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Learning To Unlearn: How Our Education System Has Failed Us (And How Do We Bounce Back)

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Being a seemingly unemployed graduate, this Dashain showered me with a range of strange blessings from my family and relatives. ‘May you be granted Visa’, ‘May you earn a lot in the days to come’, ‘May you get a name and fame’ were the ones that topped the list. My cousins, some of who are still school-goers, received blessings of being doctors and engineers and standing first in their classes. No one cared about what we’d love to do with our lives. We were offered lengthy hymns of blessings, but what we wanted to become later in life was never cared for.

This is my personal experience, but I bet thousands of others can relate to this.

This led me into a brief contemplation and I couldn’t resist myself searching for a connection between our social and cultural upbringing and our education system. A question evolved in my head, ‘isn’t this why our (education) system has failed us?’

Inside the pages of our bulky books that we carried reluctantly to schools, there’s a fine-tuned version of our best selves in making, fabricated in utopian silk. It’s something to ponder upon. During the six long hours in schools, our kids are taught, sometimes with batons and ‘sit-ups’, to be disciplined, to behave in a civilized way. These kids yawn their jaws out for the rest of the day, and on their way back home they buy noodles, savor the MSG adulterated snack and throw the plastic wrappers away on the roadside. They rush home; they’ve got an assignment to do: the teacher had told them to write an essay on ‘Earth and Environment.’

Chapters in the schoolbooks tell our kids not to litter, but these lessons are lost in translation.  The way we tend to make people understand things involves a lot of mugging and dictating and memorizing at the expense of understanding and applying. Instead of being a productive and inspirational guardian angel for our students to sharpen their creative processes, our curricula rather narrow the choices of our pursuits. It was meant to plant seeds of progression, humanity and beautiful changes, but on its way it guided us to be even hungrier for power and money.

Far from their genuine purpose of delivering wisdom, classrooms are dull and boring bubbles where indifferent teachers come for money and uninterested students listen to them out of fear. Schools, instead of helping students to unleash their productive capacity, tend to normalize each and every child to a standardized line of measurement. Amidst chalks and talks, a child who recruited in pre-school swiftly turns into a high school graduate, but he himself doesn’t realize what he’s going to do with his life. This is how strangely our education has failed us, repeatedly. It’s not hard to comprehend the development of this social paradigm if we care enough to think a bit about the political inclination, degree of unionization and politicization of our school systems, teachers and institution operators.

Children are trained, not taught. They are trained to memorize formulae and count words and score high on tests. Their curiosity is clawed by the fear of under-performance, their uniqueness is paralyzed by the compulsion of conformity that our system dictates. Their differences in opinion are barely celebrated, their creative endeavors seldom admired. A kid is expected to believe that a caterpillar turns into a butterfly, but how? He’s barely shown. Showing them takes pragmatism, and our schooling system is tragically poor in it.

We have been so inured to a corrupt system that we have constructed a social concept of ‘you’re doing great as long as you’re making money’. Ethics and morality, dignity and righteousness have been left behind far away in our journey to this point in the history. We tell our children to study hard so that they can earn money later in life, but we never tell them that wealth is not the answer to everything. Every time, generations by generations, a large mass of tender youths are brainwashed by our education system to fit into places, to compete, to outrun their fellow mates.. We have sadly been convinced that money can buy respect. We then fight with each other, we pull strings to get better off than the ones around us. Mutualism and co-operative spirit die a brutal death. In this competition of achieving more and earning a good fortune, the real joy of living is often compromised. The end result: a person, who as a kid, sang songs brilliantly ends up working as a salesperson, a kid who dreamt of pursuing career in robotics gives up his passion and settles for a 9-5 job that he has been persuaded to believe is lucrative. The pursuit of creativity fades away in an irreversible way and the whole nation bleeds in agony. We talk of brain drain, but we never seek out solutions.

