October 3, 2010, Kathmandu: Solidarity Magazine which specializes on the news and concerns of Diaspora Nepalese has published an interview with the Dr. Pramod Dhakal in its September-October Issue. Here is the text of the interview as published. (Although published in October, this interview was taken at the end of August, before signing Memorandum of Understanding with Athabasca University and Kathmandu Resolution with Ministry of Education.)
“अन्तर्राष्ट्रिय स्तरको शिक्षाको लागि खुला विश्वविद्यालय उपयोगि हुनेछ
Dr. Pramod Dhakal is leading Open University of Nepal Initiative that has become a flagship project of Nepalese Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) and a a matter much discussion in Nepal and abroad. Here is an interview taken by Solidarity with Dr. Dhakal who is also the Executive Director of Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN) and NRN-Canada Representative to NRNA-ICC.
How did this Open University’s idea came about?
Some years ago Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN) was working to improve education in rural schools. When building computer laboratories and electronic libraries, we noticed that it is expensive to send people physically to villages in a regular basis. The difficulties are compounded by migration of qualified people from rural areas to big cities and big cities to foreign countries. We saw a tremendous opportunity and urgency of distance education but there was no institutional setup in Nepal to make it possible.
What does an Open University do?
OUN will establish tools, technology, mechanisms, and institutional framework in Nepal to make higher education accessible from all parts of Nepal. Through such institutional and technological framework, qualified people living in one village, city, or a country can teach students in another village, city or country. Using that setup Diaspora Nepalese and educators from around the world could directly contribute to Nepal in delivering international quality education.
Do you then need high speed Internet and latest computer technologies for OUN to work?
Yes we do.
But there is widespread lack of electricity and load shedding, lack of telephone services and hardly any access to Internet in most of Nepal. How would your plan be practical?
Today’s state of under development in the areas of electricity, communication and computing services is because of not having not enough return on investment for those who try to invest in those areas. Even if we had Internet today, we are not able to use it for much other than news, chat and email. We are unable to use it for education, health, business, and entrepreneurship. If people could gain high end education and business opportunities, many Diaspora Nepalese and generous individuals would invest in the villages on solar panels, generators, computers, Internet, and the likes instead of always buying land and houses in the cities. We could also adopt low energy options in computing and communications.
What comes first then: education or the Internet and computing?
They will have to be developed side by side in an integrated fashion. We will bring education through Internet and Internet through education. We train some people, they train others. Communication services, electricity, and computing facilities will be expanded together with high quality and enterprising education.
Who benefits? Are they the wealthy who are fortunate to have high speed Internet and computer at home?
The objective of OUN is to help all Nepalese, be they rich, poor, urban or rural, especially to serve those who are trapped in the remotest and poorest places. That means providing access to connectivity and computing facility for those who cannot afford is also part and parcel of the initiative. All Nepalese including those who cannot afford to go to big cities and foreign countries for higher education should have access to international quality college and university education from where they live today. Rural women and marginalized population will be the long term beneficiaries.
Who are involved in this initiative?
Institutionally, NRNA and CFFN are already in the mission. Athabasca University of Canada is already providing strong backing to this initiative. International Council for Open and Distance Education, which is the advisory body to UNESCO on distance education, is also in support of the initiative. Many NRNs and Nepalese who wish to contribute to the project for its own merit are in support of the initiative. Government of Nepal has long shown interest in establishing OUN. Therefore, we are waiting for it to engage as a significant player. Interest has also been shown by international institutions.
When will it happen?
Given the Government o Nepal cooperates with NRNs swiftly, we hope to establish a small presence with training of needed manpower within two years and establishment of full university by 2015.
How can we help?
Building popular pressure to all political parties and government to allocate budget for OUN in Nepal and other developed countries is important. In Neal, legislative framework and seed contribution is also necessary.