Making Local Education Policies
Shak Bahadur Budhathoki
The Constitution of Nepal, 2015 has conferred wide ranging powers and functions to the Local Governments (LGs). The LGs also assume overall powers relating to the school education, including formulating policies taking the local contexts into account. At the early phase of implementing this provision, it was argued that LGs would be unable to fulfill those mandates mainly pointing at LG’s capacity and competency at the local level.
In this context, the education policy making process of six LGs in Kailali district shows mixed results. Even if most of the LGs have formulated policies in line with that of the federal government, they have also addressed local concerns creatively through intensive discussions among the concerned stakeholders. Although the performance of LGs is marked by variation in terms of making policies for the first time in history, there are reasons to be optimistic for better performance in the future.
While examining the newly framed local education policies, one of the positive points is that they appear to be more inclusive than the federal one. For instance, the policies envision for the representation of Dalits in the School Management Committee (SMC), which is not a case in the education policy of the federal government. Additionally, the provisions include the presence of persons with disability in the local education committees, Parent-Teacher Associations, etc. Therefore, it shows that the local education policies are more progressive in including marginalized groups in the school governing bodies.
Similarly, the education policies take reference of local contexts and even confer powers to schools to frame their own regulations as needed. For instance, Ghodaghodi Municipality, Kailali envisions imparting education in Tharu language from Grade I to III and determining holidays as per local feasts and festivals while Dhangadhi Sub–metropolitan City envisages that schools can make their regulations on relevant issues for the management and operation of schools through parents’ gathering. Afterwards, head teacher should lead the school according to that policy. This provision is commendable in that local level policy makers understand that every school has its own context, so they may have their own ways of managing them according to their contexts and experiences. In some ways, this indicates that LGs realise the purpose of decentralisation process.
In making the policy, some of the LGs have conducted intensive discussions among the stakeholders. For example, Dhangadhi Sub-metropolitan City, Kailali has made broad discussions and consultations in course of framing the education policies with teachers, non-governmental organizations, local professional organizations, etc. The consultations enabled authorities to understand local needs and concerns to come up with relevant policy provisions. In fact, this is the basic premise of decentralisation that local stakeholders know more about their contexts, and making policies based on the local realities is likely to be more sustainable for the best interests of all.
Issues of concern
In the beginning, the framing of education policy created confusions and concerns in some cases. For instance, Kailari Rural Municipality, Kailali dissolved all the SMCs with the introduction of new policy dispatching letters to schools with that information. However, no significant efforts have taken place to implement this policy even after four months as the existing SMCs are still in operation. This may trigger power struggle between LGs and SMCs as it was observed in other parts of the country as well. To avoid this, it is necessary to have adequate consultations with the relevant stakeholders before coming up with a policy decision. At this point, LGs are experiencing and learning how to do things properly and systematically to avoid this kind of anomaly in the future.
Secondly, some of the LGs have no confidence to realize their constitutional rights of making educational policies. For instance, Tikapur Municipality and Bardagoria Rural Municipality of Kailali have not yet come up with new education policies. While inquired about this, the authorities of Bardagoria Rural Municipality pointed out that the policy they frame might contradict with the federal provisions creating hurdles. As a result, Bardagoria Rural Municipality has accepted the federal education policy as it is for now. This clearly shows incompetence on the part of LGs as well as centralized mindset still inherent in them.
Thirdly, LGs have very limited choices in making educational policy because they should abide by the spirit of federal education policies. This means LGs can hardly come up with radical policy provisions. Although there is hue and cry that LGs are conferred with unlimited powers and functions, they are bound by federal policies in one way or the other in reality. It is also found that the template for policies was available in the website of Education Ministry and was circulated to LGs, indicating the extent of centralised tendency in the bureaucracy.
In any way, the LGs have exercised the powers to frame policies on their own for the first time in history, and this experience is considered to be the cornerstone in consolidating and systematizing LG in the federal system of governance. In fact, consolidating decentralisation process in Nepal is likely to take next few decades, including in the education sector. And this is how it goes on in many parts of the world as decentralisation initiative is a process and way of doing things that requires changes even in our mindsets. Thus, the next few years will be for having policies and mechanisms in place for the smooth operation of decentralised education system. In this context, there are good reasons to be hopeful for future as the journey has already begun.