In this ever changing world where technological triumphs have been advancing each day, we’re still stuck in a conundrum of setting up a reliable system. Though we’re lagging, it is never too late to make amends. The conservative methodology of our education system needs to be overhauled with new measures. We need motivated teachers who understand child psychology; mentors who love value-based teaching that can incite imagination and curiosity inside classrooms. We need newer techniques of making kids understand the primary phenomena of the world, earth and human relationships. More than notes and chalks and dusters, our kids need to be habituated for learning with multimedia and similar interactive approaches. We may give lengthy residential trainings to teachers, we may change the grading system for a hundred times, but our kids won’t grow up to be wise citizens unless we celebrate their creativity and encourage rather than suppress their differences in opinion.

We, the ‘grown-ups’, the parents, the teachers, administrators and policy makers are yet to unlearn the beliefs that are engraved deep into our psyche. Before we can make our children learn, there’s a lot in reserve for us to unlearn. We were fed stereotypes, and we were subjected to confirmation. First, we need to wretch that out. We need to mold ourselves into more pragmatic, more reasonable and logical beings before we set up any standards for our kids to live by. We must question everything. Our kids will learn by our examples, not by our dictation. Only when we show them by throwing garbage on the dust-bins can we make them rational enough not to litter. There is no other way.

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Opinion

Is Nepal Really An Agricultural Country?

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Earlier this week, a news story popped up in our national dailies that said that at a village in Bajura, local farmers had to feed their apples to cattle owing to lack of proper transportation and market for their otherwise lucrative product. This news, on the face of Kathmandu-based rhetoric of agricultural modernization and the so called Prime Minister Agricultural Modernization Program initiated by the earlier government, shows the real situation of our agricultural status. It shows how apathetic our leadership and policy-makers are when it comes to being accountable for our agricultural development.

While the whole world is pacing towards new innovations for sustainable living, there has been a constant downfall of Nepali Agro based industries in last few decades, whereas the demand of food has increased by almost double-fold. At the time when our neighboring nations are profiteering from higher agricultural achievements in laboratories and in fields, we are not even being able to produce enough food for ourselves, let alone exporting. Given the national workforce (more than 65%) that toils in agricultural sector, production is in a pitiful, derogative condition. Governmental investment for agriculture every year almost reserves around 30% of the total budget, but when it comes to substantial results, we are doomed.

In 2011 only, statistics show that India had 14% GDP contribution from industries and Bangladesh had 17% while for Nepal it was just 7%. This figure, instead of growing towards double digit, has been shrinking more and more with each year we pass. This is a result of a prolonged transitive mindset that our political leadership wants to perpetuate for the interest of their benefits while it mars the national development. This is what happens when a nation fails to produce, when we don’t have industries that link up to the farms and communities.

We teach our school-children that Nepal is a nation based on agriculture, but they’re innocent of the reality of our agricultural scenario. In Nepal, we have a notion of taking things for granted, we believe what we’re told to believe. We’ve been taught to believe that we are an agricultural nation, and we swallowed that with ease. But let’s see the flip side. Here are a few agriculture related industries that the national governance system has failed to maintain and promote, and hence been closed/degraded:

  • Jute mills: Few decades earlier, Jute Development Board had been established that had aimed to do research on seeds, research and technology transfer and product refinement, but the subsequent governments failed to maintain that resolve, and we all now know that there is no scope now for Jute farmers, and the industries that once known all over south Asia have now ended up as ruins.
  • Textiles and cotton industry was also initially established with Chinese support; and it had boosted the cotton production across Nepal. But the so called leaders, instead of lobbying for modernization and technology development, of ne Cotton Development Board, and now there are hardly any cotton industries in Nepal.
  • Agricultural Tools Industry was opened in Birgunj with the help of the then USSR. But owing to lack of commitment from our leadership, it was closed within a short span of few decades.
  • Janakpur Cigaratte Factory was once the pride of Nepal. It was a source of employment for thousands of Nepali. But sadly, Tobacco Development Board that once dreamed of connecting farmers with industry is now dysfunct, thanks to our so called leaders of new Nepal!
  • Birgunj Sugar Mill too has suffered a similar fate. At present, we hear news of farmers protesting about the low payback for their sugarcanes, as they are compelled to sell their raw materials to the Sugar mills across the border.

