Education In Federalism
The Education Ministry has formed the new commission last month to suggest policy initiatives and practical measures in revamping education policy at all levels suited to the federal context in the country. The formation of the new commission was indeed overdue as it had to be constituted to address the needs of the federal set-up earlier. Moreover, issues and challenges have to be ascertained and the ways and means have to be identified as to how they could be addressed and mitigated. Moreover, education sector has to be redirected and restructured pursuant to the federal reorganisation of the state. The new federal constitution has entrusted the competencies related to school education to the local level governments - rural municipalities (Gaupalika) and municipalities (Nagarpalikas) exclusively as stipulated in its schedule 8.
At the same time, education has also been defined as the concurrent competence of the three levels of the government – federal, provincial and local – indicating that the respective layers of the government have to share the responsibilities and functions in the administration and management of education. Moreover, these competencies will have to be statutorily stipulated, established and elaborated to ensure that each level of the government appropriates its role and implements the respective duties and responsibilities consistent to the provision of the constitution.
The principle of subsidiarity which is generally accepted as the guiding principle of federation requires that the responsibility for education should be vested in the authorities as close as possible to the people. Principally, federal government should focus on the development of national policies and standards. It should leave the provision of education management to the provinces and local level. Lack of provincial and local level capacity should not be used as an excuse for federal government to usurp the powers of the lower level government. It will be construed and interpreted as the federal government’s neglect of its duty to develop the capacity of the provinces and local government to discharge their functions effectively.
In Nepal, we have constitutionally adopted the principle of cooperative government. The notion of cooperative government can bear fruit only when we establish truly collaborative relationship between the federal, provincial and local government. In fact, when the three levels of the government work in tandem with each other, the quality of education can be enhanced in the country. However, Nepal’s education landscape has been dominated by the private sector. From higher level down to the primary levels, private sector-led institutions have usurped bigger space. Presently, voices have been raised against the privatisation of education which has become louder after Dr. Govind KC led his crusade to oppose the move to grant affiliation to the private medical colleges. In fact, the emerging consensus in favour of the need to rein in on private sector through enhancement of the role of the public sector will leave some impact on the recommendations of the commission formed by the government.
Needless to repeat, private schools have been more or less able to capture educational space because of the fact that the performance of the government aided community schools has been poor especially in terms of learning outcomes. Though the government has poured sizeable resources in improving physical infrastructures and capacity development of teachers employed in the community schools, teaching learning situation has failed to progress and improve. The education sector has received the sizeable share of the national budget during the past few years. The development partners and donors have put their money and extended technical assistance to reform the public education system, too. However, the support of the development partners has not been able to bring about substantive changes as the many public schools have been steadily losing students out to the private schools. Many schools in the Kathmandu Valley reportedly received no students enrolments during the previous academic sessions as a result of which they had to be merged into the neighbouring schools. The prominent public schools like JP secondary school, Durbar schools, Padmodaya School and many other reputed public schools have been allowed to deteriorate and sent to the dustbin of the history.
The sad plight of the Tri-Chandra College that has hit century in the development of the higher education in Nepal is also worth mentioning in this context. At an interaction held other day the educationist and policy makers lamented over the drain of the resources in the education sector without yielding commensurate outcomes and results. The gross resentment and dissatisfactions have further amplified over the increasingly deteriorating results commensurate to investment made in the education sector both on the part of the government, people and development partners. When reining in on the private investment will make sense only when priority is given to halt the decline in the public education.
Definitely a new context has been dawned in the country following the promulgation of the federal constitution that has made the school education the responsibility of the local level government. The federal government should not interfere in the competencies and mandates of the local level government and assist and cooperate to implement mandates according to the spirit of cooperative federalism.
The federal government should look after the major policy issues including the central universities whereas the provincial government will also handle higher education, including the provincial level universities. It has to be decided whether the existing universities will be designated as central universities or handed over to the provincial government. It is expected that the commission, formed by the government, will not only give new direction to the education sector but also thrash out the complex issues to enhance the quality of the education.