ABDVol.30 No.2
Impact of Multimedia on Children of Nepal

Biswambhar Ghimire

Current State of Various New Media

Nepal is a small landlocked Kingdom situated in South Asia with a territory of 147,181 square kilometers and a population of about 22.5 million, of whom 45% are below the poverty line. From this fact we can assume that most Nepalese children do not have access to various kinds of new media. The other reason for their non-accessibility to new media is the topography of the country. About 90% of the people live in villages, and two-thirds of the land is hills and mountains. Transportation facilities are still non-existent in some parts. The high hills and mountains make it difficult to receive television programmes. Nepal Television (NTV), introduced in 1984/85, has two stations and 7 transmission centres at present. A survey made some years back shows that NTV covers only 30% of the land area. Another survey shows that 28% of the total population have access to TV sets, out of which 30% of the households have satellite coverage and they watch mostly foreign channels. The computer, which has had a worldwide effect on the systems of modern technology and media, has had as much effect in Nepal. Though it was introduced only a decade and a half ago, now it covers almost all the government and private offices as well as the business enterprises. The private and boarding schools also teach computer to their students. However, very few children have access to it in their homes, even in the city areas. According to one random survey, out of 141 Kathmandu cities' school children, only 2 or 3 said they have computers in their homes.
 Video games, which mostly interest children in the 10 to 15 age group, are not accessible to all the children of Nepal either. According to another survey with the same children as mentioned above, fewer than 50% of children have access to video games in their homes. The games which they prefer mostly are Mario, Contra and Street Fighting. Some of them prefer car-racing and shooting. Young children prefer cartoons. When they were asked by this surveyor, "Why do you play video games?", they answered that they played for 'enjoyment.' A couple of students said that video games enhance their knowledge and creativity.
 The other media form prevalent in Nepal is comics. Although TV, computer, video games and other recreational centres have replaced comics in recent years, they still play an important role among Nepalese children. According to one survey in 16 districts (out of 75), of primary school level children in the Terai and hilly regions, conducted by the Nepalese Society for Children's Literature (NESCHIL) in 1994/95, 63.2% children of the Terai region and 40.7% children of the hilly and mountainous region read comics. The reason for the high percentage of comics read in the Terai region is due to the excessive flow of such comics from the open Nepal-India border and the influence of India. In Nepal itself, such comics are not produced on a large scale.

Effect of New Media on Nepalese Children's Culture

The effect of new media is world-wide. Nonetheless, its effect in developing countries like Nepal is more powerful than in developed countries because there are not many amusement and recreational parks and centres easily available for children's enjoyment. Therefore Nepal Television (NTV), though started just 15 years ago, has become the most entertaining media among the children of Nepal. TV transmission time is occupied mostly by songs, films, serials and other entertainment programmes which are also influenced by foreign cultures. Broadcasting time of NTV is only 58 hours a week. Most of the time, children watch foreign channels which are not compatible with Nepalese culture and society. Fighting, crime, wrestling, naked dancing, kissing and rape and sexual scenes, are considered quite uncommon and vulgar, in contrast to western society. Those scenes have more influence on the children's susceptible minds and they copy those activities. The quality of the media itself makes children attracted more by the bad things than the good ones.
 Nepalese culture has changed a lot in the past few decades. Discipline and obedience in the children have declined. The meaning of morality has been changed. Cultural and social values have been degraded. According to another random survey with 32 persons including teachers, intellectuals and guardians by this surveyor, 16 interviewees responded that multimedia has negatively affected more than 50% of children's culture, 13 persons ranked it between 15-50% and 3 between 10-15%. However, multimedia has also enriched children's knowledge. For example, one of the teachers said that a primary level student of grade three knew the full meaning of KLA (Kosovo Liberation Army) which she thinks, is the gift of new media.
 Despite that fact, the overall effect of the multimedia on the behaviour of Nepalese children is not favourable to our culture. Teenagers are becoming more aggressive e.g. in gang fights with chains and weapons. Smoking cigarettes, drinking alcohol, harassing girls, and drug-taking have become common. There is more sexual abuse. For instance, a twelve-year-old boy raped an eight-year-old girl using a condom. When he was arrested and questioned by the police, he said that he simply wanted to know what the condom looks like and what it does. He went on, "I am very curious to use the condom when NTV advertises about safe sex every day." Another boy jumped from the roof of his house simply because he used to see such adventure scenes on television. This is the actual situation in Nepal in recent years.

