Revamping Education Sector
The government in its action plan for education sector recently announced that it will soon constitute a high level commission to suggest policy initiatives and practical measures in redirecting and revamping the education policy at the all levels within a month.
Though a similar announcement was made by the predecessor ministers, the high level panel never came into being. However, as the commission is the need of the time to assess and ascertain the prevailing challenges and issues of the education sector, the government will have to form the panel to study and suggest the measures to restructure and refashion it pursuant to the federal reorganisation of the state.
The new federal constitution has entrusted the competencies concerned with education to federal, provincial and local level governments. However, these competencies will have to be mapped out and elaborated to assure that each level of the government appropriates its role and implements the respective duties and responsibilities consistent to the provision of the constitution.
In fact, in the genealogy of the commissions, the proposed panel will be the seventh one formed by the government since 1955 AD in Nepal. The most important commission that had recommended far reaching and consequential changes in the education sector was formed in 1971 when the new education plan was introduced in the country. The national education plan not only nationalised the education system but also standardised its quality through the introduction of uniform curricula and textbooks.
Moreover, it had also taken major initiatives to make the teaching profession dignified. It had made determination of remuneration and emoluments of the teachers employed at different levels in accordance with their qualification and training. Initiatives had also been undertaken to promote vocational and technical education right from the lower secondary levels. This was a good beginning in the education sector to make it self-employable and job-oriented in the market. But the good and positive aspects were later deemphasised or discontinued.
With an intent to reform and strengthen the education sector high level commissions were formed in1985 AD and in 1992 AD but the recommendations of these commissions were partially implemented, if not shelved. Since then much has changed in the education sector too. The school sector has been liberaliaed, and there has been a proliferation of private schools in the country. As a consequence, the education landscape has been increasingly dominated by the private schools. The private schools were able to capture the space because of the fact that the performance of the public schools has been poor especially in terms of learning outcomes.
Though the government has poured sizeable resources in improving physical infrastructure and capacity development of teachers employed in the public schools, teaching learning situation has failed to progress further. It is indeed noteworthy that the education sector has received the largest share of the national budget during the last few years.
The European donors in particular have put their money and extended technical assistance to reform the public education system in Nepal. However, the support of the development partners has not been able to bring about substantive change as the many public schools have been steadily losing students out to the private schools. Many schools in the Kathmandu Valley reportedly received no student enrolments during the last academic session as a result of which they had to be merged into the neighbouring schools.
The prominent public universities like the Tribhuvan University and the Sanskrit Univesrity have confronted with challenge of retaining students as the percentage of admission this year has dropped significantly, according to the news reports. However, the Kathmandu University has gained a big share of students indicating that proper academic environment and quality of faculties matter for retaining and attracting new students.
This year the budget for the education sector has also been slashed. However, the gross resentment and dissatisfactions over the results and outcomes commensurate with the investment made in this sector both on the part of the government, people and development partners may also be reason why resources put in it has been rationalised and streamlined.
In addition to this, a new context has been introduced in the country with the enactment of the new federal Constitution. In the federal set up, the powers, competencies and mandates of the different layers of the government are allocated constitutionally and each tier of the government is independent to exercise the authority and execute functions as embodied in the constitution. The federal government can neither dictate nor interfere with the competencies and mandates of the provincial government as each layer of the government is exclusively independent to exercise competencies defined by the Constitution.
According to the new constitution, the subject of education has been allocated among the three tiers of the government. The list of the competencies provided in the schedules of the constitution shows that university education is divided primarily between the federal and provincial governments.
The federal government will look after the major policy issues including the central universities whereas the provincial government will also handle higher education including the provincial level universities. It has to be decided whether the existing universities will be designated as central universities or handed over to the provincial government. In India, some major universities had been handed over to the provinces while institutes and universities of the strategic importance were retained with the central government. It is expected that the commission to be formed by the government not only give new direction to the education sector but also thrash out the issues relating to allocation of competencies among the different tiers of the government within the federal framework.