All of these instances are few epitomes of the downfall of our agricultural and industrial efficiency. Many other sectors, like Trolley Bus in the Kathmandu Valley and the Hetauda-Kathmandu ropeway, have also undergone relatable extinction. If we are to march towards prosperity as a nation, such myopic interventions from the governmental agencies should be avoided at any cost.

The real problems revolve around the tragic fact that policies have never benefitted the beneficiaries. Because of the outright corruption and political division, the allocated money never reaches the actual communities in need. There are a lot of I/NGO’s that are supposedly working on issues of farmer empowerment, crop protection and development, but none seem to have an effective impact in our agricultural systems.   As a result, in spite of ample production, we are not being able to sell our products to the market. Isn’t it strange that we import almost everything we eat – from rice to wheat to grams to packed foods – while our fresh apples rot to the earth owing to the lack of proper marketing and transportation?

This paradox revolves around the popular, sometimes highly revered conception of pseudo-modern Nepali society that finds land owning quite attractive whereas farming is often loathed. Such a deep-rooted false perception can’t be eliminated overnight, but it is possible if new scientific and profitable approaches are adopted for agriculture and farming. There is an ample space for agricultural entrepreneurship, especially in cities like Kathmandu where civilians are willing to pay rather a higher price if they’re guaranteed with healthy organic foods. For this to happen, newer technologies need to be adopted for producing our food. From vegetables to cereals, fruits and staple diets, it is possible to multiply the yield if we apply latest scientific findings to our fields. Also, we still lack a proper marketing and advertisement of our products. The apples that are being wasted could be very potent raw material for a wine company, but we are failing to develop a strong link between farmers and industries. Transportation is a basic factor when it comes to production and market reach. Sadly, as of now, if we don’t plan and act strategically, our apples seem to be bound to suffer similar fate in years to come. For this, a complete sense of responsibility needs to be planted into the hearts of bureaucrats and policy-makers such that they realize the real woes of our citizens, especially in the remote villages and hills.

Recently, we’ve heard a lot that Nepal has become independent on poultry farming. While some bureaucrats and leaders brag over this so called achievement, the normal public is always unaware to the fact that a large portion of poultry-feed is still imported from India. Saying that we’re independent in such a pretext is nothing more than a shallow, facile attempt of deceiving the economically marginalized communities of this nation. Rather than selling false pride, government needs to focus on developing programs that empower local farmers for scientific and sustainable methods of farming. Rather than clinging to the subsistence-oriented and traditional farming, training should be provided to the farmers for introducing new and effective methods of production and farming.

Political leadership is completely aware, yet unwilling to address the real concerns. It doesn’t have time to envision the future and come up with strategic planning to tackle the food insecurity, agricultural decline and its impacts on public health. This being said, we should not undermine that few agro ventures have been successfully running in this last few years. Even without any visible support from the governmental agencies, youths in different parts of Nepal have started setting up farms, dairy industries, organic fertilizers production and other similar small to medium scale businesses. From ostrich to organic vegetable farms, people have slowly started seeing agriculture as a respectable and profitable occupation. It’s a silver lining that may be we’re now ready for a paradigm shift, a drift from the social conditioning that trains us to see working at farms as some low profile job.

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Opinion

Development And Environment: What Is, What Should Be

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By- Sashank Sharma

Development, as we know it, is the cornerstone to a country’s rise to prominence. The fact that infrastructures, in today’s world, is an indicator of development of a nation, adds to its importance. With rapid urbanization and increasing demand for more, the balance that be, has become lopsided. Environmental issues are rapidly increasing as a consequence of development. People are becoming increasingly aware of these issues in the developed countries while on contraire, people in developing nation do not see its gravity. Inside any project lies a vast amount of environmental problems. After all, it is the common ground that we live in; everything is tangled in each other, none more so than environment and development.

