Amended Education Bill And Issue Of Quality

 

Kushal Pokharel

 

The unanimous endorsement of the Education Bill (eighth amendment) by the legislature parliament after six years of political wrangling finally seems to have paved the way for restructuring Nepal’s present education system under the School Sector Development Plan (SSDP). Having said that, its relevancy is being widely contested amid the country embarking on a federal governance model where the power of designing educational policies have constitutionally been devolved to the village and town assemblies at the local level, limiting the power of the centre to make policy decisions.

 

Impact on local level

It is unlikely that the bill will have long-term impact on dictating the course of education at the province and local levels. Nevertheless, the amended bill incorporates the previously overlooked kindergarten education in the school structure, thereby classifying school education into two tiers: basic (Bal Siksha to 8) and secondary (9-12).

It aims to dissolve the Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB) and establish a national examination board without having done the necessary homework to execute the task. The Department of Education under the Ministry of Education is shouldering the entire responsibility of implementation, which looks very challenging.

Despite the fact that the eighth amendment intends to discourage politicisation in education, the modalities for doing the same haven’t been clearly laid out. Nevertheless, the appointment of the School Management Committee (SMC) chair from the SMC committee members is a positive step. Regarding teacher management, 15,373 temporary teachers working in community schools have been given a choice of either a golden handshake or  competing for permanent position.

However, provision of pension and gratuity for temporary teachers has already come under a great deal of criticism, as such a practice obligates the state to replicate it in other government services. Operationalising the bill would require amendments in the existing education regulations and establishment of new administrative structures backed by a strong political will.  

In a recently televised interview, a leading educationist of Nepal opined that the amended bill  can be considered as a ‘Teacher Act’ rather than an ‘Education Act’ as most of its provisions focus on teachers’ management.  Improving the access and equity of students is clearly missing, let alone the quality.

Despite the fact that the new constitution recognises education as a fundamental right, the amended bill has miserably failed to promote it. At a time when the quality of  education has been deteriorating, posing a question mark over the relevancy of the entire education system, this issue should have been significantly addressed.

With the decreasing percentage of the education budget since the past six years, contrary to Nepal’s international commitment of 20%, the larger apathy of the state towards education is visible. Even the insufficient money allocated for education is going in teachers’ salary and other administrative costs, leaving nothing for uplifting the quality and standard of education. So, the euphoria around the historic and unprecedented provisions in the amendment carries no real meaning.      

Understanding the political economy of public policy making in Nepal offers great insights into understanding the discourse behind such amendments. Although it’s a welcome move by the state to bring the long desired reform in education, the structures and processes involved in policy deliberations are a matter of great concern.

Without adequate consultation with the intended beneficiaries and non-partisan experts, the entire course of the bill amendment was dictated by a handful of private entrepreneurs representing the education sector in the legislature parliament. A desire on the part of our policymakers to reproduce the education model of the OCED countries without paying due attention to our ground realities of education has aggravated the problem. 

As a result, many inconsistencies and policy gaps are evident in the bill. While it bars the registration of private educational institutions from now onwards as  a company, requiring them to operate as a guthi, it has remained mum as to the modus operandi of the already existing private schools and colleges under the Company Act. In other words, the bill has emerged as a winning deal for the business elites to safeguard their corporate interests, negating the issue of social justice in education.

 

Education under federalism

Thus, the way the bill has been being touted as a remarkable one for ushering sea change in  education can be highly challenged as it comes with political and techno bureaucratic rationality without multi-stakeholder consultations. The absence of a strategic vision of education reform already casts doubts on its implementation. Putting access, equity and quality learning at the centre of policy dialogue and debate would have provided practical guidelines for driving change in the current education system. In the absence of appropriate accountability and transparency mechanisms sanctioned by the state to regulate the entire course of education, the implementation of the amended bill looks challenging. 

Rethinking education under the federal setup requires empirical research, analysis and expanding wider education discourses at the level of federation, province and local  states.   

 

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