Effects of Multimedia on Children's Reading Habits in Nepal

Before examining the effects of multimedia on reading habits of the children of Nepal, it is necessary to know the overall situation of the educational background of the country. According to the education census of 1997, there are about 3.5 million school-going age group children, of which 70% are enrolled in schools. The total enrollment from grade 1 to 10 is 4.5 million. The other survey shows that among enrolled children only 41% complete their primary education (grade 5) and 32% their secondary education (grade 10). The literacy rate is about 50%.
 Considering these facts, one can imagine that the reading habit of these children is certainly low. Children in the hilly and mountainous region are naturally deprived of reading any materials except textbooks. The main reasons are poverty, and nonaccessibility of such materials, as well as most of the time being spent on housework and cattle care. In the case of urban children, on one hand, they do not get adequate interesting and attractive reading materials and on the other hand, they prefer to do other things rather than reading.
 The private and boarding school children in the city areas are heavily loaded with textbooks. The main thrust of the guardians of such children is to make their children get higher marks in the examination. According to one survey on some primary level school children in sixteen districts conducted by the NESCHIL in the same period as mentioned earlier, 26.9% of children never read children's books at school and 20% never read them at home. Similarly, 4.47% never read children's magazines at school and 16.7% never do at home. However, when this surveyor interviewed 141 students in the centre of Kathmandu, it appeared that 105 students read 3 to 5 hours and 11 students read more than 5 hours daily at home. The rest of the students, including lower classes, spent 1 to 2 hours on reading, but among these children, surprisingly, except for 2, there was nobody who read extra books and magazines besides their textbooks. At the same time, when 32 persons including teachers, intellectuals and guardians, were asked about the effects of multi-media on children's reading habits, 18 persons ranked it a 50 to 75% decrease and 14 persons reckoned between 15-50%. Besides these, an educationist expresses his views: "There is no change in the reading habit in the case of category A students, in the case of category B students half are spoiled and category C students are totally affected negatively by multimedia."

How Children Spend Their Leisure Time

In Nepal, there are not many recreation and amusement centres for children. Even though there are some places, they are not easily accessible to middle and lower class children. Children in the hilly and mountainous region spend their leisure time doing housework and playing local games. The urban children spend most of their time watching TV and listening to radio on weekends. One random survey conducted by this surveyor shows that 29 children out of 141 watch TV 3 to 5 hours daily on weekdays, the rest an average of 1 to 2 hours. When the children were asked about their leisure time in the evening, 45 students expressed their interest in playing badminton and basketball (for girls), cricket and football (for boys). A few played chess and table tennis. Others played local games. In this regard, whatever the case may be, a high percentage of Nepalese children spend their time gossiping and walking. The most recent development in Kathmandu and other places is the opening of billiard pools. Privileged children spend most of their time in these pools.

Some Noticeable Trends in Recent Years

Today's children are more aggressive and revolutionary. They do not believe in any traditional manners. They even think that to obey elders and maintain discipline is old-fashioned. In their view, they think they are always right. They are proud and obstinate. Some children even hesitate to recognize their parents when they are with their friends and also do not want to walk along with them. They think parents are traditional-minded with old ideas and fashion and are unsuitable to accompany them.

Note: The survey with 141 students and 32 teachers, guardians and intellectuals was conducted by this writer himself recently.

Biswambhar Ghimire
Born in 1941, graduated from Tribhuwan University, Kathmandu, Nepal and Indiana University, Bloomington, USA, he, as 'Chanchal', is a well known short story writer and a writer for children's books. After thirty years of Government's service under the Ministry of Education, HMG/Nepal, he is now working as a director of Sajha Prakashan Co. Ltd., a leading publishing house in Nepal. He is also a Vice President of the Nepalese Society for Children's Literature (NESCHIL).