Primary school textbooks in nine national languages are ready, and all the Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) has to do is find takers for them.
As of now, the books are a novelty, which may be more talked about used. For instance, Newari is spoken widely in the Kathmandu Valley, but only a handful of students in less than ten public schools here use the CDC textbooks. Limbu and Awadhi textbooks are not doing too badly, with 4,800 and 3,500 takers respectively, but textbooks of other national languages are just gathering dust.
The CDC's effort is to support the constitutional right of children to choose to be educated in their mother tongue. Activists have been campaigning for the last decade that national languages other than Nepali also be given official language status. The Centre has prepared textbooks for up to class five in Bhojpuri, Tharu, Tamang, Awadhi, Maithili, Limbu and Newari, and books for class one in Rai (Bantawa) and Magar. This year, the Centre prepared the curriculum for the Gurung/ Tamu language and they plan to produce textbooks for grade one in fiscal 2001/2002. The government has already spent about Rs 10 million, close to Rs 6 million in the last year alone, to produce the textbooks in national languages under curriculum and textbook development component of the Basic and Primary Education Programme. The system in place until these developments had children studying their mother tongue as an optional subject, with Nepali compulsory.
A 1995 report of the Rastriya Bhasa Niti Sujhav Ayog (the national commission to make recommendations on language policy) says 69 languages are in use in Nepal, 21 with their own script. The CDC says it will produce textbooks in other national languages when those communities also demand it. In an opinion poll conducted last year by the non-governmental Media Services International, 28 percent of janjatis said they wanted their children educated in mother languages, another 29 percent preferred English to be the medium of education, and the rest plumped for Nepali.
Why people make these decisions is a different story, but some believe that the first step to make people feel comfortable and positive with learning in their own language is simply making it easier to implement mother tongue education. "It is the government's responsibility to create an encouraging environment where the children can study their own languages," says educationist Dr Hridaya Ratna Bajracharya, a staunch supporter of education in the mother tongue.
The government's take on the matter is discouraging, to say the least-officials seem to have, simply put, bad attitude. Gorakh Bahadur Singh, Deputy Director of the Curriculum Development Centre, says that it is only the goodwill of his office that ensures non-Nepali speaking communities the textbooks to study. "It is not the government's responsibility to produce books in these languages-if you read the Constitution carefully it does not say the government should produce books for these communities, but only give them recognition if they take their own initiation," he says. He also thinks that children who first become literate in their mother tongue lose two years of academic advancement in comparison to their peers who first learn to read and write in Nepali and English.
He is not alone. His reluctance to promote national languages reflects government policy. The 1995 report on language policy was drafted by a high-level government committee under pressure from language rights campaigners. The policymakers recommended a working plan for the protection and promotion of national languages more than eight years ago, but the government has not taken any steps so far to implement it. The textbooks are a case in point. They are ready, but the Ministry of Education and Sports is doing nothing to reach out to the communities-no teachers have been trained to use the books, and distribution is laggardly. There are no mechanisms to monitor language teaching either, and the government expects the communities themselves to generate the resources to retain teachers if they choose for their children to be educated in mother languages. Tanka Gaire, a curriculum development officer, believes this is for the best. "We cannot expect the children to bear the burden of protecting a language that has no scope for higher education and future employment," he says.
Language rights campaigners say the language policy is the main obstacle their initiative faces. "the government's policy of imposing Nepali on non-Nepali speakers is killing other national languages," said discontented language rights activist Padma Ratna Tuladhar. Many feel that the only way to ensure other national languages are a viable medium of education is raising their profile nationally-by having more people proficient in them.
The report of the high level committee formed to study problems in the education sector, mainly to counter Maoist demands on private educational institutions was released on 27 June. Educationists, student unions and private school management organisations had mixed feelings about it. Some education professionals have cautiously hailed the recommended reforms, but doubt they will be implemented effectively. The recommendations include:
The committee recommended that 17 percent of total government expenditure be allocated to the education sector. Primary education should be free of extra fees like the exam fee, admission fee, or school deposits. At least ten percent of all students in community schools and five percent in private schools at the lower primary and primary level should have free education.
Schools should be categorised into community and institutional kinds. Community schools should be further divided on the basis of government or self-funding. The report recommends that government aid for schools be continued for the time being, but they should gradually be made sustainable without government grants. Private schools should be allowed to collect fees but the amount should not exceed the rate required to recover running and infrastructure costs. Private and public school should follow the same syllabus as prescribed by the government, and Sanskrit should be optional.
A teacher licensing system should be introduced under which all instructors will have to have a teaching licence. The National Teachers' Service Commission will be responsible for issuing the licenses.
Parents should be given a role to ensure quality of education. Schools should establish parent-teacher associations to ensure their participation in school management and maintaining transparency in school accounts.
The recommendation should be implemented in three phases-the short term, the medium term and the long term.