Deliver Quality Education
The incumbent education minister Giri Raj Mani Pokharel, who has taken over the mantle of the Ministry of Education, recently talked about the need to redefining and reshaping pathways of the education policies in Nepal. The opinion of the education minister has come at a time when the local level governments - Gaupalika and Nagarpalika - have been constitutionally mandated to look after, administer and manage the basic and secondary education. In fact in Nepal’s case several attempts were made in the past to reform and reorient the education system, and the policy makers need to make introspection seriously as to why the measures undertaken failed.
In fact several commissions had been formed in the past and these bodies gave some important suggestions, too but not all were implemented. It must be admitted that the education policy makers in Nepal have seemingly failed to understand and grasp the needs of the country which could be addressed and met through education. They are guided by the superficial ideas and predispositions that do neither reflect the Nepalese realities nor address the problems plaguing the education sector. It can be noted that some shifts in education policies and programmes have occurred over the last decades. The critical issues that we are being confronted today have resulted from the policies and programmes that can be attributed to such shifts.
The restructuring of the Nepal’s education system in 1971 was indeed a very radical one. The New Education System Plan (1971) introduced a series of reforms. These include the state-led initiatives, namely introduction of a national curriculum, textbooks, standards for teacher service, and supervision system for schools as well as an intensive financial commitment to education and educational management. In the decade after this policy of restructuring education was implemented, the community capacity to manage and supervise school activities, generate resources, and monitor education quality sharply deteriorated. In an attempt to revive and enhance local ownership in school management, the 1999 Local Self Government Act that came with an avowed objective of political and financial devolution articulated a policy, among others, that enabled and legitimated the process of transferring school management to local bodies, namely VDCs and municipalities.
The seventh amendment to Education Act 2028 furthered this devolution process by empowering school management committees (SMCs) and renaming all government schools as “community schools.” The community school system has been so far the main mechanism for providing basic education in Nepal. In the existing education system, the ministry has been made responsible for overall development of education while the central agencies, like Department of Education and Centre for Curriculum Development have been mandated for designing, implementing and monitoring education programmes across the country. Regional Education Directorates are responsible for monitoring the programmes while the District Education Offices and resource centres have been the frontline agencies implementing education policies, plans and programmes at the local level.
This education system is based on the principle of subsidiarity underpinned by decentralised social practices. Of the initiatives and public policy measures, the government developed Social Audit Guidelines way back in 2008 and made social auditing compulsory for all schools. It is mainly intended in enhancing direct participation, ownership, scrutiny and oversight of the stakeholders in community school governance and making the service providers responsible and accountable, among others, to the processes and outcomes.
Despite these policy measures, glaring gaps and deficits do exist between the publicly legislated school governance policy and rules, and their actual enforcement. The reports of office of the Auditor General and CIAA indicate severe problems in school governance characterised by massive misappropriations and wrongful expenditures. Empirical studies have indicated that there is general lack of awareness, knowledge, capacity and orientation among the actors and stakeholders working at different levels, especially district education offices and communities on their obligations to carry out their functions and responsibilities. This is compounded by poorer or non-existent civic oversight to hold those who do not act to account. This has resulted into poor outcomes and weak performance of school governance mechanism. For example, the community schools that have to conduct social auditing mandatorily as an important tool in facilitating and ensuring social accountability in functions, results, processes have been found in most cases not done in accordance with the government guidelines.
Though the school level committees like School Management Committees (SMC), School Auditing Committee, PTA and child clubs serve as foundation for effective community-led school governance but they are not very effective to deliver efficient and effective outcomes. The School Management Committees are not inclusive and participatory so they have been reduced as arena for political rivalries and hostility. The SMCs have weak links with local stakeholders, real parental representation in SMCs is also very low as mentioned in the reports and documents.
It indicates that the problems do not lie in the lack of the policies and programmes but in the tardy and sloth manner they are implemented. In the new federal context, the local governments that are mandated to manage the school education at the local level need to review and strengthen appropriate and relevant institutions and systems that have been at place and create new if they are needed. As school education has been fully devolved, it is incumbent upon the local government, community stakeholders and relevant agencies to deliver quality education subservient to the constitutional provision that guarantees education as the fundamental right of the citizen.