Escalation of environmental movement owes its existence to a poem. “Silent Spring” by Rachel Carson in the 60’s sparked a movement that brought the matters of the environment to the limelight. After that, it grew like wildfire and nations across the world started formulating policies that ensure protection of the environment. The policies in this regard became the voice of the voiceless sentient being. After all, we along with 1.7 million species of beings share this common ground called earth. The figure is an estimate only, with this number expected to rise through discoveries, across the world. Furthermore, the issues of habitat destruction, habitat fragmentation, over hunting, disease, invasive species and recently climate change have thrown a gauntlet of trials for all the species out there in the world; the gauntlet of survival. It is an estimate that out of all the species that ever existed in the world, only 1% inhabits the globe. That is to say, extinction is a tangible prospect. Anything that ever lives will certainly die. But today, the rate of extinction of species is around 1000 times the background rate (the rate of extinction if human beings were not present). In a sense, our actions are now showing their effect, with rapid escalation of organisms of all sorts, being drafted into different categories of IUCN threat level.

This issue of wildlife is one of many aspects of the clash of environment and development. Pollution of all sorts is now reigning our world. Everything that we took for granted, clean air, clean water, clean soil and others are now facing the wrath of indiscriminate and haphazard development. Development in itself is not the problem, but the fact that educated people that run the developmental works seem so relaxed over solving these problems, that the only thing that they see in managing environment and safety is the provision for the workers to wear construction helmets. And in their blindness, the inevitability of structure failure happens due to carelessness in managing the environment. And they haven’t a clue as to what went wrong and how it could be solved and be avoided in the future.

In 1987, at Stockholm, a report called Brundtland report was commissioned which brought the agenda of Sustainable Development. In a nutshell, sustainability defines how well the resources that we have, are utilized. The idea of incorporating sustainability into developmental projects to ensure environmental quality was a revelation. With further discussions, the concept of Environmental Impact Assessment (EIA) was introduced around the world to give substance to the idea of Sustainability. EIA is a scientific approach of scoping and identifying issues of physio-chemical, socio-economic and biological nature, the impacts that these receive due to the project and the mitigation and/or adaptive measures that need to be undertaken to ensure environmental quality. EIA rejects any projects that have the possibility to fail to at least keep the standards to how they were before the initiation of the project, meaning, the project must ensure or even better the existing environmental condition.

Nepal, through the formulation of Environment Protection Act, 1997 and Environmental Protection Rule, 1997, showed its promise of a better environment. Everything stated within these two polices are commendable. The provision of EIA and IEE (Initial Environment Examination) are well put and the procedures are well stated. But the actual scenario when it comes to implementing them comes out to be on the opposite extreme of what was promised. What really grinds my gear is the fact that people do not really have a grasp on how big the issues really are. With anthropogenic climate change already announcing itself on the centre stage, the issue of sustainable projects is a prospect that we can no longer ignore. It is a necessity rather than an option, for who in their right mind would first install all the furniture and accessories of the house rather than seeing to it that the house itself is built upon strong foundation? The relevancy of this anecdote with developmental projects is a reality that the people of today need to grasp.

Asian Development Bank, World Bank and EU are a few to name that strictly implement the issues of the environment and social nature into their contract with nations, where a project under their fund is being developed. Social and Environmental Safeguards are at the very core of any development projects. The legally binding contractual agreement sees to it that every stipulation stated in ADB-GON contract has been implemented.

With such advances in policies and supposed concern towards the environment, the only issue should have been of strict implementation and monitoring. And this has been the downfall of all the elaborately schemed policies. Ask anyone from Kathmandu about what is wrong with this city and most commonly, the answer is air pollution. The environmental standards set by the Government and even by World Health Organization is a thing of ridicule in this nation. Yes, climate change is upon us, and yes, the environment is changing rapidly. This doesn’t mean we don’t need development. In fact, we need it more than ever, but not the development that has been accustomed to in this nation. We need development that is sustainable with the environment, for as long as the environment is healthy, we will be healthy. And for as long as we treat the environment with ignorance, the environment will treat us with vengeance.

The writer is an environmentalist, and currently works as an Environmental Expert at the proposed Gautam Buddha International Airport.

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Lakhsya

Why Am I Against Trump?

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You can love or hate American President, but you cannot ignore.

I post a lot on my Facebook against Trump.  Some of my FB friends even wondered about my obsession with American politics.  It’s understandable.  After all, why a guy from Nepal should be so nosy about American politician and their politics, right?

