Pitfalls of private educationEducators have not been able to keep up with the changing mindset of their students.
Recent statistics suggest that the number of students going abroad for higher education has been continuously on the rise. Given the dwindling foreign reserves, it is a matter of concern to those in seats of power in the higher education sector as to how one can arrest this large-scale exodus of students to India and other countries, and curb the capital flight that is both precious and avoidable by offering quality programmes locally. Despite an increase in the number of private players in higher education, including those whose programmes have affiliation with a foreign university, the allurement and charm of going abroad continues to rise steadily.
It’s worthwhile to recapitulate and ponder some of the issues plaguing Nepal’s current private education system. Most of these observations are based on my own past experiences and interactions with parents, stakeholders and students as an academician from higher education. It is a matter of concern to note that private higher education in Nepal is functioning more along commercial lines than as a service.
Higher education in our context is largely based on imparting content to the learners than honing their skills, thereby lowering the value of education among the current generation. They equate knowledge obtained in class as a substitute to resources available online. This has also degraded the value and respect of those imparting education. Most of the time, students do not see any connection between values, morals, the education they receive and its implications in their lives.
They are hardly able to reflect on and connect with classroom learning and events in their real lives. As a result, they seem to be getting dissatisfied with the content, approach and pedagogy, and towards life in general, as the knowledge they receive does not always lead them to secure jobs. Learners of today who represent the millennials believe that knowledge consumption can happen equally or even more effectively on social media platforms. They believe that the traditional method of teaching cannot keep pace with the advancements in technology and the methods of consuming knowledge that is available in different digitised formats.
It is a well-known fact that private players in higher education are struggling to meet the maximum number of admissions possible or fulfil the sanctioned intake. This has resulted in some of them compromising on the ideal parameters to attract qualitatively superior students. Some private players are even stooping down to offering a commission to agents for student referrals. This practice is growing even though it is against the morality and integrity of the educators involved in this sector.
Another contentious issue is the undesirable ways private players deal with the quality of student intake. Unfortunately, Covid-19 and online learning modes have further exacerbated this issue. Learners today look for shortcuts and resort to accessible means of learning. They find online examinations an effective means to do away with the pressure of written physical examinations. The mushrooming number of colleges and institutes has increased the competition to fill in students and complete the admissions process. The fallout of this malady is that private players and educators are forced to treat their students more like consumers and less like learners.
To please students, private players have become overtly liberal in terms of adhering to quality standards, overall supervision and examinations, and have finally reached a stage where degrees are awarded to students who have hardly attended classes or passed examinations as per established norms. This has also radically altered the learners’ mindset; students now perceive that they receive education and a degree in exchange for the price they pay in the form of a fee.
Private players outside Kathmandu Valley are keen to run programmes on affiliation, extension and expansion without doing any fundamental market research on the actual requirements and “felt needs” of the graduates. Thorough research on the need and kind of education and resources that would be required across these provinces would help such players cater to local needs more effectively. Such a customised approach to education may enhance the quality of teaching and produce graduates who can become productive locally to serve society more meaningfully.
Students are frequently seen to be keener on obtaining a degree than on fruitfully getting real learning. There are several instances where students buy the services of outsiders and outsource their assignments and final theses for a fee, even in institutes of repute. This suggests that despite being in the know of things, such private players are turning a Nelson’s eye or deliberately encouraging acceptance of every possible easy means for the students to pass the examinations facilely.
Strangely enough, learners and parents even argue that students who end up coughing up hefty sums of money towards tuition fees can’t be found failing in any of their programmes. Such easy escape routes to learning and passing examinations have raised questions over the sanctity of learning and the purpose of education. It is time the role of educators was seriously questioned and debated or dismissed while remaining as mute witnesses to private players offering services against a fee.
It is disheartening to note that educators have not been able to keep up with the changing mindset of the learners and the latest trends in imparting knowledge. Educators have descended to perceiving their role as merely imparting knowledge rather than purveying a set of skills, attitudes, values, morals and scruples alongside knowledge.
Educators of private higher education can still manage to survive and even thrive in this competitive marketplace without making tall claims about their service offerings by trying to provide more holistic and value-based education. It’s time they shunned the practice of focusing on the narrow mindset of securing and completing admissions and meeting the numbers. The only way educators can manage to keep their self-worth intact is by ensuring that students look up to them with a sense of respect and internalise what they receive in college.
As long as private players treat students as "consumers" and educators as "service providers", the notion of delivering quality education is utopian and will remain a far cry.