Krishna Adhikari, Gopal Nepali, and David N. Gellner
In recent decades Nepal has made huge progress, both in constitutional and social terms, against caste-based discrimination and untouchability. However, as also confirmed by our recent ‘Caste, Class and Culture’ project (see: www.anthro.ox.ac.uk/caste-class-and-culture), despite big changes, Dalits still face multiple forms of exclusion in everyday situations. Policy and practices addressing Dalit issues, and programmes of Dalit inclusion and empowerment, frequently address the problems in isolation, and end up being ineffectual. Taking into account the fact that the problems Dalits face are broad-based and need appropriate responses, we conducted action research in 2018 on the ways in which Dalit issues are handled in school education.
Working together with Dalit researchers, educational specialists, representatives of government offices tasked with Dalit affairs and schoolteachers, we designed lessons, at different levels, promoting more explicit discussion of Dalits in the school curriculum and piloted them in three schools in Kaski. Both existing and newly developed model lessons were delivered, and students’ and teachers’ reactions were solicited. Four focused groups and two policy workshops were organised to discuss the issues and collect feedbacks.
In this paper we aim to share some of results of our review of the existing curriculum and textbooks, and of the piloting of the model lessons. Our study showed that, though Nepal’s existing curriculum framework recognizes the need to educate children about social ills, including practices of untouchability and caste-based discrimination, it fails to deliver what it promises: the content and message are insufficient and inconsistent, they are not calibrated by age and competence as required, and they fail to deliver the full message to students. The Social Studies curriculum, which is the main place where social problems tackled, is overloaded and often neglected. The situation is complicated by some teachers’ unfriendly attitude towards social change, and an overemphasis on teaching the subject in the English medium.
The three schools where our model lessons were piloted, as well as one rural municipality in Kaski, are willing to adopt and scale up the model lessons. The Curriculum Development Centre in Kathmandu has shown interest in incorporating them into their curriculum framework. A publication coming out from this research and including model lessons, findings and implications will be one of the first reference books on teaching schoolchildren about Dalits in Nepal, and possibly in South Asia, and is expected to impact policy and practice in the region.