Public Education At Crossroads

Kushal Pokharel

Despite the fact that two-thirds of all children in Nepal attend public schools, a significant majority of them fail to pass the secondary level. The above data speaks volume about the quality of such schools in Nepal. While a host of factors ranging from socio-cultural to political are responsible for this situation, perhaps the most crucial one is the issue of managing the existing pool of teachers that are available in the public education system.
Two important categories of teachers include- permanent and temporary teachers. The first category of teachers have a strong sense of job security and tends to make routine type of performances without bothering much about the quality of their teaching. On the other hand, the temporary teachers have seemingly low sense of job security and always seem to harbour enmity with the permanent ones. They often complain of the state’s apathy towards their contribution in the school system.

The row
The news of the temporary teachers protesting the decision of the Teachers Service Commission (TSC) to conduct the exam on the first week of April has attracted much media attention . Postponed two times due to agitations and natural calamities, the TSC exam has become urgent for teachers management in public school. However, the disgruntled teachers are shamelessly expressing their reluctance to sit in exams for permanent positions. Instead of appearing in exams, they are pressurising the government for automatic promotion against the notion of meritocracy.
In fact, the ninth amendment of the Education Act has invited severe criticisms among the education stakeholders- education experts and professionals among others particularly due to its policy of safeguarding the interests of the temporary teachers at the expense of the young talents. Allocating the highest number of seats to the temporary teachers through internal competition, the regressive amendment has literally closed the doors for some 500,000 license holder teachers to participate in the open competition.
Scrapping the earlier provision for 49 per cent of seats for internal competition and 51 per cent for open competition, the latest amendment provides 75 per cent of the seats for internal competition and the remaining 25 for open competition. Hence, the policy of discouraging energetic young candidates will have far reaching implications in the deterioration of quality education in public schools.
First, the changing learning needs of the students in public schools is unlikely to be catered by the current pool of existing teachers- permanent and temporary. Based on the personal teaching experience of this author for two years in a public school, it can be said that the temporary teachers in community schools demonstrate largely unaccountable behaviour though there might be exceptions. Moreover, the acceptance of such teachers is also quickly fading due to high absenteeism and reluctance to change. Frustrated with the poor working conditions and salary, these teachers view the permanent ones as enjoying more benefits by performing less and the permanent teachers hold the exactly opposite view.
Second, the current policy of the state is likely to discourage the young generation of this country to enter into the public education system and initiate reforms. Instead of promoting open competition, the ninth amendment has preferred internal competition among the relatively ‘outdated’ bunch of teachers majority of whom has been found to be the loyal cadres of the political parties.
Third, the agenda of ushering reforms in education has received a severe setback due to this move. It is a really pathetic situation where a group of teachers are protesting against the state not to institutionalise the scientific system of examination for career development. Instead, they resort to various forms of protests and want the state to bow down against their pressure. What sort of mind set do these teachers carry? What can we expect from them in terms of educating the children? These are some pertinent questions that need serious consideration.
In light of the above, Nepal’s education system has arrived at crossroads. With the unwillingness and inability of the state to pursue the policy of strengthening the public education, the crisis looms large. Under the pressure of the political middlemen and some private education elites, the state has endorsed a false policy pegging back the education reform for several years. Inadequate consultations with the concerned stakeholders- teachers, students, parents, education activists among others, the amendment has been passed in a seemingly opaque manner which becomes obvious when we see the number of lawmakers that were present in the parliament when this act was endorsed.

Fresh ideas
Injecting fresh knowledge and ideas to reinvent the classroom pedagogy is the key to strengthen the community schools. Investing in the current pool of teachers who have been in their work for a considerable number of years is likely to yield low results as majority of these teachers have limited adaptive capacity based on the need of time. Hence, promotion of new thinking, knowledge and debunking the existing culture of learning is a must as we move ahead in the federal system where the issues of reform will be much more important. Finding some ways to nullify the harmful provisions in the ninth amendment will be a stepping stone in this regard.


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