Anjana Rajbanshi scored 92.38 percent marks in SLC examinations this year. Even though the controversial rankings have been abolished by the UML education minister, Anjana's feat catapulted her to national prominence for four reasons:
. she was born and brought up in a janajati family of Madhesis
. she attended an ill-equipped private school in the tarai
. her score puts her at par with SLC toppers of last year's examinations
. she is a girl
Establishmentarians would like us to believe there is ample space for the advancement of the disadvantaged. This is a myth. Despite her ethnicity, Anjana's parents are mainstream teachers. She didn't attend a government school, but went to a private one howsoever decrepit. Her parents are salaried employees and the family owns land. She has been to Japan, for two weeks. After appearing in the SLC examinations, she came to Kathmandu and attended a bridge course.
Anjana stands out because of her personal performance. Any student, not just a Rajbanshi girl from the tarai, deserves to be congratulated for scoring over 90 percent in an examination as competitive as the SLC. She wants to study science, go to medical school and maybe migrate. There is nothing wrong with such middle-class dreams. Operators of teaching shops in Kathmandu are trying to outbid each other to turn Anjana into their brand ambassador. She has been offered Rs 1.5 million, free education, funded medical school and a future in England or America. These must be tempting offers.
Unfortunately, they indicate just how deep the rot that has set in in our education system. The free-market of higher education is a free-for-all arena where the morality of business and ethics of teaching both have lost all relevance. Dozens of private medical schools have opened but there are fewer, not more, doctors in the countryside. Suga is a relatively accessible village in Mahottari district with a direct bus to Kathmandu. It has electricity and telephone lines, a private school, a few shops and a weekly bajar. And yet, this village of over 6,000 has no doctor. We would have complained, but neither the district hospital in Jaleswor nor the zonal hospital in Janakapur gets its quota of doctors either.
The country needs more doctors to attend to mother and child in rural areas. Dalit women in the tarai with some orientation and training can serve such needs better than the Auxiliary Health Workers who hesitate to step out of district headquarters. The old and the sick in the countryside need physicians they can consult when they need them. Doctors trained at expensive medical schools are ill-suited to their needs.
The abolition of the ranking system for SLC graduates and the needless competitiveness it generated is a good start. It needs to be followed up with a complete overhaul of higher education. Instead of private shops selling Plus Two certificates, we need more occupational training centres. Engineering colleges have to be transformed into training centres for technical teachers. Medical schools must produce more hygine counsellors, health attendants and barefoot doctors.
The market mechanism is unlikely to address any of these issues. They will continue training youngsters for export for that's where profits are. They should be allowed to pay taxes and remain in business. Basic education in every discipline is the responsibility of the government, a fact that Anjana's parents, both of them village teachers, will appreciate better than their celebrity daughter.