Print Edition - 2014-09-07  |  Free the Words

Learning for life

  • The school-level curricula needs to be based on what students face in day-to-day life
- Richa Bhattarai
Learning for life

Sep 6, 2014-Enough has been said about the education that our colleges and universities offer. While students and academicians alike grouse that the curriculum is outdated and not practical enough for the real world, I have a slightly different opinion. Things can always be made better and practical, of course, but when you choose a faculty like the humanities, as I did, you have no right to complain at the end of the course that you didn’t learn anything that places you directly into the job market. Universities all around the world are lamenting the decline of the humanities and the lack of appropriate jobs for philosophers, artists and writers.

How then, can we expect it to be any different here? When I first started out, I was not looking towards a career or a technical skill, but rather, a chance to satiate my thirst for knowledge, language and literature. The courses I took fulfilled that, and now, the understanding I gained during those years is probably worth more than my degree (which I cherish too).

 My concern is more about the kind of knowledge that is imparted to us at school. Having left school more than a decade ago, I can look back dispassionately at what we were taught, and how much it has helped me. School education is a lot more significant than what we learn afterwards, because it is the fundament upon which our later learning is built. Also, in those 10 odd years, all of us are taught more or less the same things, before each of us chooses our majors.  

Starting in school

I am immensely thankful for these subjects in school: history, geography, health and civic sense. They have helped me comprehend news stories and phenomena and given me fair enough knowledge of the world. Everyday, I use basic arithmetic and science (particularly biology and environment), as well as a smattering of accounts, if only to balance my income and expenses. Things learnt at school are so much better remembered, recalled and used. So, adjusting the curricula to simulate the world beyond books means an easier life for youngsters, and the adults responsible for handling them.

The first thing schoolbooks need to teach us concerns money. Most importantly, these five things—taxes, saving, budgeting, banking and intelligent expenses. In a world that relies so much on finances, every student will benefit from these. I wish, for example, that we had had lessons about provident funds and the Citizen Investment Trust so I could decide wisely on my savings. I want to know about the taxes I pay, too, especially how they are being spent. Several friends have confessed how much better life would be if we were taught practical budgeting at school—if you have x money, divide it so that you can pay your rent, buy books, clear college fees, and feed yourself for a month.

A crash course in politics would help, too. Not complex stuff, but at least how the country functions. What is a Constituent Assembly? Why do we elect people, and on what basis? What are these elected people called—when are they Members of Parliament and when are they of the CA? What do they do? How can we ensure that elected people perform well and what are our options for recourse if they don’t? Learning at least the most obvious facts will mean that we will no longer need to write ‘Politics is a dirty game’ when filling in a friend’s scrap book, simply because we do not know any other way to describe it. Social Studies tried to touch upon the basics of the Legislative and the Parliament, but confused us all the more.

Also, linked to politics is the government and its processes. The first thing that we need after passing the School Leaving Certificate is a citizenship certificate, and we don’t have a clue as to where we need to apply for this, or even what we need to do to obtain driving licences, passports, voter IDs and Permanent Account Number (PAN) cards. In the same way, we are only vaguely aware of what municipalities, District Development Committees and Village Development Committees are and how they function. Everyday at work, I try hard to learn more about government agencies and their functions, and think to myself, if only this had been taught to us with as much effort as mathematics and science—for, it is things like these that make up our daily lives.  

For a better career

We also need to be taught writing—and by writing, I mean professional writing—applications, cover letters, résumés, proposals, reports and research. We do have English and Nepali classes in school. Even accounts makes an attempt to help us draft applications and update our CVs. But all of these need an immediate revamp. They are painfully inadequate when we actually need to apply for jobs or request a government official to release our documents, or even just assign a representative to collect reimbursement. Of course, there is always Google to help out with classy CVs, but learning it earlier (and tailored to our own country’s needs) can make us so much more confident.

One thing that must be made compulsory is public speaking. Many schools these days are excellent at helping students explore their articulation by organising debates, elocutions and presentations. This, however, runs the danger of the same five students being handpicked and them being honed as champions. What would be better is to have public speaking as a non-negotiable subject—one where all students, even the shiest ones (especially them) must go up on the dais and speak out if they want pass marks. Ten years of doing this will ensure that giving an impromptu speech and turning up for an interview will no longer be an ordeal, but an opportunity.

To include some new things in the curricula, however, some redundant ones perhaps need to be removed. For example, since leaving school, I have never used the complicated workings of optional mathematics or the formulae of chemistry. All those hours I spent mugging up geometry theorems or trying to get the algebra equations to match make me wonder if we really ought to keep studying these subjects, when the only thing they gave me were slightly higher marks and a big headache. My classmates, who took up the same subjects as me, agree that they have also forgotten these irrelevant matters, though they might perhaps be invaluable to science and commerce graduates. Wouldn’t it be better to focus more on the workings of the world than harp on about traditional knowledge?  

Bhattarai is the Communications Officer at WWF Nepal, Hariyo Ban Program

Published: 07-09-2014 09:09

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