Keep Education Off Party Politics
The country’s educationists, policy planners and academia met the other day to discuss the issues related with financing education through progressive taxation in the federal structures. Since the school education has been devolved as the responsibility of the local level government, the discussion intended to devise the ways and means as to how the resources could be mobilized to meet the expenditure needs to finance the education.
Though the presentations made in the discussion had put their focus on revenue mobilisation for financing school education, participants mostly talked about the need to make proper use and rationalisation of the available resources. The arguments veered around the poor management of the community schools, resource misuse and misappropriation. It was also emphasised that the proper use and rationalisation of the existing resources can meet the expenditure needs in the federal structures too.
One of the key officials at the Ministry of Education who spoke on the occasion made a very succinct remark, pointing out that the public expenditure allocated for teachers consumes most of the resources whereas learning outcome is very poor and cannot, therefore, justify the outlay made in the area of education development. One of the participants contended that should the prevailing state of affairs continue in the public education realm, the public schools and universities should be closed and the issues should be looked entirely afresh. Krishna Hari Banskota, Chief Commissioner of the National Information Commission, put emphasis also on the need to make education gainful and vocation-oriented. He lamented over the deteriorating state of the higher education in particular and mentioned that only those who meet quality criteria should have access to higher education. The education streams should be so designed as to assure that technical and vocational skills are taught to the students which will be of greater use for them to earn their living.
In fact, education has been the major priority issue in Nepal and policy planners are always harping on the need for making education competitive and development-oriented. However, political meddling in education sector has given rise to several problems undermining the prospects for quality development in the sector of education. Strikes are often resorted to serve political ends. As a consequence, the question of teacher accountability has been very important in the country. However this is not only the case in Nepal but an important much-talked about issue in developed countries like US and Canada. The teachers do oftentimes resist the measures introduced by the government to reform education seeking to make them accountable to the learning outcomes .We can take several cases from our own context when teachers seek to foil the plan to make them engaged and accountable to students.
We can cite, among others, the examples of the TU’s attempt to introduce semester system in its constituent campuses which was opposed by the teachers. Though they have now reconciled with the semester system, their reluctance is quite evident in the way they have responded to the system. In this regard, we can refer to the teachers’ strike staged in Chicago city not very long back when the city’s Mayor introduced the swift measures to make teachers’ performance outcome-oriented and enhance learning outcomes at the school.
If the learning curves of the students are better, the teacher will score better if it is poor, he or she will be held accountable. What prompted the Chicago Mayor to push the reform, provoking the wrath of teacher union? According to the news published in the media, it was the dismal and poor learning outcomes of the children in the city schools. The teachers in Chicago city are among the best paid in the US but the performance is said to be poor compared to the standards and quality in other cities.
The state of affairs pointed out above in the US city of Chicago, though the context vastly differs, resembles to the problem we in Nepal are facing. Though all the public institutions are in a shambles in the country, the public education sector looks worse. The best schools are counted from among those managed by the private hands whereas the old public schools endowed with historic legacy like Padmodaya, Bhanumadhyamik Vidyalaya, previously known as Durbar High school founded during the time of Chandra Shumsher have sunk into oblivion.
Though the school education up to lower secondary level is almost free, and the students passing out from the public schools are given preferential treatment and incentives in their pursuit of higher education, especially in medicines and engineering, the dwindling attraction and interest of the guardians to send their children to these schools underscores the need for dispassionate introspection into the situation.
By all standards, the salary structure and perks given to the teachers for the public schools are higher when compared against the remunerative provision at the private schools. The demands articulated by the teachers working for the private schools from time to time to raise their salary and perks at par with the public aided school teachers is itself an indication of not so poor salary structure fixed for them. The school teachers at the public schools are treated more or less at par with the civil servants and when the salary of the civil servants is raised, a corresponding increase of the perks of the teachers is also announced simultaneously.
Many schools have turned into arena of local political conflicts. It is time we made teachers accountable to their job. The constitutional provision to devolve the function of education to the local government constitutes a big leap forward for decentralised delivery of the education services and makes teachers accountable. But the problem lies in the partisan oriented local politics and dynamics that can further muddy the education if the care is not taken to insulate education from politics.