The development of any country depends very much on the quality of its education process and system. Education is the foundational norm for society as a whole; it is the vehicle that drives or leads the society towards betterment and fulfilment. The right to education is a universal entitlement that is recognized as the most fundamental of human rights. It promotes individual freedom and empowerment and yields important developmental benefits. Yet, worldwide, millions of children and adults are still deprived of educational opportunities, many as a result of poverty, conflict, discrimination, ineffectual state policies, and, most importantly, excessive politicization such as exists here in Nepal. In our country, there is a huge gap between the slogans and the reality, the saying and the doing, the promising and the providing. Education is imparted through a system, and success depends on what that system is and how it is practiced.
There is no doubt that the quality of the education system plays a key role in producing a better and just society. Universities should aim not only to educate young minds and create aware and dynamic citizens, but also to generate new ideas and encourage innovation. Tribhuvan University (TU), one of our oldest universities, has recently decided to adopt the ‘semester’ system from this academic session at its Central Campus in Kirtipur. The semester (two terms per year) system is widely practiced in countries like China, the USA, Japan, Australia, and Bangladesh. One must, though, ask the question: why did TU suddenly decide to change the system from ‘annual’ to semester? No rational justification has been provided yet. What was wrong with the previous annual system of education? The hachuwa decision of the TU has certainly invited strong debate and created doubt and uncertainty in our education system.
The semester system is said to keep students on their toes with their progress being regularly and closely monitored. Compared to the annual system, it helps to keep students busy all year round with an even level of burden instead of allowing them to pile up work towards the end of the year. With examinations twice yearly a student’s progress is more regularly evaluated, and his or her performance is not, as at present, judged predominantly by a single end of year examination.
It is claimed that TU’s adoption of the semester system is 'in order to bring about a quantum leap in teaching, research and innovation.' Many questions must be asked in this context: can the semester system actually serve this purpose if the structure, policies, infrastructure and resources of the university remain the same? Have we done anything to change or even try to change the syllabus and teaching methods to suit the new system? Have we even given thought to this aspect? Most importantly, why is the system going to be implemented only at the Central Campus in Kirtipur? What kind of education system are we trying to establish in this country? Is it not a complex undertaking to start a dual system of education within one university? Should the system of education not be uniform and equal for all? The success and effectiveness of the newly introduced system will, however, depend on the following points:
Firstly, a dynamic curriculum should be the basis and foundational norm of any system of education. The system’s quality and effectiveness very much depends on it. The world has changed so much within the past few decades, but the syllabus taught at TU provides an education that is decades old. Designing the syllabus has never been undertaken in a scientific manner. That would certainly be needed in a semester system, one of whose major objectives is to introduce papers on different topics to increase a student’s knowledge. If we really wish to see a successful implementation of the semester system, the first departure point must be to change and re-design the decades old syllabus making it more dynamic and pragmatic. Have we thought yet about doing that?
Secondly, there is no doubt that the semester system is aimed at achieving a quality education. However, developing adequate facilities within the university, such as good classrooms with sufficient space for all, a separate individual office for tutors, and sound library resources subject-wise, would be essential for the effective implementation of the semester system. We may claim to have started a semester system, but the same infrastructure, the same policies, and the same attitudes persist. The existing infrastructure at TU does not match the requirements of the new system. Have the policy makers at TU or at state level really thought about that? How is it that we can happily change policies on any issue without first carrying out detailed research?
Finally, education is the means of developing human resources for the advancement of society. The introduction of the semester system may be regarded as a step towards higher quality education, but high quality education depends even more so on the high quality, experience and sincere commitment of the professors and tutors called upon to implement it. Are our professors and tutors familiar with the changes that now face them? The semester system claims to provide opportunities for students to experience continuous learning and assessment/feedback and thus gain a better-paced understanding of their subject. A more continuous engagement between the students and the teachers should, it is claimed, result in more focused class interaction. To achieve this, however, the professors and tutors must be willing to sacrifice more time, show more commitment and be more sincere in their duties. Are they mentally, psychologically and physically ready to accept this change? Are they ready for the change in attitude now demanded?
The semester system allows for greater freedom and scope in designing and delivering a range of courses which students can choose from in order to improve the quality of their learning. However, its very success must depend on the quality and the sincere commitment of all those who are involved in implementing it. Doubtless the semester system can serve a great purpose in our country and can enhance the quality of our education. In so doing let us hope that it can put right the long-standing defects and problems in our education system. Are we ready to adopt the right attitude to achieve this?
Dr. Basnet is a Columnist Lecturer & Researcher in International Human Rights Law and a Human Rights and Constitutional Law Lawyer in the Supreme Court and Subordinate Court of Nepal. Mr Shrestha is former chief of the Armed Police Forces.