Raj calls his father and demands for money under the pretext of a college fieldtrip. His cash-strapped parents want to fulfil their son’s every educational need, and so, his mother decides to sell her gold jewellery to fund her son’s fieldtrip. Unbeknownst to their parents, Raj’s younger sister gives him a call and tells him about their financial situation. Upon hearing his sister, Raj is filled with remorse and shame. He goes back to his friends and tells them that he will not change his college. Moving forward, he decides to make his own decisions, and work hard to improve his grades and fulfil his own and his family’s dreams. He also calls his father, tells him the truth of the matter, and apologises.
The story above was featured as a radio drama in a popular youth-focused weekly radio programme called Saathi Sanga Manka Kura (SSMK), which translates to ‘Chatting with my friend’ in English. Produced by Digital Broadcast Initiative Equal Access, a non-governmental organisation, SSMK was first launched in 2001, and as of July 2020, it has released over 994 episodes. SSMK remains as one of the most popular youth radio programmes in Nepal that is broadcasted through the national radio station – Radio Nepal, and more than 40 local radio stations. Hosted by a regular team of presenters, each 45-minutes episode is dedicated to a specific topic, and is generally divided into radio drama, special features, advice and listeners’ feedback segments. SSMK covers a wide range of issues from sexual and reproductive health, harassment and violence, love and marriage, sexuality and consent to climate change, disaster risk reduction and participation of youth in local governance.
In this article, I have particularly focused on the episodes related to quality education, study and career choices, financial literacy, corporal punishment, LGBTIQ and access to education, and youth participation in local education budget. Through content analyses of those episodes, especially the radio dramas, that broadly align with the theme of education and schooling, I will explore some of the perceptions and narratives around youth and education in the context of Nepal.
Education and family
The story of Raj and his friends reflects some of the recurring themes in relation to how education is perceived. Education is not only about an individual, but it is also deeply intertwined with family’s prestige and aspirations. Parents make huge financial sacrifices to ensure their children go to ‘good’ schools and colleges, which are usually understood as privately run institutions in towns and cities. Educational achievement is also considered to have direct bearings on one’s social standing and intergenerational social mobility. For example, in two other radio dramas, the protagonists are facing problems with their parents who want them to work extra hard as it is ‘the age of competition’ and become doctor or engineer and make their family proud. However, the protagonists have been achieving low grades, and their parents are constantly comparing their performance to that of their neighbours’ and relatives’ children. The female protagonist is threatened by her father that he will marry her off if her grades do not improve, while the male protagonist is forced to run errands for his family. In both cases, the protagonists go through emotional turmoil and decide to communicate with their parents about how they feel. Both stories end on conciliatory note with parents agreeing to support their children and the decisions they make.
Education for self-empowerment
The other common feature in radio dramas is how education is expressed through the metaphor of light that will illuminate one’s life. There are also certain life stages when one must focus on education that will help the person become independent and undertake any endeavour in the future. For example, in one of the radio dramas, the younger sister, who has yet to finish her schooling, wants to get married to her boyfriend. Meanwhile, the elder sister discourages her and advises her to focus on her studies instead. As the younger sister remains adamant, the elder sister reveals her own traumatic experiences and personal regrets when she eloped with her boyfriend at the age of 14. Despite the promise from her boyfriend and his family that she will be allowed to go to school, after marriage she only ends up doing household chores and is forced to let go of her dreams as she shoulders new responsibilities as wife, daughter-in-law and mother. In another episode on financial literacy, a young male protagonist starts a tea stall business to support his mother and repay the debts of his deceased father. The overall message of the story and the follow-up discussions is that it is important for young people to be financially literate and learn how to manage money. It is equally important to continue education as what you learn in school can help you improve your business or any other initiatives you undertake.
In one of the episodes, some of the students are asked – what is quality education? Most of the participants respond using the term ‘practical’ in a sense that quality education is not only about studying in schools and colleges, but the learnings should also have direct applicability in their lives. There is less emphasis on developing critical and analytical thinking skills per se, but more on developing practical, contextually relevant skills as opposed to theoretical knowledge. In Raj’s story highlighted at the beginning, there is also varying perceptions towards different subject areas. Arts and humanities are considered ‘easy’ subjects, while technical and vocational courses are considered difficult. In most of the radio dramas, student characters with support from their family usually aspire to become chartered accountants, doctors, engineers, hotel managers and business entrepreneurs. Hence, the superiority of technical and employability focused courses, which predominantly have practical and applied components, are further reinforced in the stories and narratives presented in the radio programme.
Schools as sites of discrimination and violence
Some of the episodes also highlight how educational institutions can discriminate against students, inflict violence on them in the name of discipline, and emphasise that education should be accessible to everyone and must be delivered in peaceful, discrimination-free environment. For example, one of the episodes features a story about Salin, who identifies herself as a ‘third gender’. She is a talented and hard-working student but fails to receive scholarship as some of the teachers in the scholarship committee hold prejudices against her sexuality. Salin’s close friend overhears their teachers’ conversations and tells her about it. She goes to complain about this discrimination to her principal who pledges to amend the wrongs committed against her. In another story, the lead character Bikram is physically punished by his principal teacher on numerous occasions. These punishments cause him psychological distress and he starts wondering whether to continue going to school or not. After consulting with his close friend, he decides to confront the principal teacher directly at an event organised by children’s club. The principal teacher talks about how school is a peace zone, and that teachers must treat students as friends. However, Bikram questions her whether she has implemented her beliefs, and he further expresses how he feels psychologically tormented due to her punishments. After hearing him, the principal teacher agrees to change her ways, and form better relations with her students.
Education and youth
Overall, in the youth-focused radio programme SSMK, unlike the nationalist school curriculum, the importance of education is framed less in relation to service to the country, but more in relation to individual’s empowerment, self-growth and familial expectations and aspirations. SSMK also highlights different facets of schooling, where it is not only a process of learning and teaching, but they can also be sites of discrimination and violence, and young people can take initiatives to change that situation. There is a recurring motif in the radio dramas – the protagonists are caught up in a problem that causes them psychological and emotional unease; their internal monologue about how they understand the problem and how they feel about it is presented extensively; they usually consult with their close friends, siblings, relatives, teachers or senior students at schools or colleges; they find ways to confront the relevant parties and communicate their thoughts and feelings; and usually the story always ends on a positive note. The radio show encourages young people to think creatively, make their decisions independently, take initiatives for change and most importantly, communicate with the right people, which is often identified as the key solution to most of the problems. However, it could also be argued that perhaps, this overt emphasis on individual skills, empowerment and leadership tends to leave more systemic analysis and understanding of education and schooling practices out of the purview.
Suggested Citation: Sangita Thebe Limbu. 2020. ‘On Youth, Education, and Radio Programe’, Think Pieces Series No. 9. Education.SouthAsia (https://educationsouthasia.web.ox.ac.uk/).