Education Sector Needs Fresh Start
The incumbent education minister Gopal Man Singh reportedly committed recently to constitute the high level commission to suggest policy initiatives and practical measures in redirecting and revamping the education policy at all levels. Though similar announcement was made by the predecessor ministers including the Maoist Minister Dhani Ram Poudel, the high level panel did not come into being.
However,as the commission is the need of the time to ascertain and address the challenges and issues of the education sector in the newly established federal set up, the government is anticipated to form the panel to study and suggest the measures to refashion and redesign the education sector pursuant to the federal reorganisation of the state.
The new federal constitution has entrusted the competencies concerned with school education to the local level governments- rural municipalities (Gaopalika) and municipalities (Nagarpalikas) exclusively as stipulated in its schedule 8. But the education has also been defined as the concurrent competence of the three levels of the government –federal, provincial and local – indicating that the respective layers of the government have to share the responsibilities and functions in the administration and management of education. However, these competencies will have to be statutorily provisioned and legitimated 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 inNepal. And the most important commission that had recommended far reaching and consequential changes in the education sector was formed in 1971AD when the new education plan was introduced in the country.
The national education plan not only nationalized education system but also standardized its quality through introduction of uniform curricula and text books. Moreover, effective initiatives had been undertaken to promote and institutionalise vocational and technical education right from the lower secondary levels. This was a good beginning in the education sector to make it employment and vocation oriented in the market. It is worth remarking the fact that the human resources produced in the vocational and technical sector were in high demand in the local and overseas job market. But it is sad to note that these positive measures were later deemphasised or discontinued.
With an intent to reform and strengthen the education sector high level commissions were also formed in1985 AD and in 1992AD but the recommendations of these commissions were partially implemented, if not completely shelved. Since then much has changed in the education sector too. The school sector has been liberalised, 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 have been more or less able to capture the educational space because of the fact that the performance of the government aided community schools has been poor especially in terms of learning outcomes.
Though the government has poured sizeable resources in improving physical infrastructures and capacity development of teachers employed in the community schools,the teaching learning situation has failed to progress further. It is indeed noteworthy that education sector has received the sizeable share of the national budget during the last few years and 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 beenable to bring about substantive change as the many public schools have been steadily losing students out to the private schools, among others.
Many schools in the Kathmandu valley reportedly received no student enrolments during the last academic sessions as a result of which they had to be merged into the neighbouring schools. The prominent public schools like JP secondary school, Durbar schools, Padmodaya School and many other reputed public schools have been allowed to deteriorate and sent to the dustbin of history. The sad plight of the Tri-chandra College that has hit century in the development of the higher education in Nepal is also worth mentioning in this context.
At an interaction held other day the educationist and policy makers lamented over the drain of the resources in the education sector without yielding commensurate outcomes and results. The gross resentment and dissatisfactions have further amplified over the increasingly deteriorating results and outcomes in the education sector commensurate to investment made in the education sector both on the part of the government, people and development partners.
Definitely a new context has been introduced in the country following the promulgation of thefederal constitution that has made the school education the responsibility of the local level government. The federal government can neither dictate nor interfere with the competencies and mandates of the local level government as each layer of the government is exclusively independent to exercise competencies defined by the constitution.
The federal government will look after the major policy issues including the central universities whereas the provincial government will also handle higher education includingthe provincial level universities. It has to be decided whether theexisting universities will be designated as central universities or handed over to the provincialgovernment. 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 complex issues relating to allocation of competencies among the different tiers of the government within the federal framework.
Often times some minor issues give rise to inter-governmental conflicts if they are not elaborated and clarified properly. Though the government has conducted exercise to map out the functions and competencies, these have to be further elaborated taking the complexity of the intergovernmental relationships into account.