When I was a student in the eighties, post SLC — post high school diploma — education for the disenfranchised youths of Nepal was a black hole.

What followed after SLC was a two-year program — intermediate level studies — which then would be followed by a three- or four-year Bachelor’s program. (Intermediate level studies is equivalent to 6th form College in Britain and junior and senior years of high school in North America.)

The wealthy went abroad, some paying for their education themselves and others paid for by scholarships sponsored by the government or by foreign governments or institutions! For most, their destination was India, while for others it was Thailand or the Philippines or even farther, like the United States.

The scholarship-worthy were the ones with connections to the politically powerful – those with, in Nepali parlance, “source-force” (wealth and connection). Individuals in government offices, such as a General Secretary in a ministry or the Minister himself selected students for such scholarships, making it virtually impossible for a student from a poor and unconnected family to get it. Far from deserving students getting them, often they never even came to know about them.

So the small percentage of students from low socioeconomic backgrounds who made it as far this would languish at government colleges. (At the time, we had just one government university, the only university, which controlled all the colleges. The situation has changed a bit since then but not much for the better.) More than teaching and learning, politicking took place. Every political party had a student wing operating at pretty much every college. And as such, with regular closures and disruptions, the ostensibly two-year long intermediate level course would last double or more time! Budding young politicians with the right connections, in the mean time, honed their political skills on campus.

Those that didn’t have the necessary connections, or the stamina, mostly dropped out, and struggled to make much of their lives. (In the last several years, these youths have looked elsewhere for opportunities, notably Malaysia, but more recently, and in droves, the Arabian Peninsula.)

The student politicians however did well. Some without intermediate level studies or even high school diploma ended up holding important political office, such as that of a minister. If that wasn’t bad enough, we even had at least a case of a minister with no formal education!

I would be very curious to know the qualifications of the present cabinet of ministers! I am sure there are some surprises, or no surprises, if you know what I mean!

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