No room to readThe Centre for Investigative Journalism recently made a startling revelation that many Master-level students at Tribhuvan University submit as theses copied works or those prepared by others at a cost.
The Centre for Investigative Journalism recently made a startling revelation that many Master-level students at Tribhuvan University submit as theses copied works or those prepared by others at a cost.
In fact, that was only the proof to corroborate widespread suspicion that research-level students in Nepal, not just at TU, are engaged in plagiarism while preparing their dissertations. The report led to some accused stationers publishing clarifications refuting the charge of their involvement in the illegal and immoral business, and action against some officials.
No doubt, students must be punished for such crimes. But universities, colleges, the government and broadly the Nepali society should also look into the reasons why learners stoop so low to collect a degree.
One ready culprit is the lack of reading culture among the Nepali population. Clearly, scholarship comes only through readership and writing with ease is an outcome of wide reading.
But we cannot simply get away with the blame. Why reading is a rare trait among us needs deep introspection.
The shameful absence of public libraries of repute in a metropolis like Kathmandu is glaring. Where can our learners easily find a wide collection of books—of fact and fiction or reference—or libraries that provide them access to research articles? Sadly, doing credible research is a nightmare for Nepali students. One has to run from pillar to post to gather the required literature. Even the ones who are interested in learning the research process soon get frustrated due to the sheer lack of resources and substantive guidance.
Barring the TU Central Library, which was damaged by the earthquakes last year, no library of such scope exists in the Valley (forget about elsewhere in the country). While only the university’s students are allowed to borrow books from there, the common populace can use its collection only at the facility, which is yet to be rebuilt for service.
The National Library at Pulchowk is another property that bore the brunt of the Gorkha Earthquake. Its books, irrespective of their number and variety, remain in sacks in a damp store elsewhere.
Nepal is not so poor as not to be able to afford a couple of libraries in its major cities and towns. It is sad that while its politicians claim millions of rupees for medical care abroad from the treasury, its young people have little resources to boost their creative potential.
In the village primary school that I went to, 30 years ago, we were taught only from textbooks. The secondary school in the district headquarters charged all students an annual library fee but in my five years there, I never saw the room called ‘library’ ever actually open. In college, we did have access to a library but it was only for coursebooks. And there has not been much change in this scenario since I graduated.
While it is true that some institutes and learning centres in Kathmandu, including those run by foreign missions, have rooms to read, they are few and too small to cater to the growing need. Reading habit should be fostered in people early on. Some private schools in the Valley and some in the outer districts, that educate children of well-to-do parents, have well-stocked libraries for the level. Some of them facilitate young learners to read with a supply of graded reading materials. By the time these students graduate, they will have read a considerable number of books alongside their courses, both in English and Nepali. These are the youths who have no hesitation when they are asked to write a readable essay of two pages off hand.
Reading is a hard-earned habit. Once developed, it stays with the person forever. Poor is the life of those who have hours to kill without a book to look at or a magazine to browse through. The ‘YouTube generation’ has music and videos to engage itself with, but it is only the experienced reader who realises that the world of books is a wholly different universe of knowledge and entertainment.
Reading is a skill and habit worth investing in. Books should be made readily and easily available by parents for children, schools for students and municipality for youths, at least until the individual picks up the habit. Back in my village, as a young learner, I had read whatever few books I had access to: elder brothers’ coursebooks, Nepali translations of their English stories, their library copies or some books they borrowed from their friends.
But as I have come to understand, the gains of a reading habit are immense. Writing is a skill that works everywhere; it earns one better grades or catapults one to literary fame. The government can help citizens better by opening public libraries. Unless, of course, it is afraid of a critical thinking citizenry.