left in a lurch with less priority. Teachers, students and management board are the recruiting ground of political parties of various hues and, therefore, partisan squabbles affect the useful academic milieu. The binary mode of education is a strategy to block the social mobility of the children of lower classes. Even community schools have become victim of partisan politics.

One can see children of many poor and less cohesive families engaged in domestic workers, street children, face abuses during political strikes and develop a propensity to indulge in social vices. Their role of throwing stones to security agencies in every political strike will continue so long as political power in Nepal is divorced from ethical consideration and accountability. Such a propensity will also block the transformative reward of education. One can see the effects of dichotomization of education in Nepal: emotional distance between the two types of products and the gap between career and character building will continue. Educational inequity for different set of children, uneven socialization and corresponding opportunity create different cognitive orientation about life in the future. It is also a strategy to reduce the quality of public schools where majority of poor families send their children. Political control of teachers and management of school helps to perpetuate social inequality of Nepali society where servants create another generation of servants to serve elites—native or foreigners. This has undermined the rights of poor children to become equal citizens. This condition reflects the failure of Nepalese polity to provide equal freedom for all its citizens.  

Third, children of poor families have less access to exposure, modern science and technology as well as extra-curricular books which can widen their horizon. They cannot have better life outcomes if they are left behind in cognitive gains. This leaves only three critical options for the product of public schools during adult life-either migrate to India and the Gulf region to earn livelihood, or join vociferous politics or even bureaucracy to attain social mobility. Teachers unions and student unions in Nepal do not have coherent and concrete vision and programs for educational reforms as they are the extension of fractious party politics and are imprisoned by partial frames, unable to capture the values of citizenship and human essence. They are essentially instrumental in nature. It is difficult to coach them. And the outcome is: continuation of fox politics without any public purpose and public accountability. The target of elite private schools is to absorb youths in big hotels, banks, tourism, management, commercial enterprises and communication through social networks and connections and fill the need of trained personnel in advanced counties. Another target is brain-drain which is the gross loss of national social investment. Educational reforms from early childhood socialization to school education can become a gateway out of inter-generational poverty of those born in poor families with only disadvantages in their lives. This requires reflective learning and praxis in Nepal and building its capacity to spread opportunity. Only civility and justice for all can create a civic culture whereby citizens of all hues live together in peace and remain connected by altruistic bonds of trust.

Fourth, Nepal needs holistic approach to education for children, an approach that connects educational institutions to reform family, society and politics, give children a new aspiration to experience the nation’s heritage, culture and history, society and economy and community leaders’ public-spirited virtue and spirit; share experience of life in the social context; and hone up an ability to become inquiring, active citizens in the future. The traits of individual personality are not derived from innate human nature. It is shaped by nation’s overall social, economic and political condition.

Conclusion
It is essential to make private education affordable while public education effective. Children-centric perspective is needed to improve educational standards and bridge the gap between the private and public schools. The increasing atomization of Nepalese family, divorce rate and one-parent socialization deprived children the needed love and care from parents and grandparents so that during adult life they reciprocate inter-generational accountability and do not abandon them to elderly care centers or religious places. If parents wanted their posterity to become successful, not faithful and responsible good citizens, it is their fault. 

Children would feel wounded by the shame of their parents if they discover that their parents just pour money to schools instead of extending adequate affinity and unconditional love to them. In this context, family-based educational environment has to be cultivated in Nepal through the changing employment structures, costly life in urban environment, altering gender patterns where both male and female have to work and residential problems. Family-friendly education is important to acculturate children and induce periodic social change, a change which is so essential to expand the social mobility of poor frozen in a lack of choice.

Education, health and community development strategies must espouse reflection from children’s perspectives. The question is: how can children of marginalized families engage in developing their potential in active learning, freedom and gain equal opportunities? The government, private sectors, civil society, community and family need to develop a common educational vision and policies that can evolve along the line of social justice. Nepal needs an educational vision that can transcend partisan politics and adapt to a new social stratification brought by technology, citizenship equality and humanitarian values. Amitai Etzioni rightly says, “Revaluing children requires reducing the parenting deficit.”      

(The writer is the head of the FES Nepal.)

Courtesy: People’s Review Weekly
http://peoplesreview.com.np/index.php/articles/item/2493-beyond-formal-education-for-children