‘What is the main massage from our martyrs?’
‘A Sherpa is a person who takes a long walk in the hills or mountains’
‘The feeling of proudness on having children is called virility’
‘Journalists are fake and journalism is propaganda’
Those are just some of the more egregious examples of sentences found in textbooks prescribed for school students and hint at the larger crisis of quality in Nepal’s education system.
School textbooks in Nepal have always been notorious for their substandard quality. They are poorly printed and produced and are awash in grammar, spelling, and typographical errors. More worryingly, they are rife with gender and racial stereotyping, brazen untruths, contradictions and examples of ethnocentrism.
“The worst are the books for social studies in both English and Nepali,” says Rajendra Dahal of Shikshak magazine for teachers which has investigated the poor quality of textbooks. “They show a very poor understanding of Nepal’s geography, development and history.”
One question from a prototype SLC exam paper published by the government asks students to ‘Write in short how to help the bad habits developed drug users nearest friend to left the bad habits’ (sic). Students are also required to respond to this prompt: ‘It is repeatedly caused issue of Border conflict in Nepal due to indifference of government.’ Another question asks: ‘What is the main massage from our martyrs?’
Rather than instill in students the need to think creatively and explore new ideas, textbooks perpetuate ethnic and gender stereotyping. In English textbooks published by the government, a character named Kaji Sherpa climbs mountains. The book defines a Sherpa as ‘a person who takes a long walk in the hills or mountains’.
In other textbooks for Grade 9, children are seen asking their father for permission to watch tv and their mother for permission to eat bread. One question asks students to look at different pictures of Nepalis and guess their ethnicity. A Grade 7 Nepali language Social Studies text book declares ‘journalism is propaganda’; a recent Accounting text book said: ‘Secretaries should be good-looking and wear lipstick’.
Textbooks published by private companies are no better. Health Population & Environment Education for Today (re-published by Ratna Pustak Bhandar this year) defines virility as the ‘feeling of proudness on having children’ and declares that ‘sterile people are hated by society’. Warming up to the subject, the all-male writers of this textbook propose ‘educating women to get employed’ as one measure to prevent HIV/AIDS.
Math textbooks, on the other hand, are mostly error-free and contain engaging exercises to test complex concepts. However, the math curriculum recommended by the government is complex and far more difficult than Indian and British curricula at the same level. Experts are divided over whether teaching such advanced math without understanding the developmental psychology of children is correct.
Diwakar Dhungel, Executive Director of Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), accepts that there are weaknesses but claims the textbooks do not contain major errors. “We constantly and thoroughly revise these textbooks,” he told Nepali Times.
The CDC in Sano Thimi modifies textbooks every five years and completely rewrites them every 10 years, but the changes do not necessarily mean improvement. Instead of sticking to standard English, English textbooks now go for lessons in slang, asking students to learn phrases such as ‘U r welcome, wanna cu ASAP 4 a drink’.
The books also have awkwardly-titled exercises such as ‘Enjoy yourself’ and ‘Take it in turns’ which give the impression of peer interaction but are only exercises in regurgitation. Writers hardly test students’ true understanding, asking questions whose answers are obvious or need memorisation.
Experts say textbooks are simply indicative of the poor quality of instruction in Nepal’s schools. Although enrollment is rising and the literacy rate has doubled in 20 years, the value and relevance of education has suffered. Though textbooks are faulty, teachers are not trained and are poorly motivated.
Dahal of Shikshak magazine thinks the education sector is not a priority for the government, and the most-neglected part of the Ministry of Education is the department looking after textbooks and the curriculum. “It is a dumping site. That is where the least competent and motivated people are sent,” he told us.
To begin remedying the problem, the government could move away from its obsession with textbooks and encourage learning aids such as toys and games to improve children’s understanding. Dhungel of the CDC agrees that a more “inter-disciplinary and integrated” form of learning is needed but says high-ranking officials do not warm up to the idea.
Dilli Ram Rimal heads the Department of Education, and when we asked him about shoddy textbooks, his answer was emblematic of the pass-the-buck mentality that infests the government and also pointed to the reason why things are in such a sorry state. He replied: “It is not our job here to go through the content and quality of textbooks.”
Lesson still to be learnt, Sonia Awale
Unlearning education, Anurag Acharya
"To know all international language is the bets yet English is enough”, Perry Thapa