The efforts of the last half century in Nepal have brought a reasonable access to elementary and secondary education in all parts of the country. Although challenges remain in improving the quality and in mitigating the causes of early drop-outs and poor performances, adding extra resources alone have been insufficient. And poorer and more remote the communities are, the more acute are the problems in education. The strongest missing link in improving the education and livelihood of rural and remote populations is identified as an access to higher education. Today the gap demographic differences in higher education remain alarmingly large.
Higher education has been specially removed from women, poor and marginalized groups and is largely been accessible to urban and well-to-do populations. UNESCO data indicate that Nepal has a mere nine percent tertiary education attendance of age-adjusted groups. Further, the attendance of women in tertiary education is reported at a dismal three percent. Dalits fare even worse at 0.7 percent and there are other groups of rural Nepal that fare similarly low participation. The exclusion of ninety-one percent population from higher education has been a major road-bock for the overall prosperity of Nepal and for rising disparity among people indicated by its Gini Index (47.3). It is also impeding Nepal’s efforts in social stability, peace, and human development.
While Nepalese youth is scouring the international job market, the poor attainment of higher education and technical skills has hampered their job prospects and their earning power. Therefore, a serious attention has been needed in taking continued higher education to home-bound women, foreign employed youth, village-bound agricultural population, and job-bound teachers, and employees serving remote communities.
Inspired by the strides made in distance education by many countries and educational institutions, the global organization of Nepalese Diaspora, Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), and Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN) have teamed up to launch an initiative to build Open University of Nepal (OUN) with an explicit goal of educating the rural, remote, and marginalized population of Nepal. And some world class universities have come forward to show strong support to this endeavour and the prospects for technical collaboration have grown strong.
It is aimed that the Open University of Nepal will help us achieve three major goals: (1) taking university to people’s homes and communities instead of forcing them to come to big cities for higher education, (2) to bringing people who are deprived of opportunities to the mainstream of higher education and learning, (3) to connect learners and their learning needs with sources of knowledge that may be found anywhere in the world. They should then help reduce the gap in educational attainment between the rich and the poor, the rural and the urban, and the men and the women, at a rapid pace. The initiative aspires to increase Nepal’s internal capacity in delivering international quality and internationally competitive higher education and skills through effective utilization of the knowledge, experiences and skills of Diaspora Nepalese.
Adventurous and lofty may sound this goal, but if the recent advancements in computing, telecommunication, educational technology, understandings of learning, and advancements in distance education are any indicators, many of yesterday’s impossibilities are rapidly turning into today’s possibilities. Already, handheld devices are gaining computing power of yesterday’s supercomputers and an illiterate person today can command more sophisticated and more numerous applications than a scientist with the highest education a few decades ago. Digital technology is here at our disposal for breaking the barriers of space, time, distance, and indigenous know-how in taking higher education to the masses of people with the application of knowledge created in far flung places of the world. As digital devices are spreading away from advanced laboratories of developed countries to the palms of the illiterates of the poor countries, opportunity has come to developing nations for skipping the hundreds of years of classroom based and fixed-pace rote learning. They have an opportunity to jump directly into age of computer facilitated learning, and learning by doing, imagining at a pace determined by learner alone.
The distance and computer assisted education that remained in the imagination of a few visionary enthusiasts is now rapidly emerging to be the mainstream mode of education. This has made it possible to acquire high level scientific knowledge by any inspired person of any place on earth without physically attending great institutions of developed countries. That is a great advantage to Nepal, a country struggling to make strides in health, social systems, productivity, economic improvement, and sustainable development for its residents. In a country with fresh tendency for resorting to bandhs and hadtal to solve grievances, this mode of education could facilitate learning even when everything else is shut down.
Having made these glowing remarks on the possibility of distance education through Open University of Nepal, it is also necessary to say that turning that possibility into a reality is a monumental challenge to any country, let alone Nepal, a country mired by ubiquitous poverty and seemingly never-ending political turmoil. However, all great journeys and great missions are made successful by execution of a finite set of concrete tasks in a planned sequence. Because we are at a juncture where the necessary tools, technologies, expertise, and knowledge, as well as proven successes in building world-class distance learning institutions, we are in an advantaged position to learn from other’s successes and failures. We need not make breakthrough at a fundamental scientific and technological level but in integrating already available means, methodologies, tools, technologies and expertise in the framework of an institution of higher learning.
Open University of Nepal will help Nepal gain access to quality higher education by means of (1) linking the learners with the learned from distance geographies and countries, especially the Diaspora Nepalese educators, (2) collaborating with international institutions in innovation, quality-assurance, accreditation, and resource sharing, (3) managing the production, storage, distribution, and continuous update of educational content, (4) converting local information content into formal, transferrable, and marketable knowledge, (5) addressing contemporary knowledge and skill needs of the society and economy, (6) breaking barriers of space, time, wealth, age, and prior-formalities, (7) garnering external and internal support for vulnerable groups until the point of self-sustainability.
Complex as this may sound, the steps to reach there are not difficult. Tentative steps would be to (1) take a determination to actually build Open University , (2) allocate geography, land and building infrastructure, (3) pass a legislation to create a way for qualified Kaligad to build it and serve it, (4) establish engagement principles with NRNA and CFFN and other institutional partners, (5) generate fund from internal and international avenues, (6) let experts establish tools, technologies and institutional framework on the provided land and basic infrastructure, (7) initially allow education be delivered in collaboration with internationally established institutions, (8) build internal capacity and intellectual property that can be reciprocated for contributions of other institutions, (9) expand the infrastructure and program throughout the country, and (10) incorporate internationally marketable programs for income generation and sustainability. These steps have been successfully taken by many institutions in the world and they are executable in contemporary Nepal where there is already a longing for a knowledge revolution.
Please visit an informational website http://openu.cffn.ca that is currently evolving and learn more about our mission. The proponents look forward to having cooperation and participation from many generous individuals and institutions with a commitment towards educating rural and marginalized people of Nepal.