Print Edition - 2015-06-27  |  On Saturday

A new public model

  • Public schools have always been accused of underperforming. But a group of government-funded schools in Lalitpur and Nawalparasi are changing the narrative
- BINOD GHIMIRE
A new public model

Jun 26, 2015-

The teachers working in public schools face the most criticism after the results of the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) are announced every year. The poor results are linked to the teachers’ incompetence, and they have been blamed for not fulfilling their responsibilities, politicising education and failing to create a better learning environment.

But a group of public school head teachers from Lalitpur and Nawalparasi are hoping to bring about changes in how things are done.  They have shown that it is possible to improve the quality of education in public schools.

To get the ball rolling, they first formed alliances between their schools and started collaborating amongst themselves. The headmasters from Lalitpur-based schools formed the Educational Coordination Center (ECC), while those from Nawalparasi formed the Board of Community Schools for Educational Movement (BCSEM). Currently, 47 public schools are associated with the ECC while the numbers of schools under the BCSEM stands at 85.

Initiated a few years ago, the organisations have already begun to see their efforts paying off. While the national average for the public schools’ success rate in the SLC results hovers around the 30 percent mark, the success rate in the schools under these two umbrella bodies is more than double that number. Out of the 881 students who took the exams from the 28 schools under the ECC, 69.8 percent (615) passed the exams—with 34 receiving distinction marks and 390 passing in first division. Five of the schools had a 100 percent pass rate.

The performance of the schools under the BCSEM has been even better. As many as 500 students sat for the exams—from 14 schools under the organisation—with 90 percent of them making the cut; that is almost three times the national average for public schools. Out of the 14 schools, six had a 100 percent pass rate. Both the BCSEM and ECC have set a vision of achieving a 100 percent graduation rate in the SLC in the next few years and they want to expand membership into their alliance to other districts.

The two organisations have garnered success by instituting changes on many levels. For example, the schools under the two umbrella bodies have their own calendar and follow it rigorously. Many of them have adopted the same textbooks as private schools, and unlike with other public schools, they conduct regular tests and terminal exams. They provide remedial support for the students whose scores are below average in the internal examinations, and they have also incorporated various extra- and co-curricular activities to boost the confidence of the students.

They have also been focusing on improving teacher performance.

“We conduct regular training sessions and workshops for teachers, in addition to experience-sharing meetings among the teachers from the member schools,” says Surya Prasad Ghimire, chairperson of the ECC. Ghimire, who is also the headmaster of Pragati Bidhya Sadan, Kupondole—which has been achieving 100 percent pass results for three consecutive years—says the results prove that their method is working.

Then there are the tweaks that have been made to management practices. The schools promote regular guardian-visits to schools, to allow parents to keep a tab on their children’s progress. The schools also allow parents to file complaints against underperforming teachers and the management attempts to resolve the issue.

Ghimire says that change must start at the top. “The heads of schools must lead the way, and if they are committed to their profession, the teachers will follow suit.”

The head masters have not been afraid to make wholesale changes. All their schools have converted to English-medium institutions—which has led to increasing enrollments, because parents want that their kids be educated in the world’s lingua franca. According to the records from the District Education Office, Nawalparasi, there has been a significant increase in public-school enrollments—thanks to students’ opting for the alliance’s schools.  

According to the chairperson of the BCSEM, Chandra Dev Tiwari, the alliances have influenced umbrella bodies in other districts as well. Today, schools in other districts, including Palpa, Chitwan and Makwanpur, want to join the league too. Similarly, the Ministry of Education also has agreed to recognise the committee and has provided assurances that it will help train English-medium teachers.

But there are still many challenges the schools need to overcome. “Our performance can get better only if there is adequate budget provided by the government,” says Tiwari. Currently, the government only provides the salary for the teachers and staff, along with funds for some of the administrative expenses. That amount, say the teachers, is not sufficient. To keep the programmes going, the schools have pushed the envelope quite a bit: although the schools are not allowed to charge fees—public school education is supposed to be free—they have been asking the students to pay a few hundred rupees a month. The parents see no problem with that, however.

The fees vary depending on which grades the kids are enrolled in. Younger kids pay less, and the older ones pay a little bit more.

 “We cannot keep the programmes afloat without taking the fees from the students,” says Ghimire. “We want to pay our teachers better, to encourage them to work better, and we also want to keep providing facilities such as computer education. But we also provide scholarships for those kids who come from underprivileged backgrounds.”

Both Ghimire and Tiwari want to see even more improvement in their schools. But it can only happen if they find new sources of investment. They say that the government has to fund the schools better, or that it should allow the schools to charge fees as per the requirements of and services provided by the schools.

They say that the very concept of free education is flawed in the sense that such a setup creates a lack of ownership among the parents and many take the privilege for granted. They say that some fee should be charged for those who can afford to pay, and that free education should be provided to the extremely poor families.

Published: 27-06-2015 08:16

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