Education as a Poisoned Chalice: The Chepang Experience
Education can be a poisoned chalice, particularly for indigenous and marginalized communities, because it can raise their hopes and expectations without providing them necessary skills or knowledge to achieve those outcomes. This finding of an unstable expectation-outcome nexus is based on fieldwork research carried out in a rural village in Chitwan, and in Kathmandu, Nepal. The Chepangs, a highly marginalized indigenous community, have harboured great hopes of escaping their poverty through education. Given the relative success of the few “educated” people in their village, Chepang parents perceive education to be extremely important and enthusiastically send their children to school; enrolment in the village has rocketed to almost 100% in the last decade. However, the state of Chepang education is found to be dismal, with students facing severe structural and functional constraints that undermine their education experience. Problems related to resources, accessibility, teaching, parent involvement, transition to higher education, and the concurrent rise of private schools– issues that echo throughout South Asia– have meant that most Chepangs are neither gaining the necessary skills nor acquiring competitive credentials to seek gainful employment and meet their aspirations. Following Hirsch (1977), education is seen as a positional good that leads to differentiation, and Chepangs continue to find themselves towards the bottom of that spectrum. The debate on the role of education (for freedom or reproduction of inequalities) has largely treated education as monolithic; it is argued here that not education alone but the quality of education determines outcome. If the quality of education available to indigenous and marginalized communities remains dismal, as is often the case throughout the developing world, their investment and elevated hopes will not bear fruit, with serious consequences for their well-being.