Community-based School Management The Role Politics Plays
A weekly news magazine brought to light the competitive fanfare with which the school management committees (SMCs) are formed in different parts of the country. In the report titled ‘SMCs turning into theatre for political conflict’, the story takes the case of the secondary schools in the far western region of the country.
Since no elections have been held for the local bodies for the last several years, the major political parties have switched their sight to forums like the SMCs to compete and gain mileage in local politics. Such forums include, in particular, school management committees, forestry user groups and many other sites where there is space for mobilisation of resources, organising local support and using influence for gaining political base.
Local political space
The local political leaders from the CPN (UML) and Nepali Congress tend to set their sight on such forums since they provide room for capturing the local political space. Another contender for grabbing the local space is the Maoists, and this party has started to make use of these forums to make inroads for local political space.
In Terai Madhes, the region-based parties compete with the national parties like the Nepali Congress and CPN (UML) to prevail in these forums. The school management committee elections have been reportedly held in a very competitive way in some districts in Madhes where the contenders for the chair of the committee spend lavishly to woo the guardians to cast their vote in their favour.
A news report from Rautahat and Mohattari districts hit the headlines when the SMC contenders sponsored extravagant rallies to celebrate the victory in the elections. The rallies smacked of the victory celebrations that are generally held when the political party leaders and functionaries clinch victory in the elections for the national parliament.
Why the political parties or local political elites are inclined to show interest in seconding their candidates to the SMCs needs to be examined. In fact, the SMCs offer an important public forum where the parties have the space to test and ascertain their support base at the local level in the absence of the local elections that have not been held for the last one and half decades.
Secondly in the last decade, the government has allocated huge funds and resources in building and developing the physical infrastructure of the local schools. The material interest to exercise authority in allocating and spending the funds provided to the schools has been attributed as one of the reasons why the political parties have riveted their attention to capturing the SMC berths.
Some reports have revealed incidences of massive irregularities in the spending of the funds allocated to the schools where the SMC chair, school administration and personnel from the District Education Office have forged collusive rapport in misappropriating the resources.
The third reason why the SMCs generate attraction for the political parties has been the decisive authority entrusted to them by the Education Act and rules for the administration and management of the schools. The SMCs can exercise significant clout in hiring, giving promotion and firing teachers. Moreover, the SMCs have been instrumental in employing teachers who have similar political affiliations to their own. The material and local political motivations and incentives are some of the key reasons, as to why the SMC elections are contested in the fiercest manner.
In fact, the role and responsibilities of the SMCs in running and managing the schools did increase through an amendment in the Education Act and rules after it was recognised that local resources and capacities needed to be mobilised to operate and administer schools in an effective manner. The schools were handed over, in a way, to the communities that led to branding the government-aided schools as community- owned schools (Samudayik Bidhyalaya). Conceptually, it was a very constructive notion based on the principle of decentralisation and subsidiarity that entrusts power to the communities to look after local governance and development issues.
It was a time in Nepal, especially before the introduction of the New Education Plan, when communities on their own took initiatives to establish and run schools without government support. Following the introduction of the New Education Plan in 1971, school education was nationalised, and schools that were run through community governance were taken over by the government.
In fact, the plan through measures to formalise and governmentalise schools did standardise school education, and the job of the teachers was made more secure and attractive. But the community interests and ownership to support and oversee the running of the school dissipated as the government was considered responsible for the administration and management of the school.
The District Education Office picked someone from the local community as the chair and thus imposed the SMC from above, without taking the local community into confidence. However, later it was realised that the centralised management of schools dampened the local interest, leading to deterioration in the quality of education imparted in the schools. As a result, the idea for redecentralising the managerial role to the community was introduced.
However, the contemporary context in Nepalese society has changed radically, characterised as it is by political fragmentation of community fabric. The community initiative and management worked very well during the time when the national polity was monolithic and the local community was not evidently divided into political groups.
Local elections vital
In the present context, the local situation is different and politically pluralised. Moreover, as the forums and sites for political contestations have not opened up, especially in the absence of elections to the local bodies, it is natural for the political parties to demonstrate their interest in making inroads into the SMCs .
Once the process of elections to the local governments, provincial governments and federal government is initiated, it is expected that the SMCs and other local sites for community development would be freed from the shackles of politics.