Quality education, like any other amenity, has traditionally been the preserve of the wealthy in Nepal. Every year, thousands of Nepali students leave the country for higher education, both in the near- and far-abroad. Along with India, their other favorite destinations include the US, the UK and Australia. But families in the lower rungs of the economic ladder simply cannot afford the luxury of sending their wards abroad. Many of them can’t even educate their children at private academic establishments in the country. This is the reason the bottom two-fifth of the population by income has under two percent enrolment rate at higher education establishments.
It is in order to ameliorate this dismal state of affairs that the concept of Open University (OU) was first floated in Nepal back in 1997. But government apathy to this enterprising suggestion of academics pushed the whole concept into obscurity, for years. Thankfully, governments in recent times have been more welcoming of the concept, as evidenced on Friday when the current government finally gave its nod for the establishment of the country’s first Open University, which could swing into action as early as 2013.
Open University incorporates aspects of distance learning like correspondence courses and online programs in order to provide its students cost-effective and quality education. The concept is particularly beneficial for countries like Nepal which are desperately short in higher education infrastructure and manpower. By bringing higher education to the doorsteps of the poor and the marginalized communities, this bottom-up approach looks to level the playing field for all sections of the society. The goal is to maximize the utilization of the country’s limited resources, with the help from NRN communities around the world.
If the concept can take root in Nepal, it could radically improve the access of the poor and marginalized groups to higher education. But there are some roadblocks. First, most Nepali villages are unequipped with technological tools that facilitate distant learning. Second, it will be tough to impart education electronically when most of the country continues to reel under acute power shortage. This is where the country’s vast NRN community comes in. Different NRN bodies have been calling on Nepali diaspora to contribute to OU initiative by helping install solar panels and computers in remote reaches.
Another enterprising idea is matching teachers in one community with students in another through e-linkages, to the benefit of both the parties. But the proof of the pudding will be in the eating. No matter how noble the concept, it is likely to face considerable hurdles, especially at the start, and is unlikely to take off without strong government help and greater involvement of academics inside the country. The NRN community, which is pushing the project, must build up linkages with these two important stakeholders if the project is to have any chance of success. We hope a cooperative framework can be worked out so that this vital and long-awaited project can take off, finally