Community Schools In Changed Context
Hira Bahadur Thapa
Following two phases of local elections in the recent past, questions have been raised as to how the local governments either Gaunpalikas or Nagarpalikas will manage the community schools within their jurisdictions. Growing interest is also due to the fact that eighth amendment to the Education Bill was endorsed by the Parliament though additional (ninth) amendment proposed to the same has led to controversy and complicated the issue.
There have been many speculations about what the fate of the Education Bill would be in future. Many believe that had this Bill been fully enforced, a dramatic change would have occurred in terms of quality enhancement. The most conspicuous part of the original eighth amendment to aforementioned Education Bill is that it would open avenues for new, dynamic, well-educated youth, whose roles as motivating and dedicated teachers would have been a milestone in the area of quality instruction in the public schools.
As provided for in the eighth amendment the government provides for golden handshake, among others, to facilitate the honourable exit of aged teachers with limited or no skills in English language and entry for young and energetic, who are holding teaching licenses looking for suitable employment in Nepal rather than going abroad as labourers either in the Gulf region, or elsewhere.
Understood that education sector would offer employment opportunities to increasing number of unemployed youth, who are educated but have no vocational skills. At least the advertisement for recruiting new teachers to fill the vacancies in different levels i e basic, lower secondary and secondary schools all over the country had generated an interest among many especially for enhancing the teaching standards of the community schools, which unfortunately has been deteriorating gradually despite the fact that scarce government resources are channelled to such schools expending them for training the teachers.
The dilemma is that with more trained teachers enjoying lucrative privileges in terms of salary and other facilities compared to private schools, most of which are residential, the quality of education in the public schools is poor, where the largest majority of students study. Percentage-wise the success records of such schools in Secondary Education Examination (SEE) are frustratingly low each year even though the evaluation benchmark has been brought down. Especially, the introduction of a system that says ‘No’ to failure meaning that none can be declared failed student in this examination has done more harm than good to the students.
Perhaps the principle that all students should have the opportunity to pass and gain access to higher education is not bad but in its implementation the schools are suffering due to this. Negatively, the parents and the students, though out of ignorance, have started to conclude that there is no need to be serious in study because none is going to fail in the secondary education examination. This has also impacted on the pass percentage of a school as it is really difficult to ascertain what the success rate of a school is as there is none who is declared unsuccessful.
Except in a few technical lines like science the students are not required to score a certain grade. There may be some restrictions to seek admission in certain fields say for example any students willing to join class eleven in science stream must have attained C+ grade in Mathematics in SEE. Furthermore, those who fail to obtain such grade due to any reason can have the chance examination to achieve grade promotion in Mathematics in the above case. With grade promoted they are permitted to seek admission in the desired field but the final decision of granting admission depends on the schools concerned.
Unless we are able to inculcate a strong feeling among students that study is necessary for them and they should be sincerely devoting their precious time, it is too difficult to ensure that they will be doing their duties regularly in an environment when many parents are keen to shift the burden of educating children to the teachers completely without taking any responsibility by themselves. Parents have no less responsibility to make sure that their wards are not wasting precious time either by playing games in smartphones or gossiping with their friends or commenting nonsensically on Facebook friends’ photos.
One may wonder why the system of not failing any student has not affected the reading habits of the students of the private schools. The reason is obvious. In such schools the routine of instruction is strictly followed and the teachers are disciplined if they display negligence. The students are taught in a manner that they just can’t afford to disobey. Examinations are regular and report cards are distributed in time interacting with the concerned parents. More importantly the calendar of academic program is publicised quite in advance and observed without fail.
In enhancing the performance of the schools academically, the role of the teachers and the Headmasters, in particular, is indeed crucial and one of the reasons why the private schools have been successful in producing excellent results every year is that their teachers are more dedicated and work under strict supervision from the management.
Therefore, the management aspect assumes higher significance whenever we discuss the problems related to quality enhancement of the schools. With a very few exceptions, the managerial teams of the community schools are disappointingly weaker and more politicised. Owing to this such managers are less concerned about the erosion of educational standards and more focused on utilising the community school teachers in the pursuit of their political goals. Little wonder then that such government-paid teachers, who are public servants are employed by corrupt politicians to participate even in election campaigns. Shamefully, the qualified community school teachers are rejoicing at such activities and taking undue advantage using their political connection to different political parties.
In the changed context the elected representatives of the people have been given more comprehensive powers to mobilise the community school teachers, including their transfer, among others, and the latter are now accountable to the local government units like Gaunpalikas and Nagarpalikas. But real change in the school environment occurs only when the people’s representatives shun their politics for the good of the community in managing community schools. Should they be bold to take necessary steps to improve the schools, there is no reason why government-financed schools cannot compete with private and residential ones in terms of quality education.