Nation’s prosperity is closely linked to the stock of human capital and its human capital depends on the quality of its educational system. Human capital theory argues that the global economic competitiveness of countries rests on the skills and knowledge of the workforce. It is no surprise that countries, small or big, developed or undeveloped—have adopted education as a major instrument of development policy.
n their books: Human Capital: A theoretical and empirical analysis with special reference to education and Investing in People: Schooling in low income countries, Gary S. Becker and Theodore W. Shultz argue that the global economic competitiveness of countries rests on the skills and knowledge of the workforce. George Psacharopoulos and Maureen Woodhall, in their book: Education for development: An analysis of investment choices, similarly argue that society benefits from the increased productivity of skilled and educated workers.
Such straight-forward thinking on reforming education sector from the human capital perspective has greatly appealed the Nepali policy makers. In recent years, extensive volumes of researches and reports have documented an urgent need to overhaul Nepal’s education system and make it more skill and employment-oriented. For over a decade, voices from various quarters have demanded the government to connect skills to the curriculum, and make education useful, relevant for life and employment oriented. Further to the Study on Student Performance in SLC by Kedar Bhakta Mathema and Min Bahadur Bista in 2006, the Expert Committee on National Curriculum Framework in Nepal recommended life skills, world of work, ICT, human rights and democracy, and inclusiveness in the upcoming secondary curricula. One key emphasis has been put on development of skills in global language (English), local language (Nepali), science and mathematics, and recommended that more optional studies on forestry, social science and engineering are introduced at the final years of school with a view to future employability and economic productivity.
Such a move follows extensive reports that our education is heavily exam-driven; it has failed to provide the job-specific skills to the present generation. And as a result, most Nepalis are forced to perform routine physical labor.
Going by the Nepal Living Standard Survey, 2003, every year 200,000 unskilled Nepali workers enter the labor force. According to ADB’s 2004 data, one million unskilled Nepali labors work abroad and they monotonously perform routine physical labor. In recent years, regional dialogue facilitating legal migration of labor from developing countries of Asia to European Union has increased the demand for skilled and mobile manpower. But the traditional education system in Nepal does not focus on assessing skills and competencies as outcomes of an education program for skilled and mobile labor but simply on conventional exam-based system. This entails fundamental reform in the existing traditional examinations. Thus, the concept of skilled-based curricula and the education system geared toward skills formation of our students merits the attention of the policy makers. Skills and qualities of life are intricately related, thus, diffusion of skills in education is key to future employability and improved life conditions of people in Nepal. But, how do we move forward with this new vision of education, how to define skills in the context of Nepal, what the government must do – are some of the baffling questions now facing the policy makers.
But the traditional education system in Nepal does not focus on assessing skills and competencies as outcomes of an education program for skilled and mobile labor but simply on conventional exam-based system. This entails fundamental reform in the existing traditional examinations.
Globally, education has been used for nation-building, reforming morals, economic growth, peace, scientific advancement, modernization and for social cohesion. Education has also been used as a policy for transforming societies from agrarian to knowledge-based.
Education is the only instrument for social change. It determines the skills and quality of workforce in a country and could have significant impact on productivity and economic growth. In today’s human capital age, education has a fundamental role in raising workforce skills.
The present time demands for skilled and mobile workforce capable of finding job across the globe. To hold the nation together and to reduce the gap between the rich and poor, we need to create a middle-class with the virtuous of thrift and discipline. And to achieve this, it is essential to develop the skill of the workforce.
Although in the future, we need our graduates with higher skills in areas of biotechnology, software, chemicals, engineering and pharmaceuticals, Nepal cannot compete with the advanced industrial nations in these areas of occupational skills at this moment, so it needs intermediary skills, not advanced skills. Intermediary skills come from technical education and general learning abilities. Intermediary skills in other words, refer to a combination of systematically related theoretical knowledge as well as a set of practical skills.
Skills and knowledge are central to the education strategies and employment policies in many countries. A flurry of studies centerd on human capital theory have shown that people without skills will be bracketed in the low end of the labor market; their future is likely to be one with low pay and frequent unemployment. They have shown that skills can improve the quality of life of the people. More recent studies have shown that as nations start to industrialize, education systems are increasingly geared towards skills formation. Worldwide skills are being diffused in the school curricula. In Singapore, students are provided a course called Certificate in Office Skills. Some universities in the US have already appointed ‘professors of knowledge’.
An education system geared toward skills formation provides its graduates with key generic competences and practical ability that cut across fields such as ICT, ability to learn independently, to work in teams, ethical entrepreneurships and civic responsibility. Such an education system helps raise awareness of diversity and multiculturalism and helps foster critical thinking abilities. But given the rote-learning, exam guess papers, master thesis available at a price in the markets and rampant cheating in exams, it becomes clear that our education system does not foster critical thinking abilities in our students. Schools and colleges are best place to instill such skills. An education system should help students develop capacity for abstract thoughts; solve real-life problems in society, and to communicate well in written and oral forms.
We need an education system in which our students and graduates work constantly in teams, and create new ideas in which the bulk of the time is spent on conceptualizing problems. Only then our education system becomes meaningful. Whether an education system is skills-based or not is also determined by how independent or original their research works are, such as thesis and term papers. Given the rampant copying in exams, including published thesis as is evident now in colleges and universities; our education system is certainly not geared toward skills formation of our graduates.
In most advanced industrialized nations, the focus on student assessment is placed on students’ skills focusing on ‘reading to learn.’ In Nepal, it is just the opposite: ‘Learning to read’ or rote-learning. Such a fundamental difference in the approach to learning has placed education, skills and the productivity of the labor force at stake in Nepal. The urgent need in Nepal for the government is, thus, to restructure education to make it skill-based and employment-oriented as an antidote to unemployment and poverty.