Skills, Values, and Productivity must be the Crux of Education

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Subas Neupane has been working in the school sector for the last 25 years. He is currently Co-Chairperson of National PABSAN and will chair the organization after 6 months as per the gentleman agreement made in the organization’s Nepalgunj Convention. Mr. Neupane has already served the organization and contributed to its flourishing as Chair of district committee for two tenures, and as Central Secretary and General Secretary for a long time.

Mr. Neupane completed his schooling from Niguwar High School of Ghorahi-12, Dang in 2042 BS. He achieved Bachelor of Law from Nepal Law Campus. Then he received BEd and MEd. Mr. Neupane is well versed in the national and international education system both as he has done MA in educational leadership from New Zealand too. For more than two decades, he has been lending leadership to schools, including Stanford International School and Serene Valley School in the past, and Apex Life School at present, where he is the Founder Director. He has shared his experiences and visions with College Readers. Excerpts:

What inspired you to find your living in the school education sector and where did you start?

Basically, I was a graduate of law and wanted to pursue my career in the legal sector and advocacy as my father suggested me to go for it. I was determined to finding a career in advocacy and court, but after working as a practicing lawyer for some time, I happened to decipher that a victim who came for a legal solution would be exploited by that profession by tangling the case, terrorizing him/her, and forcing the clients to pay more fees in their troubled times. I did not like the profession. In the meantime, I met a foreigner, Warren Fabrie, and at his suggestion and support, I established a private school named Sandford International School at Baneshwor Height in 2054 Magh. After five years, we shifted to Kaushaltar Bhaktapur and ran for four years in a smooth manner and healthy set-up. I detached myself from that school and bought Serene Valley School at my sole ownership. Later, Serene Valley School was renamed Apex Life School and was shifted to its present day location at Saraswoti Nagar, Boudha, Kathmandu, where we are entering our seventh year.

Would you tell me about your journey with N-PABSAN?

I took the membership of National PABSAN in 2060 while I was in Bhaktapur. I was the elected Vice-President of Kathmandu in 2063. Then, I worked for two tenures as the Chair of Kathmandu district. I led the organization as its national Secretary and General Secretary from its Chitwan Convention. In its Nepalgunj Convection an understanding was made between Mr. Pandev Hamal and me that we shall lead the organization at its Chair, turn by turn, serving for eighteen months each. After the completion of Hamal’s term for the first eighteen months, I shall be taking over as the organization’s Chair, due now for merely six months. Presently, I am its Co-Chair.

Your involvement in N-PABSAN has spanned over two decades in which you have held influential positions. How would you evaluate the remarkable achievements N-PABSAN has got so far?

N-PABSAN Kathmandu was not so well managed before I took up the responsibility at its Chair. I managed the office and examinations and established a system of operation. My successors in Kathmandu have been more efficient and systematic. Now the organization runs its own functional calendar with abundant activities and programs of instructional and professional development, rights and wellbeing of private school advocacy, co-curricular and extracurricular activities etc. that operate in a regular schedule. Almost all districts are connected with our organization’s network. They have their own buildings and about 2500 member schools have been associated with this organization. 

As agreed in the Nepalgunj Convention, you are assuming the presidency for 18 months after 6 months. What are your strategic plans for realizing the organizational goals?

As N-PABSAN is a professional organization, we are effortful in spreading the message of consensus, collaborative works and unity. As per the spirit, we held our Nepalgunj Convention, and the tenure of 3 years was divided into 2 halves, to be led by two contesting presidential candidates. As per the Convention’s mandate I am supposed to lead the organization as its President after 6 months.

Our primary work is to preserve and protect the rights and wellbeing of private schools. The Federal Education Act is under formation after a very long gap. In fact, the nation did not have a new act, after the incumbent act was launched in 2028 BS during King Mahendra’s time. We are watchful not to include discriminatory provisions for private schools, intending to curtail their rights and wellbeing. Second, we are thoughtful and determined for quality delivery so as to make our young ones competent in the globally competitive world. Third, we work for professional development of teachers to maintain quality education and ensure their job security. Fourth, we contribute to society under our corporate social responsibility through education enterprises. These four aspects will be focused during my tenure.

