One of the main criticisms of the public education system in Nepal, on which the majority of Nepali youth rely, is that it tends to produce graduates who are completely unfit for modern workforce. Given a virtual free rein, most students are only too happy to clear their exams by cheating. Even those who obtain good marks through hard work soon find that their academic certificates have little market value. Modern job market looks for employees equipped with hands-on knowledge to deal with emerging challenges, rather than those heavy on theoretical knowledge but with little understanding of how to apply the learned lessons in practice. In any case, most Nepali students never reach graduate and post-graduate levels. Of around half a million students who sit for School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations every year, more than half fail, which creates great hurdles to their academic progress and employment prospects. It was in order to plug this gap between a dysfunctional education system and an increasingly professional marketplace that the government launched the Enhanced Vocational Education and Training (EVENT) Project in 2011.
Under the World Bank supported project, vocational trainings and scholarships will be provided to up to 75,000 SLC students living under the poverty line by 2015, in areas as diverse as vegetable farming, mechanics, embroidery, telecommunications, plumbing and electronics. Dalits, Janajatis and people with disabilities would be given top priority. Already, 904 students have benefitted from the US $60.9 million program; trainings for another 908 students is scheduled to start next week. Though the effectiveness of vocational training is a hotly contested issue around the world, it is hard to argue against its benefits for a country like Nepal with a very poor public education system on which the majority of its youth rely. Programs like EVENT can be a cost-effective way to provide the youths with livelihood opportunities when such needs are not met by the existing academic structure. If the scope of such programs can be expanded, they could potentially lift millions of Nepalis out of poverty.
The 10-year-long civil war was a painful reminder of what can go wrong in a country with a growing population of unemployable youth. Short of work, many fell easy prey to the Maoist promise of a communist utopia where all their problems would be taken care of. The validity of the Maoist civil war might be a matter of debate, but it is not just the Maoists who have found ready recruits among the unemployed youths. Many other criminal organizations, often working under the cover of various political outfits, have been able to recruit unemployed youths, most notably in the Tarai belt. Moreover, meaningful vocational training would entice youths to seek employment in their own country, rather than spend the most productive years of their lives selling their labor abroad, far from their loved ones. The country cannot forever rely on remittance to keep its economy afloat. Ultimately, there is no alternative to creating more employment opportunities for the youth at home for the establishment of a vibrant New Nepal.