Open University of Nepal: Who wins?

By Dr. Pramod Dhakal

I was born in a mountain village in Nepal at a time villagers were establishing their first ever primary school. By the time I was in primary school, there were a number of primary schools in the region contesting to become a secondary school. In this competitive time, news broke out that Dhaulagiri Anchaladhish (In-charge of Zone Administration) was to tour in our area in two weeks time. Upon hearing the news, our villagers called an emergency meeting and decided to build a ten room school building before the day Anchaladhis set foot in the village. On the day of arrival of the high guests, all the villagers came to give a spectacular welcome of the entourage. The enormity of construction and the uniqueness of the welcome given to the officials were so overwhelming that our villagers got an outright approval for the secondary school. In turn, our villagers displaced all of their smart competitors to the sidelines. Thus the first ever secondary school of our area came to become in our village, with lessons for future aspirants of similar adventures.

On the day of the arrival of the officials, our village elders offered the newly built school building to the high officials and declared that it was built in honour of their distinguished guests. Almost all men, women and children gave unbelievable welcome to the officials to prove the point. The officers were overwhelmed with joy in declaring that the school is the first secondary school to be approved in the whole of South-Eastern belt of Baglung District. Thus, photographs were taken and the names of Anchaladhis, District Administration Officer, and District Education Officer were embellished with a story of accomplishments and the approval that was written by the reporters. The story was then published in Gorkhapatra, the national newspaper.

Would we think that there would be any mention of my illiterate mother and people like her who fetched construction stones, who prepared lumbers, carried all kinds of construction materials over steep mountains and who constructed the school without any external financial assistance in that story? No, certainly not individually. Much glory belonged to the high administrators and the “inspiration they espoused”. Yet, in this entire affair, the greatest winners were our villagers and the illiterate people, and my mother whose work destroyed the spell of illiteracy for those whom she left behind.

As said in Mahabharata, “Time cooks all beings.” Today, the accomplished Anchaladhish and the least accomplished person of our village from that time are no more in the scene. Most contributing casts of that play are either no longer here, or are old and frail. Very little is remembered and much is forgotten about the people who built the institution. Today, only three already dead villagers who gave key leadership at the time are still remembered and no one remembers the name of the big officers that were there in the ceremony. Only one who has not yet grown old is the very institution that they had built. The school still educates hundreds students every year, of whom dozens graduate and pursue higher endeavours.

Villagers had offered their school as a gift to their guests but in reality that was nothing more than honour and respect. The school actually belongs to the people who live there. Our villagers are still eating the fruit of reciprocal giving. That they had generously given something to be proud of to the officials, the officials in turn had given something to be proud of to the villagers.

When Diaspora Nepalese from around the world are gearing up for establish Open University of Nepal (OUN), a project declared as its flagship project by Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA), a project being pursued by Ministry of Education (MoE) of Nepal for more than two decades, a project

independently conceived and presented by Canada Foundation for Nepal to the NRNA, a project that would have difficulty taking off swiftly without Athabasca University’s technical support, and without Diaspora Nepalese scholars who did not belong to any of the mentioned organization. With this complex project involving so many individuals and institutions already and more to join, the question of ownership has surfaced as a frequently asked one. If my village school can shed any light, what would be true is that the university will belong to none of us but to the people of Nepal who will follow us in a not very distance future and those who will keep on coming after them.

Thus the university will be a continuum where we will not notice when the change began and when it ended but before long, it would have grown as we decline, until such a time when something new will emerge to replace it. This will be our legacy, a marker, which will inspire the people who will walk on our trails of cultural legacy, that of creativity and spirit of giving. As for the winners, they would be the generations of humans who follow us!

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