School Education Reform At Cross-roads
Thoughts on nation and nationalism do not find place in school texts. Gone are also the days when 'civics' and 'constitution' or political system used to be the important areas of study at Intermediate and Bachelor levels in colleges. Students were aware of the governance in Nepal and neighbouring countries.
Today, nationalism finds a small place in the parliament and more in the media. But as far as education is concerned, students exit with a colourful certificate in hand without the slightest idea of what a constitution is and what fundamental right means. At the government sector, students know what a strike means and how to get ready with burning torch at hand and file up for a protest staged by their mothers – the political parties. On the other side, the private, there is nothing like this, but students here are spoon-fed with lectures and notes.
Our school education is mostly based in texts. There was a time when students learnt about good manners, politeness, moral lessons and culture. Then suddenly a time came when such lessons were pulled out of the texts for no reason. Concerned parents of private schools began to see the sign of this lack in the behaviour and attitude of their children that could run counter to their expectation from the expensive schools of their choice. Gradually, some private schools began to insert some kind of 'moral education' in the curriculum package of the lower secondary and elementary schools.
It is strange to note that even the general knowledge packages often come with print blunders. There was a sensation when one publication with external link and an empire of its own sold textbooks where Buddha was shown born in India. Some of such publications see Nepal as Bihar and UP. This is unfortunate.
School reform bids
The most urgent need today is to equip schools with conducive, teaching-learning friendly environment. There have been not several, but many such projects and efforts externally funded and implemented. The figure could be billions, if not trillions. With the loan for such programmes Nepalese people have broken their ribs but what specifically was the gain? Where did the support go and whatever happened to the targeted schools? The answer could be found from news such as the one published in a daily newspaper last week when a teacher was seen sobbing to see the fate of her class of three instead of 40 in a school near the world famous Kathmandu Durbar Square.
That was but one example. This columnist has seen scores of such situation where School Sector Reform (SSR), famous as it was during the implementation, yielded much less than expected. And, the end result is the one just mentioned. One doesn’t have to travel to the remote Humla's Dadafaiya, Khagalgaon or Srinagar areas to find how the schools have not seen result from the SSR and its several incarnations. The huge sum and its planners dance around the Ministry and the DEO, if at all. Rest of the school world smells and forgets.
If you have such a situation, if you live far out in the remote and administratively neglected area, there is no chance your school will prosper. Free, compulsory and other 'tags' posted at schools make much less sense when the reform plan is always 'top down.' We suffer from attitude, from lethargic mentality and from commitment. Those who do not suffer from these ailments, who strive on their own to compete with the luxurious and expensive 'private' system, have done wonderfully and gradually attracted the low income parents back to the public schools. And the most important part is – they are happy.
Politics, the root of decay
The government could very well conduct survey and follow up research to see why some schools can do such things. The question is – Why many others cannot even think of such a successful plan? There is partisan politics working as a big hurdle here. The Ministry of Education and the structure down to the district level is very lenient towards this situation. There is no TOR explaining that a teacher has to show successful result in her/his subject in the exams. Terms like reward and punishment only exist in the dictionary.
One major lag in our school education is the lack of moral education, strong science, maths and language education. Today, school graduates can hardly draft an application or compose a nicely written letter. Private school graduate cannot do so in Nepali language; nor can they count up to one hundred in Nepali. Parents make this as an issue to laugh with full satisfaction that their kids are marvelous in English, anyway. So why bother counting in Nepali? Or, why bother writing an application in Nepali? It is not required in the US, or for that matter in Australia, their ultimate destinations,
Introductory knowledge in History, Culture, Geography, Politics, among other subjects has been very inadequate. The Social Studies doesn’t provide enough information and the final result in this 'elephant for the blind' type course is more of a headache than fun for the teachers. And school education has to be more fun learning than a hard and fast 'routine only' delivery model. In this area, both private and public schools have failed and failing squarely. Their big lawns, gardens, buses, and ‘tie suit' uniforms have not been able to address the need the child has to deal with once grown to be a full personality. If education cannot see, feel and work for the nation and nationality, what good is it to tax the already bending Nepalese backs?
Finally, School Reform is not just a project targeted to the government schools. There have to be effective monitoring and evaluation scheme on the private side as well. The reform must start from the political party offices with the declaration that 'nation first, citizen first' is the need. Party bags and hats have ruined the system from the elementary to the university level. The tragedy is that almost every leader and the top official speaks about the defect of the partisan intervention at schools, but doesn’t commit to bring a change in this unfortunate model. It is like 'belling the cat' and it looks like it will be so for quite some time unless the few best practices often reported are replicated with support from all sectors. Till then 'nation and nationalism' will remain second or third priority in our education system.