Private education is always at the centre of debate as nothing other gives more mileage to politicians

Anil Kedia, Chairman of DAV Sushil Kedia Vishwa Bharati School, has set a benchmark for quality education. His educational institutes have modern classroom facilities but the overall development of students is derived from the principles of the Gurukul system, based on eastern philosophy. Kedia firmly believes that spirituality balances the heart and mind which is critical for everyone to run their life smoothly. In an interview with the HRM, Kedia shares his insights regarding the education system of the country and his own journey in this sector. Excerpts:

Q. What inspired you to be involved in the education sector?
A. My father, Shankarlal Kedia operated Birgunj Kanya School, which was established nearly six decades back and was the second largest girls’ school of the country. My father got married when he was 15 years old and even back then he had resisted the rooted dowry system. However, my mother’s family insisted that he take something citing that dowry is a ritual which he must accept. He then proposed that if they really wanted to give something they could construct a school building close to our house. The school was built with modern classroom facilities and is still running in the name of Sundarmal Ram Kumar Girls Secondary School, Birgunj that provides free education to girls, and we are in the Board of that school. What I want to stress is we are not new in the education sector. My father was emotionally attached to eternal religion (sanatan dharma) and was quite disappointed with the dominance of the western education culture. Then, Umesh Shrestha, founder of Little Angels’ School suggested him to introduce Dayanand Anglo-Vedic School. It was a blend of Vedic (eastern culture) and Anglo (English medium); the education facilities were modern, and children stopped going to Gurukuls like in the past. DAV School has been preserving the essence of eastern philosophy though the medium is English, and the facilities are modern including the school uniform that includes a tie and a coat. This type of education will develop the Vedic (sanatan) system though the appearance is western focused. We decided to establish DAV School in Kathmandu, as people used to say that they have students but no disciples; they have schools, but no Vidyalayas; and they have teachers but no mentors. We started DAV to preserve our Vedic (sanatan) culture.

Q. How would you like to assess the DAV journey? What are the major milestones you would like to recall in the development of such an outstanding academic institution?
A. We have established the school in a ‘Gurukul’ system. If you look at the western schools and students, you will notice they are not happy despite being rich as defined through materialistic terms. They are after materials and do not have the foundation of spirituality. You cannot be happy with wealth or power that never remains stable, however, spirituality will always be with you and keep your life balanced and stable. Spirituality is necessary for holistic development that is a combination of the mind and heart. While talking about milestones, in the last three decades, we think we have been able to develop this institution as a temple of education. Some students come to our school before going to a temple. Our students grow up with values and virtue. We have made our students not only human beings, but good human beings. We say that humans are social animals, however, if they cannot differentiate between right and wrong, they will fall under the category of animals. People from our region are rising whether they are from India, Bangladesh or Nepal. There is high demand for human resources for different types of jobs – managers/CEOs, scientists, engineers and labourers, among others, because we are based on values and the entire world is looking for people from this region. I think this is our major milestone as we have been consistently working to produce people with values and virtue.

Q. Considering the government’s huge spending on education, what are your recommendations to enhance the quality of education by best utilising available resources?
A. The government has been spending a huge amount of resources on education. We are spending 20% of our income on education though they say 10-11% of the resources are being spent through the fiscal budget. It is unfortunate that we have dropped the result/merit-based system that was more scientific and pragmatic as compared to the current result system, which does not have a pass-fail system. When coming to the new grading and result system, there is no accountability of the principal, parents, teachers and students. When we removed the value of merit (pass and fail), I knew the quality of education would deteriorate. When the new result/grading system was introduced, it was like a plant rotten from the root itself. Rather than introducing a new grading system, we could have tweaked the previously adopted system without entirely removing it. If our students who graduated as per the old grading system have been doing well in their professional careers and are working in the world’s best institutions and platforms, what was wrong with the grading system that we had practiced. The proven, evidence-based system that we had been practising was forcibly removed and carrying a western system ardently does not make any sense. Despite the government spending vast resources, it may not fulfil the desired result as we quashed discipline with pampering and love through the prevailing grading system. When you do not orient your child by hook or crook, they will not adopt the right direction because discipline provides you with an education; education gives you knowledge; knowledge gives you growth and growth brings wisdom. This should be duly considered by the policy makers.

Q. A large number of students are going abroad for higher studies taking away foreign currency equivalent to Rs 115 billion in a year. Wouldn’t it be good if the government allows colleges to open with affiliation to the world’s renowned universities?
A. We have more than 59 colleges and around 24,000-25,000 students, that contribute to savings in foreign exchange equivalent to approximately Rs 60 billion annually. Students are attracted to study in colleges affiliated to foreign universities. Students going abroad are taking away huge sums of money which is actually not so worrisome because if they are taking away Rs 115 billion they are sending back more than three times that amount as remittances. We cannot prevent students from having their freedom of choice. Students are going abroad as we could not create a favourable situation since we have politicised our universities and we did not review the syllabus and are continuing with a redundant one. The world is rapidly changing, the developed world is researching and developing AI (artificial intelligence), but we have yet to introduce this in our course books. If some of the students want to study AI, then why will s/he study in Nepal? Even in India, colleges have the right to introduce new programmes/syllabus. We need to make the education system more dynamic and vibrant. We are still teaching redundant courses and what should have been done is not happening.

