Don’t write this one off

  • Taking bold policy measures to uplift the quality of education has remained long overdue
- KUSHAL POKHAREL

Jan 9, 2019-

The high-level national education commission, entrusted with the task of laying a long term foundation for the development of education sector in the country, has recently publicised its preliminary recommendation in a rather non-transparent manner. While the process of membership in the commission remains debatable, the government claims that the report is an outcome of a vibrant team of professionals comprising of educational and legal experts. Mandated to suggest reform measures for overhauling the education system from primary to the university level in the spirit of the new constitution, the commission’s final report is expected to arrive soon. 

However, the early stage recommendations appearing in some online and print media have already created ripples in the education fraternity. The private sector operators have particularly condemned the provision of phasing out private schools from the country within seven years from now. Amid mounting pressure, the commission in its final report has slightly relaxed this provision and provided additional three years for the private schools to convert into trust. While the first three years have been allocated for operating such schools under ‘social enterprise’ without distribution of profits, the remaining seven years have been given for completing the process of transformation.  Accusing the commission of making inadequate consultations and prescribing a regressive move to topple quality education, they have out-rightly rejected the idea of converting private schools into trusts within the above mentioned time span. Private educators have further claimed that they are a driving force behind the push to ensure talented students—who would have otherwise migrated to foreign countries in search of quality education—remain in Nepal.  Although there is an iota of truth in this argument, they have been reluctant to embrace the welfare notion in education for the sake of extracting profit. 

With the constitution adopting a socialism-oriented policy, the manner in which the discussion is emerging is problematic due to the lack of multi-stakeholder consultations. In addition, the commission members have not adequately contemplated over the consequent massive financial burden on the state coffer if the state is to take responsibility of the entire education system. The report calls for sharing the educational budget at the federal, provincial and local level and states that the federation should bear 70 percent of the total educational budget. The remaining 30 percent would be equally divided among the provincial and local levels for ensuring free and compulsory education as stipulated in the constitution. Amid the widening gap between public and private schools, the spirit of the recommendation to direct all the energy and effort for strengthening public education is appreciable. 

Another clause that has raised eyebrows is the conversion of about 30 thousand School Management Committees across the nation into ‘School Development Committees’—a move that many claim will curtail the powers of these committees. However, it is the learnt that the commission has reverted to keeping the name as SMC in its final proposal that is yet to be submitted to the government. Out of fear of losing power, the local elites have rejected this proposal and have threatened to take to the streets if the government implements the agenda. Instead, the commission has prescribed conferring more power and authority to the school principal for strengthening the school system. Nevertheless, the appointment of a principal through open competition and the enhancement of the capacities of the Teacher Service Commission are among the highly beneficial proposals for promoting public education. 

 Moreover, the report demands a graduate level qualification for the appointment of a teacher at the secondary level. Emphasis has also been laid on the appointment of Education Officers from the teaching field.  In a bid to depoliticise educational institutions, the report bars any teachers from taking professional membership of a political party, which is indeed welcomed. Needless to say, public schools that attract two-thirds of all children in Nepal have become a playground for politics in the past several decades, leading to the decline in the quality of education. 

The report has also mentioned the significance of boosting the morale of highly dedicated teachers that exist within the system. Incentivising meritorious teachers to increase their efficiency in class and fostering a sense of accountability and responsibility among teachers are important steps forward. It is explicitly stated that if a teacher adds on to their existing qualification in the succeeding years after their appointment to a particular post, they can enjoy added benefits. No less important is the idea of introducing a reward and punishment scheme to penalise dishonest teachers and promote the positivity and energy of passionate ones. In case a teacher is found to be directly indulged in politics, they should be provided retirement, as per the report.  

Based on past experiences where commission’s reports relating to any field have been consistently dismissed, it is unlikely that the state will own this document and make the necessary changes to improve the quality of teaching-learning.  Taking bold policy measures to uplift the quality of education has remained much-needed and is long overdue.  

 

Pokharel is a Teach for Nepal Alumni and currently a social science faculty at the Whitehouse Graduate School of Management. 

Published: 09-01-2019 06:42

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