For Quality Public Education

Prem Khatry

An early morning Image FM report from Rukum prompted this write-up. The correspondent gives a very touching report on the status of education there. He talks of quality and lack of it, the parental choice for better academic environment, teachers’ commitment and/or lack of it. The public system, he says, provides attractive salary and benefits but the result at the end of the season is less than 35 per cent against much higher on the private side. Therefore, parents are compelled to enroll their charges in the private school where teachers receive around 12-15,000 a month against much higher figure on the government side.

In the private school, the correspondent adds, principals assign teachers long hours with students – from 6 in the morning to 6 in the evening. The teacher is compelled to do the hours because it is the question of hand to mouth for him/her. In many cases they are training themselves while engaged in the job. On the other hand, government schools have plenty of trained teachers and yet their effort is not reflected in the classroom teaching-learning environment. So, where are the problems? Books or book-length reports can be compiled about these and many other pertinent issues in this field.
The pertinent and pinching questions are: What does the teacher do or must do in the class? Is s/he fully aware of his/her duty? Is there full commitment and effort to ‘give’ what they have in terms of their overall training and experience? And, most importantly, is the school considered an asset and icon of the community or a ‘building with few students and plenty of teachers’? The answers might be ‘blowing in the wind’ and not relevant in the national context because the private stream is not only hijacking the children from public schools but doing many times better than the public system and earning trust of the society of parents.
PM KP Sharma Oli made it clear the other day when he suggested that if you are a teacher, classroom is your place to focus, perform, excel, and serve the society. That is, partisan politics is not your cup of tea. Go to the class, mix and immerse with the students there fully and completely. In other words, classroom is a teacher’s workplace, it is his/her life and responsibility. Not realising the responsibility and the trust society has given them, teachers leave the classroom and head toward their party offices. This must not happen from now on.
It is time all political parties ‘free’ the teachers from their political responsibility and ask to concentrate on teaching. There will be conducive environment; students will be the focus and teaching-learning atmosphere will prevail and improve. Thus far, a teacher has been a cadre first and teacher later. This is so in nearly all the public schools where government provides them job and other tips. Therefore, the government has the authority to extract labour from the teacher for the benefit of the child, the family and the society. When it has dawned on the PM, the rest of the stakeholders are thereby notified.
Few other issues can also be relevant here. First, our education is mostly book based, and books are prepared in the corner of a house owned by a teacher. Many such texts were written decades ago and carry materials relevant at that time. So much change has taken place in Nepal’s polity, culture, economics and society as a whole. The teacher himself/herself has been a history. Timely modification and adjustment is hardly in the agenda of the authority. The government is responsible to produce the texts, reach out to the students before the new academic session begins. But the process is not that easy. It takes months before the students have their texts in their bag.
Often times qualified and serving teachers are given responsibility to produce quality books using Nepali materials. This is fine and good but timely revision in the texts is a rare event in our school system. One must not forget the fact that children today are not the ones we had two or three decades ago. Formation of a global society is in the making. Children need to know about such a change and teachers have the responsibility to bring these issues on the class mainly through texts and through their experience as well. But observation has shown that hardly happens in our public schools.
This narration above boils down to one reality: For quality go to private system, for hanging around, come to the public. Now the PM has rung the bell so things must change. Let us imagine – the moment the PM was suggesting the school teachers to stay away from partisan politics and stay firmly in the class could be considered Day One to begin the practice. The clock must turn with the message – ‘Come the public schools must be extra conscious for quality in the class.’
In order to guarantee quality to be in the built-in system of our public education timely change in the curricula is the first and foremost need. Our curriculum changes literally in ‘ages’. This is true in our university system also. The writer fondly remembers how the unchanged, very orthodox curricula prevailed in graduate and post graduate level for 20 + years. The curricula must also prescribe standard texts prepared by qualified experts. The texts must impart moral education besides the mainstream subjects as ground for the upper levels. Practical education is what the country needs for the younger citizens of the country, the new gen as they now liked to be called.

Finally, education plays pivotal role for a society’s overall development. UNESCO/Nepal has recently asking the experts to include culture and heritage education in the school level curricula. This is worth consideration. What is urgent to note is turn the tide of the ‘pro-private’ attitude among the parents and motivate them for quality education to be provided in public system with far less budget and multi-pronged problems one earns in the private system, as the sufferers claim.


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