Well, it’s not about American politics and their politicians.  It’s about Trump.  Trump is not a person to me.  For me Trump is a mindset, a mentality, and that’s what I am against and that’s what I voice against.  Because that’s the exact mentality I have chosen to stand up against, voice against, and oppose until my last breath, as a purpose of my life.  That’s the exact mentality to fight with, Kaagmandu was born.  My country, my people, my region, after decades of isolation and traditionalism, finally have begun to look beyond communalism and tribalism, finally have begun to rise above religion, caste, and creeds and nationalism and perceive the world as One Planet, humans as One Species.  AND, THEN HAPPENS THE TRUMP!  Trump is a bad influence, a deviation, an excuse, a reference for some to hide behind and push their fanaticism, racism, supremacy, nationalism.  That’s my fear, and reason why, I am against Trump.

You can love or hate American President, but you cannot ignore.  America is indeed quite an influential country, and their President is indeed quite an influential person, for better or worst.  If Obama influenced the world on class and coolness, Trump surely will influence the world on something.  The way he acts, he communicates, he poses, I am afraid that he will influence the world not for good.  He is a kind of guy that hates political correctness, that disregards diplomacy, that loves boasting about self, that suffers from spiritual poverty.  Imagine the world getting influenced with these traits of him.  I stand against Trump to not let these traits of him becoming the new normal.  I want to be clear from my side at least for my people, my country, my region and my circle, that there is nothing normal in Trump.

My country and people have suffered enough because of Trumpism of my own country, and I have made it a purpose of my life to fight Trumpism, and when I read and hear Trump, my dedication doubles up, my inner voice explodes.

World has suffered enough for the ignorance and arrogance of few in power.  Aryan supremacy gave us WWII.  I do not want to see White Supremacy.  Trump is acting like a messiah for those conservative white folks from US of A.  This grandiosity in him scares hell out of me.  World has been relatively peaceful in last 8 years.  I don’t want to lose the peaceful state of world because of superior complexity of few.  This is why I am against Trump.  I will not summon to these supremacists, I will not let people that matter to me summon to these supremacists.

I dream for the world that is reasoning based, science and facts based, and not faith, not religion. Trump is the mentality that doubts science and facts, that suffers from confirmation bias, and comes up with his own “alternative facts,” disregards climate change, divides people on religion line, that acts per opinions than facts and figures.  That’s wrong and that’s very dangerous.  This is why I am against Trump.  I want world to be driven by facts and figures, science and research, logic and reasoning and not faith and religion.  My country and people have suffered enough because of Trumpism of my own country, and I have made it a purpose of my life to fight Trumpism, and when I read and hear Trump, my dedication doubles up, my inner voice explodes.

All in all, Trump to me is not a person but is a reflection of a kind, that still exists within we humans, that love to be in isolation, that love to limit themselves within their kind, that disrespects differences, that hate competition, that are ignorant but have no desire to learn, that live in their ideal world from past, and thus no desire to progress but rather regress.  Trump is a mentality that contradicts with my core beliefs and values, everything that I live up with.  Trump is a challenge for the world I dream for.  I dream for the world where we are not divided by borders and flags, nor faiths and cultures, and Trump’s “America First” is a hard blow to my dream.  America First, based on his beliefs and actions, clearly is not about development, isn’t about progression.  It’s something dark.  “Making America Great Again” isn’t the same greatness that we know as greatness of America.  It’s something regressive.

I never cared about Trump until he got inaugurated.  I will never care about what he will do in domestic front, taxation, economy, for his people, as I have no desire to settle in US (I am happy here in this part of world within the humans of a kind.)  Americans elected him and they gotta now live per their Karma.  Better or worst, they will learn and evolve.  None of my business.  But, I will not keep quiet when he does things that can influence and effect my life, world I live in, people I care, future that matters to me; I will not keep quiet when he says things that go against my beliefs and values.

Many of us are fighting the mentality, I am living to fight the kind.  Trump is the kind.  That is why I am against the Trump..and many of we, non-Americans.  No, it’s not OKAY to close your eyes on what a mentality in administration that has influence in UN, WHO, and world.

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