Wasting talentsLack of professional diversity can have adverse consequences on Nepal’s society and economy
Medicine in Japan’, ‘Engineering in Germany’, ‘BBS and Nursing in the US’—the facades of the houses along Kathmandu’s streets are paved with such signs. They not only represent the massive export of young and well-educated Nepali students, but also show the lack of professional diversity.
Occupational discrimination leads to a loss of creative power and an unbalanced labour market, as the outmigration of qualified graduates results in decreasing quality in certain branches. Nepal is wasting its talents and depriving itself of the chances of an economic upswing and a pluralistic society.
“My mother and father have always pressured me to go into the medical field”, says Aaisha, a 20-year-old dental student who still wonders about her unfulfilled dream of becoming an interior designer. “I love to decorate a room in different ways and to use the effects of light and shadows,” she says, “but I did not get any support from my parents.”
A doctor in the family
Like Aaisha, many Nepali girls and boys are forced by their parents to choose their career path. And the parents do not take their child’s nature and desires into account. Their decision is based on economic considerations and social prestige. But they forget that every person is born with different talents and develops various interests and capacities. Ideally, everyone chooses the occupation with the highest return. However, you can only be good at your work if it is in keeping with your personality.
Aaisha lives in a girls’ hostel in Kathmandu. Most of her flatmates study medicine, engineering or management. “My family wants me to study medicine like my elder brother,” says one girl. But her favorite subject is physics. “Learning physics and chemistry is easy and fun for me, but biology does not stay in my mind for some reason”, says the 17-year-old. She is successful in biology, but she has to study hard to fulfil the dream of her parents.
Today, more than half of the top 50 companies in the world are talent-based, including the most valuable companies such as Apple, Alphabet and Microsoft. But in Nepal, social prestige is deeply rooted in society, which suppresses individual talents and capacities. In several studies with students from secondary schools, more than half the respondents said they want to become a doctor, nurse, engineer or serve in the army. The creative occupations in particular carry low prestige and therefore earn a low income—creating a vicious circle.
The lack of professional diversity is not only the fault of the parents; it is also due to the country’s education policy. Besides the family, the School Leaving Certificate (SLC), the annual nationwide exam after grade 10, determines the student’s career. Depending on the students’ performance, they are allowed to pursue the science, management or humanities streams. The best students go for science while others usually choose management or humanities.
Although the best can study any subject, they rarely do. After years of studying hard, who would want to go for a job with low income and prestige? Last year, about 70 percent of the 459,000 Nepali students were enrolled in the management and education faculties, followed by about 18,000 students each in engineering and medicine, according to a report of the country’s Ministry of Education. Subjects like cultural studies, social sciences and arts are not even mentioned in the report. Such proportions lead to an unbalanced labour market.
Ideally, national research institutes evaluate the current and future supply and demand of each sector and occupation every year. In Nepal, there is nothing like that. Thus, more and more students do not find a job in their field after graduation. The gap between the annual registrations of doctors and the number of the employed suggests that many may be working outside the health sector or in other countries, according to a report by Nepal’s Ministry of Health and Population.
The increasing exodus of young and qualified graduates decreases the quality of the fields they are leaving behind. By now, because of a recruitment freeze, only 13 percent of the doctors in Nepal are under 30 years old. New ideas and the chances of innovation and progress are taken abroad by young Nepali doctors, engineers and managers. What stay behind are old habits and stagnation.
Caught in their undesired occupations and frustrated, many people work only the bare minimum and do not have the motivation or capacity for new ideas. Maybe they would have more ambition in another job. “I would immediately quit my job and enroll in cultural studies, but my parents would never allow me to do that,” says a young nurse.
There has to be a change in the education policy. School internships in certain branches promoting creative and practical occupations, as well as in more established fields, should be made mandatory. The teenagers should be able to try for themselves the career they want to pursue and consider different possibilities. The purpose of school is not only to impart knowledge; it is also to teach the students self-confidence and critical thinking. Besides internships, the teenagers need sound career guidance by experts. Such guidance has to be based on labour market evaluations and should sensitise the parents to their children’s wishes and opinions.
Social conventions change slowly. Still, with some effort by the government in promoting professional diversity, the children will have the chance of a fulfilling occupation and life in Nepal. They will also live in a pluralistic society and a flourishing economy. And Kathmandu’s streets will no longer be paved with the same advertisements but with signs like ‘Study Arts’, ‘Media Abroad’ and ‘Cultural and Social Studies’.
Heuer, a German journalist, was an intern at the Kathmandu Post’s op-ed section