24 Nov 2017
5 min read
Prof. Dr Suresh Raj Sharma has devoted his life to developing the education system in Nepal. Dr Sharma first focused on educating himself and then on educating others in his role as a teacher/professor. Later, he dedicated his time to coming up with an education system that would produce competent Nepali professionals capable of transforming the country.
Dr Sharma is currently the vice chancellor of Kathmandu University (KU), one of the most prestigious universities in Nepal. Dr Sharma believes that everything—from highly specialised subjects, like medicine and engineering, to CTEVT subjects—should all be taught in the country, and properly. Dr Sharma is rightfully proud of the education system that he, together with other like-minded educators, has established in KU. He wants his students to understand that only if they put in the effort to make the country a better place will it become one.
In this interview with VMAG’s Gaurav Pote, Dr Sharma talks about his experiences as an educator, his vision for KU and his vision for creating an educated populace. Excerpts:
Can you tell us something about your childhood?
I was born in Sindhuli, in a village that had no schools—not even a primary school that taught English. But my family was one that valued education beyond anything else. There were a few Sanskrit-language schools, so I studied Sanskrit for some time. When English-medium schools finally came to my village, around 2008 BS, I was around 11 years old. By the time I finished learning the alphabets, I was almost a teenager. After I completed middle school there, I went to Janakpur for further studies and then to Sonbarsa, India to finish my schooling. I then did my ISC from Amrit Science College and then my BSc from Tri-Chandra College. I completed my MSc in Chemistry on a government scholarship in Karnatak University, India.
Then, it so happened that Tribhuvan University was planning to start MSc classes, and as an MSc graduate myself, I started teaching as a lecturer at Tri-Chandra College, and then at Tribhuvan University (TU), Kirtipur. I spent 10 years at the university, and by then I was already the vice chancellor of the university.
How did you form the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training (CTEVT)?
I still wanted to get my PhD after all those years, so I went to England to pursue a Doctorate in Philosophy from University of South Bank, London. Within two years of getting my PhD, I had become a professor. By this time, I had devoted 15 years of my life to teaching. The then government asked me to contribute to the government’s works, and I was thus appointed as member secretary of the National Education Committee (NEC). Until then I had been involved in nothing but teaching and researching, but with the new position I had new responsibilities.
It was during my time at the NEC that I floated the idea of opening vocational schools to promote technical and vocational education. I pushed for establishing such schools because there was a growing demand for people with various technical skill sets—whether it be electricians, plumbers, builders, mechanics, and so on. During those days, such workers had to be hired from India. We opened some 10 to 15 such schools in the remote parts of the country.
Did you ever think that you would be an educational administrator?
Being involved in the education sector is a good profession, but devoting all those years in a profession that had no relation to what I had majored in troubled me. Although I had gotten a good government position, I knew that positions weren’t everything. I never thought of running my own business or going abroad to earn a livelihood. Eventually I came to understand that the work I was doing was fulfilling, and being an educator in Nepal gave my life meaning.
What were the reasons for setting up Kathmandu University?
We always knew that there were various topics students wanted to specialise in, even within one faculty. Many of them knew that if they were to go study abroad they could explore a range of subjects and get educated in accordance to a standard. But here, in their own country, many of them felt they couldn’t do so. Furthermore, in 2046 BS, when the Panchayat system was being overthrown and the multi-party system was established, we all knew that the country needed professionals who could help develop Nepal’s new democracy. I was already in my 50s at the time, and I was disheartened when I realised that what we, the older generation, taught the newer ones wouldn’t be knowledge enough to get the country on the road to development. We felt that KU would be an institution that would meet some of these needs and challenges. We wanted to produce technocrats, intellectuals and experts who would be able to help Nepal.
What kinds of courses did Kathmandu University start offering and why?
We started giving out courses in engineering, medicine, management and the arts. We even started a Buddhist Studies course. Our country is rich in art and architecture, so we decided to use resources we were already blessed with. I don’t believe that foreigners would come here to study economics or business; there are world-class colleges in the most developed countries that provide that. But our culture and our heritage is what draws people to our country. And we decided to provide courses that were centred around our country.
Of course, it was not easy to start the university. It was a huge challenge, and an expensive one at that. But what was more tough was to find qualified, trained manpower. Most people chose not to work with us and went abroad for better opportunities. We managed to get the university up and running with a lot of hard work and a lot of effort—we had no foreign help and not even help from our country’s government.
What role do you think the government plays in helping change the way things are run in the country?
Nepal was at one point considered one of the faster developing countries in the world. Today, Nepal clearly doesn’t hold that spot. Even as countries all over the world started developing at a rapid pace, we remained stagnant and dependent on developed countries. We Nepalis as a people are too dependent, on everyone for everything. I believe we are too dependent on the government as well to bring about changes. Yes, the government has all the resources and the power, but we as a people, as individuals, have a lot of power too. There are so many intelligent people outside the government, people who have contributed more to the country than the government. I believe that you don’t need to be a part of the government to bring about positive changes.
What does teaching mean to you?
For me, teaching is not just about seeing your students excel in their tests; there’s really no point if my students don’t receive practical education and cannot take on the world. I believe that every subject needs to be approached differently, both by teacher and student. Learning medicine, for example, would require a completely different setting and approach than would, say, learning agriculture. And in either case, just assigning the students books on the topics is hardly enough. It’s the teacher’s duty to spark a genuine curiosity and willingness to learn, and it’s then the student’s duty to feed that curiosity. It should not be just about getting a degree.
What in your opinion is the best way to create an educated populace?
There are some 30,000 primary and middle schools and some 7,000 private schools in the country. What these 37,000 schools need are 37,000 good headmasters, whose duty it should be to hammer the kids into shape. Without a competent enough headmaster, no matter the kind of financial resources the school possesses, the school won’t be able to produce quality students. And the same applies to technical schools. It’s also very important for the schools to update their curriculum and teaching methods to help the students learn better.
What advice would you give to the youth?
Be independent. Don’t expect someone else to do your work. I think this mindset needs to be adopted by all Nepalis. We should stop depending on other countries for Nepal’s development. Right now we can’t even maintain the things that other countries have built for us. We need to become more responsible. We need to do better.