What provisions, if included, would support all types of educational institutions/schools to flourish in the upcoming days, after the long-awaited Education Act in implemented?

Education is the foundation pillar of development. It is education that gives completion to humans and gives knowledge to respect the work. It is the fourth fundamental necessity in human life after food, shelter, and clothes. So, we must broaden it and include such aspects to harness education and technology for an individual’s holistic development.

Previously also, Education Acts were drafted and circulated for discussion but those were infused with political motifs, and had provisions that were discriminatory for private education. In fact, as per our constitutional provision, basic education is fundamental and free of cost and secondary education is free. We must work to implement it. But it is not applicable to the private schools as the only resource of such schools is the fee paid by the students. Private schools exist worldwide even including the highly developed countries where the government funds everything for education. In America, about 12% of the schools are run privately. About 35% of Chinese schools are private. So is the practice in India, Vietnam, Bangladesh, Pakistan etc. Private schools are far ahead of their state counterparts in setting examples in excellent learning outcomes. All involved in private schools work with dedication, determination, and devotion. Previously, private school students rarely get opportunities to compete in the scholarship quota for MBBS studies. But now the government has lifted the ban. Among the 108 seats, 101 students from private schools were successful in the recent time. It clearly shows the quality private schools have ensured. Private schools have won public trust. 

What can be the principal role of N-PABSAN in quality enhancement of education in the coming days?

I reiterate to you that we are a professional organization; so it needs to establish a corporate culture and transparent system. We are not a political organization. That’s why we constantly think about quality enhancement in education and work to impart it to every child possible. Culture and system guide us; however, we have not been able to manage it to the fullest though our organization is about 25 years in age. We will expand our organizational network to each district of Nepal. We are committed to imparting high-quality education and contributing to our society.

You have been advocating progressive education for a long time and are applying it to Apex Life School. How would we know what progressive education is?

There is no much difference in terms of content in both traditional and progressive schools. The curriculum core or intended curriculum approved by the government is mandatory to all schools. Besides government courses, additional affiliations are taken by schools. Some run CBSE curriculum or IPC and IB programs, etc. The progressive schools use pedagogy to implement the core curriculum and make it more managed. It doesn’t focus on the traditional way of teaching i.e. rote learning, memorization and teacher-centric instructional method. Progressive education basically focuses on inquiry-based and project-based programs backed by learning-by-doing methods to make learning student-centric and encourage students to know things from out of the box. It provides opportunities for brainstorming, critical and creative thinking, communication, and collaboration. We link learning with life and value to bring positive changes in our students’ attitude, insight, and behavior to open up the inner eye. Progressive education focuses on holistic development; it is contextual and practical. Mere certificate granting is not the objective of education; it should instill knowledge, skills and values to make one complete and successful in real life situations to lead any enterprises with ethics. Education should lay the foundation for entrepreneurial skills.

Once you were the focal person for progressive education in Nepal. How many existing schools of such nature are there at present?

Almost all the citizens have perhaps understood the sensitivity of education by now. The traditional approach doesn’t serve the learning requirements needed for the 21st century world. We have crossed the industrial era. Now we are heading towards the era of Artificial Intelligence (AI) after the digital age. We see progressive schools in the capital city and some district heads as well. There is a School Support Group, and 25 plus schools are unified under this group. These progressive schools rely on 3 P’s: ‘People’ which establishes a good and functional link between parents, pupils, and stakeholders; ‘Process’ which focuses on teaching and learning and oversees how to provide child-centric learning, and ‘Place’, which indicates the infrastructure and set-up of libraries, classrooms, sports etc. needed for a child’s holistic development. The schools of this group have managed the 3 P’s very well. Those who lack all the facilities are planning to merge schools and provide the amenities to the students. There is a tough competition among the schools to provide education in a progressive mode.

