21 November, 2008

Call for change

Sushma Joshi
Kathmandu Post

Education should encourage students to start their own creative and business ventures
Have you noticed how there seem to be so many qualified people looking desperately for jobs on the one hand, and businesses complaining about how they can't find the people with the right skills, on the other?” This observation, made by a colleague of mine, made me realise that the Nepali jigsaw puzzle of education and employment don't quite seem to fit together.

On the one hand, Nepal produces an stellar cast of graduates each year who are filled with enthusiasm and desperation, trying to get into highly skilled technical professions before realising that these jobs are either non-existent or so competitive its best to migrate abroad. From the rural areas, large numbers of SLC graduates realise that the Lok Seva job they hoped to get is elusive, and start slowly to think about the migrant labour route.

On the other hand, businesses in Nepal complain frequently about how they seem unable to sustain their growth and activities due to lack of qualified personnel. One answer to this paradox might be that we are missing the crucial link -- in most countries, there are employment agencies that figure out the strengths and talents of different candidates, and try to fit them within institutions who need people with the requisite skills.

The other missing link is that the education that Nepalis receive, sadly, doesn't qualify them even for the jobs in which they graduate. For instance, which private sector business in its right mind would hire an administrative assistant that came out of the staff administration college? Our educational institutions are so highly politicised that students spend the majority of their time and energy trying to survive within student politics rather than learning the skills of how to run an administration efficiently and professionally. Besides politicisation, the education in Nepali educational institutions is itself outdated and not practical.

Unlike the real life case studies and scenarios through which students in other countries learn how to run an administration, design a program or balance the budget, most of our students learn from musty, outdated theories that don't really have a great deal of practical application. These theories, memorised and regurgitated for examinations, are all but useless in daily practice. Coupled with a slavish obedience to teacher authority, our students rarely learn to question dominant modes of thought, or come up with new ideas. This stagnancy, no wonder, infiltrates everything from bureaucracy to governance.

It's not as if we can't change. Put a new graduate into an INGO workplace and all of a sudden their efficiency and their willingness to engage in productive work goes up dramatically. And many of our best and brightest people come out not from educational institutions but from the hard work they do in these institutions, from grassroots level CBOs to national level INGOs. Put a Nepali in any other country besides Nepal, and they seem to work the hardest (I have met people from Jordan to Korea who swear by the discipline and reliability of Nepali workers and who won't hire other nationalities.)

So then why do we squander our human resources by giving them an education that will drive them out of the country to seek adequate compensation and responsibility abroad, or else waste their time giving them an education which makes them stunningly efficient in the Machiavellian webs of student politics but with zero skills in conceptualising new entrepreneurial ventures?

I recently attended a session with youth groups who gave feedback to donors on how to prioritise their funding for the next few years. Unanimously, restructuring education so that it leads to the creation of jobs was on the top of the list. Vocational skills were advocated as one major need. Why should a man have to herd animals when he could make twice the salary repairing TVs in some Gulf country? A colleague asked. While vocational education is one side of the coin, business and marketing education, which requires more entrepreneurial thinking, is another.

With the growth of private sector education, it's really not that difficult to incorporate management and business skills into our curriculum. If young women schooled in ordinary Nepali schools can transform into highly efficient and international-calibre program managers within the space of a few years (and we have many examples in Nepal, thanks to the INGOs push to recruit women into their ranks), I see no reason why this sort of learning couldn't take place within schools and colleges.

The call to change education so that it becomes oriented towards jobs creation and employment is loud. How the government goes about this remains to be seen. Let's hope that the antagonism to private sector education will not hinder the growth of institutions that encourage students not just to get a degree, but also to start their own creative and business ventures which can create new jobs. Any national level program on education and employment the government rolls out will undoubtedly have to be informed by the vitality and the synergy from the private sector on this issue.

Posted on: 2008-11-21 19:52:18 (Server Time)

No comments: