Print Edition - 2015-06-27  |  On Saturday

So much needs to change

  • Despite Khotang’s giving birth to a host of luminaries, the district remains backward. That is perhaps why my district fared so poorly in the recent SLC
- DEWAN RAI
So much needs to change

Jun 26, 2015-I never cared about the School Living Certificate examination, but this year was an exception. I simply could not ignore it: because Khotang, where I hail from, performed so dismally in the exams.

This year, Khotang is the district that had the lowest pass percentage (16.45 per cent), while Bhaktapur obtained the highest pass percentage (87.71 per cent). The results bothered me, but not more than the people who won’t stop harping on about it. They unfailingly ask me one irrelevant question before they start any  conversation, “How come your district came 75th in the SLC? That’s a shame!”

I am neither a school inspector nor an educationist. I am not a teacher, nor a student. I have been living in the Capital for the past two decades. I go to my village only when I have some work or when my office shuts down on national holidays. I have not forgotten my village, but I don’t have the time to give people explanations. All I can do is give an answer just as silly as the question asked.

“Well, I am glad that now at least you know the name of my district,” is my reply. Many a time, I have to say the name of my district to the people here twice. They hear Bhutan instead of Khotang.

I know it is not a great comeback, but this is how I try to avoid the possible nasty comments that have been following me ever since the SLC results got out.

Despite the district’s giving birth to eight Secretaries, including the one who successfully conducted the first constituent assembly election, Bhojraj Pokharel, the district remains backward. The district that gave the country its first chief engineer Birendra Keshari Pokharel, in the Panchayat era,  was connected to the national road network—through an unmetalled road—only recently. Parshuram Rai, who became the vice chairperson of the Ratriya Panchayat (National Assembly), also comes from Khotang. And the one  name that the urban denizens never fail to bring up is Min Bahadur Gurung, owner of Bhatbhateni; he pioneered the supermarket culture in the country. These are the names we proudly throw around whenever we want to identify with Khotang. But frankly, most of these famous people don’t know the district very well. They had already migrated from the place before they became famous.

I am not going into the details of how they performed in their SLC. I don’t think an educational degree is everything,  and it should not be the standard to judge anyone.

That said, if they have made it this far despite the challenges of getting an education in the district, then they must be people of great mettle. Let me tell you about how I went about getting an education in  Khotang.  

By six am every day, I would already be in the fields collecting fodder for cattle. During the planting season, I would be in the fields, helping ready the land for planting paddy, millet, corn, potatoes and so on. During the harvesting season, my friends and I would mostly be in the fields reaping crops before going to school. Our primary school, which has now become a lower secondary institution, did lie within our neighbourhood, but the secondary school was  a two-hour walk away, in another village.

Students in a village like ours cannot just devote their days to schoolwork.  Education is merely a 10am-4 pm affair, unlike in the bigger cities, where kids attend extra tutorial classes and so on. The village kids have responsibilities other than learning. And the teachers too do not have it easy. They too had to juggle farm duties in the same manner we students did. It should come as no surprise then that the teaching-learning environment in Khotang has been far for ideal.

As the youngest member of my family, I bargained hard to turn into the family cook when everyone else would  go to the fields. My sister and I  went to the same school but I was allowed to cook, which included steaming rice and boiling and frying green vegetables. I did not get this privilege to stay at home and cook during the planting season as the school remained closed for a month then. That should tell you volumes about our priorities.

My sister and I would leave for school a little earlier than my brother, as he was a teacher. He was allowed  to be late but we would get punished. We had a strict headmaster,  a retired British Army soldier—Iman Singh Rai. He was truly an honest and intelligent person, a strict disciplinarian. It’s mostly because of him that  Mahendrodaya (Higher) Secondary School has become one of the best schools in the district.

Iman Singh Rai started school after he retired as a sergeant from the British army. He worked  hard to earn a  bachelor’s degree and  became a school teacher.  After serving for a few years, he was made the head teacher. “You may wonder why I keep pushing you guys so much to study,” he would say to the students in the morning assembly. “ I know how  hard work  pays off.”

We never understood a word he said. We would play hockey, clamber up trees to steal fruits and run through the fields, wrecking some of the crops in the process. We loved to climb and run, so we climbed up and down the terraces. I never did my homework. I would ask the teacher to make me work in class, and I would solve sums on the blackboard. I was lucky that maths was not too difficult for me.

My parents never asked me to focus on my studies.  They preferred that I help them in the fields.  And I loved taking the cattle out to graze in the forest; I loved performing that ‘chore’. I chose this task because it was fun work. I could roam around the forest and play with friends. But our headmaster kept warning us that if we didn’t mend our ways, we would flunk the SLC.

We did spend the better part of the year wasting our time, but in the end, my brother and my headmaster took me by the ear and forced me to get serious about the impending SLC. Much against my wishes, I started cramming for the exams, and I did get through the dreaded exams.

But not all the kids in Khotang are as lucky. They do not have the sort of mentors I did. Many of them attend schools that have the most rudimentary of facilities. And many of them have to walk for miles to get an education. It’s a story that plays out in many of the less developed districts of Nepal. It’s just that this year, my district became the embodiment of the country’s dismal public education realities.

Published: 27-06-2015 08:22

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