Saturday Aug 13, 2022
Saturday Aug 13, 2022

Why are scientists scarce in Nepal

Medicine and engineering take so much of the central stage that natural sciences are almost an afterthought


Nepalnews
2022 May 01, 6:04, Kathmandu, Nepal
Representative Image (photo via ANI)

Given Nepal's rich history, we have pioneered our way through art, religion, and philosophy. Natural sciences, however, is one of our shortcomings. But why exactly are we facing this scarcity?

Nepal entered the natural sciences scene fairly late, only establishing its first science college, Tri-Chandra College, in 1948 AD. After that, it was introduced at Tribhuvan University (TU) in the late 1960s. Even then, these colleges focused solely on the theoretical aspect to produce teachers rather than scientists. To date, things still haven't progressed much. Rubina Karki, an Environmental Science major 2018 graduate from TU affiliated Golden Gate International College, says, "The syllabus was extremely outdated. Furthermore, it covered a wide area of things, but it was all very surface level." Lacking the depth in spite of the vast breadth of the lesson does little to provide insight into the content.


This image shows the building of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Singha Durbar, Kathmandu in March 2017. Photo courtesy: Sushant Sharma
This image shows the building of the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Singha Durbar, Kathmandu in March 2017. Photo courtesy: Sushant Sharma

Dr Purushottam Bhandari adds, "The teaching style here differs drastically from the USA. It is exam-oriented in Nepal, and it is mostly knowledge and application-oriented in the USA. We conducted research in groups and travelled a lot. To explore optic tissues and light, I visited different fields and oceans, including Alaska, Hawaii, and California. The university covered my expenses. The teaching style wasn't compelling and rigid; we studied through our self-interest and passion. We had a spacious lab where we could experiment and conduct our research." Dr. Bhandari is the managing director for Liverpool College and has a triple master's from TU (1998), Wayne State University (2005), and the University of Miami (2007). Three years later in 2010, he completed his PhD in Physics from the University of Miami.

Realising the flaws in our system, youth tend to move abroad to pursue natural sciences. "Mainly, students prefer studying abroad because of Nepal’s political instability. Plus, there is no job assurance in Nepal. So, to get a good earning job, they choose to study abroad. It's become a sort of a trend," Dr Bhandari remarks. True to his statement, many students opt to study abroad the quality of education and for job assurance, among other things.


“Best Student Award” in an international conference of Ocean Optics held in Alaska, USA for the best Ph. D research work
“Best Student Award” in an international conference of Ocean Optics held in Alaska, USA for the best Ph. D research work

Udgam Bhattarai, an incoming Biology major at New York University, Abu Dhabi, assesses, "I think it's mostly because medicine and engineering take so much of the central stage when it comes to undergraduate studies here in Nepal, natural sciences are an afterthought. Obviously, that's why there's not only low key performance and stigma almost to natural sciences, often seen as irrelevant and useless but also a very disproportionate distribution of just academic focus and priority on the natural sciences," Although science is expanding beyond just medicine and engineering, societal pressure and the glamour of these fields steer students to pursue these jobs. Every year, a combined number of about 30,000 students sit for the Institute of Engineering (IOE) and Institute of Medicine (IOM) exams.

Confirming Udgam's views on the indifference given to natural sciences beyond engineering and medicine, Rubina adds, "Often, we are considered an inferior subject and not given any lab priority. I would say in terms of lab research, we are very backward."


This image shows the Chitwan Medical College Teaching Hospital in Bharatour, Chitwandistrict in December 2019. Photo courtesy: Chhabilal Bastola
This image shows the Chitwan Medical College Teaching Hospital in Bharatour, Chitwandistrict in December 2019. Photo courtesy: Chhabilal Bastola

Udgam, too, feels the same way about the lack of resources, "Research is a fundamental part of natural sciences, but in Nepal, there is no proper mentorship and guidance since people pursuing these fields and going into academia are very few and we don't have the best technology for it."

On improving the natural sciences scene in Nepal, Dr Bhandari suggests, "The government should focus and invest in science and technology. Research in each field of education is a must. Education should be free from politics. Each education sector should be led by respective experts in the same field. After the degree, there should be job opportunities and guarantees within the country."


Dr Bhandari and his colleagues designing a polarimeter ( an instrument to measure the polarization of light, both in air and water) in the research lab of University of Miami
Dr Bhandari and his colleagues designing a polarimeter ( an instrument to measure the polarization of light, both in air and water) in the research lab of University of Miami

Encouraging and retaining students to stay in Nepal takes more than just promises; it requires investments in facilities and commitment to providing opportunities. 

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