Progressive education has not been within the reach of the students as its cost beyond their parents’ affordability. How can we make it affordable for a larger chunk?

The state and the leaders should play a sensitive role in imparting quality education to everyone. As education is the basic pillar of development, community schools must be improved because a large chunk of students study in such schools. Private schools are optional because only those who can pay for such schools go for them. Private schools take fees based on facilities. Technology and education are on the way to paradigm shifting. All facilities are needed for a child’s holistic education and perfection: so, it is rather expensive. But in a real sense education in Nepal is not expensive in comparison to the neighboring countries that charge fees based on facilities provided.

Education is not limited to the theoretical aspect and memorization; rather it is linked to the impartment of skills, technology, culture, and value. How far have you been implementing and facilitating it in Apex Life School?

Education must hone knowledge and skills simultaneously. The essence of education cannot be achieved if it is not linked to knowledge and skill. Apex Life School has adopted a holistic approach to have equal pace of the three. In eight hours, we follow a core curriculum for certain hours and after 2 o’clock our students join various activity clubs. We are well-aware that education is linked to the three folios: life, universe, and technology. Skills, value, and productivity must be the crux of education. Students must be given education on global issues, environmental issues, and cosmopolitan issues. Similarly, we must link education with technology. Technology has become in inseparable ally of education. It is the source of information. Apex Life School has focused on all these aspects and is moving ahead in its own pace.

What are the distinct features of Apex Life Schools that sets it apart from other progressive schools?

We run the same curriculum. However, we are more child-centric, and research and inquiry based in everyday activities for the holistic development of children. Teachers engage the students more and work as facilitators only. Students are involved in group discussions, report writing and presentation. They develop the skills needed for real life situations in Apex. We are distinct from others in experiential learning.

We have seen that most of our students do not like to pursue higher education after +2 in Nepal. Initially, this hampered bachelor colleges but in the long run it is affecting the schools too. What solution would you prescribe for it?

This depends on the policy of the government. For example, now, almost all nursing colleges are shut. As a result, many students are enrolling in college in Bangladesh, India, and other countries. There are only about 5 functional nursing colleges in Nepal at present, through there were 52 before. Similar is the plight of MBBS study. A lot of our students are studying MBBS in India, Bangladesh, Pakistan, China, Australia, Europe etc. The third aspect is that we have not revised and updated the course curriculum as per the context. Our universities are padlocked for almost a whole year under the pretext of various political agenda. Next, there are no such opportunities for students to earn while learning in our country. So but they do abroad. Now, after the COVID pandemic, our colleges are in crisis due to lack of students and the nation is facing financial crises as more than 80 billion rupees has been remitted to foreign universities. We are in a dollar crunch now. As you rightly pointed out, we have been facing problems not only in higher education but also in school education. Our fate is that we achieved political rights and transformation, but our psyche and work ethics are still traditional. Every two months we see a new government taking over; such is our plight. We are situated in such a geographical and topographical environmental and climatic position that looks like a piece of heaven, but we have not been able to utilize it and benefit ourselves. We could turn our country into a hub of education but it’s ironic that our students are lined up to move abroad for furthering their studies.

School education supervision, monitoring and evaluation is undertaken by the local government. How facilitating and helpful do you find them?

Education policy must be formulated by the federal government. Its supervision, monitoring and evaluation should be done by the local government. As per the constitution, all monitoring, supervision, and evaluation related works are under the jurisdiction of the local government. I don’t think the local government officials and representatives well understand the education sector. If anyone who comes to the leadership lacks the essence and crux of education, where shall we go? We suggest that policies should be farmed by the federal government not by the local government.

To wrap up, what message would you convey to the parents and students?

We must change our perspective on education. The traditional approach of curriculum design, textbook writing, classroom teaching and evaluation based on memorization change. The teacher-centric approach does not do justice to a child’s learning rights. It cannot make our students complete persons to compete in the highly competitive world.

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