Q. Human capital is critical for the development of any country. Given Nepal’s scenario, we are facing the challenge of talent drain. What could be done to cope with this issue?
A. Compared to imports, our exports are negligible. India’s export every month accounts for 62-65 billion USD. If people did not migrate abroad for foreign employment, we would not be able to sustain our imports due to lack of foreign currency and right now, remittances are the only dominant sector of foreign exchange earnings. The major problem we are facing is we lack opportunities to retain human resources. If we have to retain youth, we have to create opportunities and enhance the productive sector, tourism, hydro, manufacturing, IT services and medical sector, among others. If you look at medical education, there are always controversies and the policy is the major barrier. The regulator sets the quota and fee. Even if the fee was determined 10 years ago, you cannot raise the fee by adjusting inflation over the years. We have to create opportunities if we want to retain talent in the country.

Q. There is ongoing debate with regard to the Education Bill, which envisions that schools/colleges run by the private sector should be registered as not-for-profit entities? What do you have to say on this?
A. Not-for-profit education has been in debate for a long time in Nepal. What I would say is that food, clothes and shelter are basic needs and that should be free as enshrined in the Constitution. The government allowed the operation of private schools in company model. When there was no private school in Nepal, a large number of students of our earlier generation used to go out of the country normally to Darjeeling and Dehradun of India. Whether you have one or two children, you will provide a better education to them at any cost. The debate of not-for-profit is ideal and sounds good but it is not practical. Such debate will just distort the situation. A million people are employed in private sector education and they are also paying taxes. If there is no burden on the government from private education, then what is the problem with it? If we are seeking everything free, that will be like taken for granted and there will not be any accountability. The fundamental rights enshrined by the Constitution are the liability of the State, but we need resources for this. In my opinion, the debate of free education is just a political mileage, which is not practical. If the government is willing to make it free, the investment made by the private sector should duly be considered.

Q. Local level or municipalities are authorised to look after schools operated in their territory and some municipalities are enforcing mandatory fellowships and other facilities. What is your take on this?
A. There is nothing free actually. Even the free education is compensated somewhere through taxpayers’ money. For example, if students are receiving 50% concession in public transportation, the transporters either take subsidy from the government or adjust the fare collected from the remaining passengers, which is why, free is only a tricky word. Families might be paying more taxes to compensate for the subsidy than what is provided to the students. There is nothing free in this world and politicians should stop trying to gain popularity by bringing such non-issues in the public debate. Even a vastly populous country like India has a provision to deal with education from the federal or state government. Nepal, which has less than 30 million people cannot bear 753 types of education system enforced by the local level.

Q. We have seen even the world’s top universities collaborating with the private sector for management and attracting students (including foreign students) through effective promotions. Do you see room for collaboration between such academic institutions and the private sector in Nepal?
A. In Nepal, the government does not want to collaborate and consult with the private sector. For example, BCom (Bachelor of Commerce) is a two-year course in India. In Nepal, it was a three-year course initially and later it was made a four-year course, and it takes almost a year to announce the results, thus it is taking five precious years of the students, which is a long time. Lack of evidence-based policies in the education system like in every other policy, lack of modernisation and lack of prudent enforcement of University Calendar disrupts the flow of students in colleges. Even famous schools and colleges are facing difficulties in attracting students. The private sector is not a competitor of the government and the government should join hands with the private sector to manage the education system as the private sector has managerial skills and efficiency.

Q. The evolution of Artificial Intelligence and digital technologies could have a huge impact on teaching and learning activities. How can schools adopt technology in teaching and learning activities?
While talking about digital technologies, it has emerged as a fashion. While going through the experience of the developed countries, I would like to cite an example of Finland; it might have helped a bit for intellectual growth but it did not support the holistic development of people. If your heart and mind are not balanced, emotions and values will be lost, and people develop anxiety and depression, and they will throw technology out of the window. We have to understand why Elon Musk and Jeff Bezos gave cell phones to their children only at the age of 12. Countries like Finland, Japan and Canada are advocating for physical classes and less use of digital devices; children should grow, and they should allow their natural behaviour of sharing emotions, fighting, crying or playing in team and making friends to flourish rather than leaving them in isolation with digital devices.

Q. Could you please tell us about your foremost priorities in the years to come?
A. This is VUCA (volatile, uncertain, complex and ambiguious) world. The world might be facing such volatility, uncertainty, complexity and ambiguity but the students are in complete comfort. When students have to walk for certain distances to reach schools, take care of siblings, help families in different household activities. Teachers also used to teach with hard work. Now, everything is in your fingertips, but it is highly complex and competitive, and you’ve got to be very strong to survive. What DAV firmly believes is we have to make students develop endurance, tolerance and discipline and become highly competitive. In this era most of the students leave their studies and lose endurance, tolerance and discipline. Any person who studies and is disciplined will be successful in their life.

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