Nepal today is sitting at a juncture of despair and hope for various historic, cultural, socio-economic, political, and other reasons. The way it is now, Nepal presents us with many areas requiring fundamental changes through interventions and improvements. Education is one such area. Research has proven that education is the largest single contributor in solving the problems of poverty, income disparity, and gender, ethnic, and wellbeing inequities. And within education there are so many areas to intervene and improve upon: early-childhood, elementary, secondary, higher, vocational, adult, continuing, formal, and informal, to name some. In this context, the Non-Resident Nepali Association (NRNA) is partnering with the Government of Nepal, the Canada Foundation for Nepal (CFFN), Athabasca University and other worthy institutions in building the Open University of Nepal (OUN). While this initiative has generated much excitement, certain intellectual quarters are inquiring why Non-Resident Nepalis (NRNs) got involved in higher education whereas there is so much need in the basic education itself. This article aims to offers some answers as to why the Open University of Nepal is the most desirable area for NRN contributions and why it also contributes in uplifting the state of basic education.
1. NRN knowledge is more transferrable at university and college level
The majority of early NRNs who settled in developed countries, mainly from the 1960s, did so in the pursuit of higher studies, especially for Masters and PhD degrees. The later wave of NRNs came as permanent residents in these countries after proving their high academic and professional credentials elsewhere. It is only a recent trend that Nepalese of all demographic groups are settling in these countries. Today, many NRNs are established as professors in universities and colleges, researchers in leading edge science and technology institutions, professionals in government and enterprise sectors, and skilled workers in various vocational fields. Their presence abroad as primary and secondary school teachers is negligible, especially in developed countries. Naturally, NRNs have a proven strength in the higher education sector. There is a critical mass of highly educated NRNs bearing potential to take higher education of Nepal to a new level and an abundance of willingness to contribute their knowledge and skills to Nepal. Reciprocally, a university such as OUN will be in a better position to receive the internationally available knowledge and to readily translate to meet Nepal’s domestic knowledge needs at various levels. The OUN will be in a better position to be a catalyst for international collaboration in research and development in the country. The OUN, which overcomes the barriers of geography and time, offers an effective institutional platform to transfer NRN knowledge and experiences to Nepal, while the NRNs will be able to contribute from distant countries.
2. The demographic gaps are greater in higher education
The government of Nepal and international agencies have already invested significant resources to primary and secondary education for several decades. Consequently, primary and secondary schools can be found now even in the remotest villages of Nepal. Of course, there is a well recognized problem of quality in these schools but that problem exists even in the public schools of Kathmandu. There are many policy issues superimposed on economical, social, and demographic problems that need redressing.
Demographic evidences have shown that regional, area and community level differences in the access to higher education are too great to ignore. Most NRNs agree that there is hardly any access to college and university level education in rural, remote, and marginalized populations. Therefore, addressing the problem of access to higher education at its core is widely accepted and undisputed desire of NRNs. Emergence of such a high level of consensus among NRNs means that we can have greater participation, support, and momentum to address the well recognized gap in higher education.
3. Distance education today is better developed for mature learners
In order to address the demographic gaps in education, it has become imperative that we take quality education to people’s homes and communities. Distance education is the most suitable way to do this. However, distance education tools, technologies, methodologies and practices developed to date are more appropriate for an adult and more independent learner. It is a recognized fact that imparting great learning on children and youth requires an almost continuously managed and supervised environment. Most adult learners require smaller interventions. Perhaps for this reason and others, distance education has a proven track-record of success at the college and university level. Therefore, it would be prudent for us to start with something where the likelihood for success is higher. Building on the strength of our success, we can then methodically move on to other learners.
4. OUN can engage both in-country and Diaspora population
Even the Diaspora in developed countries are be in the quest for specific professional or knowledge advantages to compete for economic, professional, and educational opportunities. Therefore, it is in Diaspora’s own advantage to have access to institutions that add unique values to their portfolios. NRNs living around the world who would like to take higher degrees and diplomas, prepare for professional examinations, and take continuing education can attend OUN. They can take OUN programs that are fully recognized by host countries’ bodies of educational and professional accreditation. For example, a graduate in nursing program from OUN could write professional exams in their host countries and get their professional licenses.
Also the OUN can intellectually engage both the Nepali and the NRN populations at the same time. For example, a professor teaching in a university of an industrialized country can also teach OUN students while remaining in the current place of residence. The same can be true to a professor teaching in a university in Nepal.
These scenarios present a win-win situation for both people in Nepal and the NRNs.
5. OUN can help strengthen primary and secondary level education
OUN will take higher education to people’s homes and communities. This will help raise the overall educational attainment in the whole society, including the strengthening of the primary and secondary education. Rising OUN output will stimulate and energize the entire schooling system, and will improve quality standards. Studies have shown that disproportionately large number of beneficiaries of open and distance education are women. Studies have also proven that rise in women’s education has a higher impact in the education of the family members and the whole society. In addition, the OUN will have a huge role in the training of primary and secondary school teachers, in research and innovation, in pedagogy, curriculum, planning, evaluation, and management, in translating advanced knowledge into local learning context, and in developing multidisciplinary skills. The technical infrastructure built for OUN can also serve to accumulate, manage and deliver knowledge content relevant to primary and secondary education. All these mutually complimenting elements, in turn, will create a mutually rewarding environment for all levels of education.
Conclusion: At least five clearly identifiable pre-existing conditions created a basis for recognizing the unique potential of OUN, and to build an impetus for its pursuance. Perhaps it is for those reasons, a large number of NRNs and Nepalese people have overwhelmingly welcomed the initiative for the OUN. We genuinely believe that the importance of NRNs in translating and transferring knowledge and education to Nepal is extremely high. Therefore, NRNs have captured a dream of establishing the Open University of Nepal of international stature so as to utilize it as an effective institutional instrument for tapping their own knowledge and intellectual capacity for Nepal. The realization of this dream is certain with the overwhelming contribution and support of the NRN community and the people of Nepal.
About the Authors: Dr Pramod Dhakal is the Member-Secretary of the Steering Committee for the Open University of Nepal initiative, ICC member of NRNA from Canada, and a member of NRNA Task Force on SKI, and the Executive Director of the Foundation for Nepal (CFFN). Dr. Govinda Dahal is the Deputy Director of CFFN, member of NRN-Canada NCC, and research scientist at University of Ottawa. Dr. Drona Rasali is Steering Committee member of OUNI, Deputy-Regional Coordinator Americas of NRNA ICC, Research Chair of CFFN, a member of the Steering Committee of OUN Initiative, and Adjunct Professor of University of Regina.