Education In New Order
The high profile commission formed by the government comprising educationists, planners and policy experts a few months ago to suggest initiatives and practical measures in redesigning education policy at all levels suited to the federal context in the country is due to present its report to the government. As reported, the commission members are intensely engaged in deliberation to churn out the concrete recommendations in toning up public education consistent to the egalitarian objective of the federal constitution enacted almost three years ago.
Moreover, issues related with education development in the country have to be ascertained and the ways and means need to be identified as to how they could be addressed and mitigated. As the constitution envisions building socialism oriented society, this demands an enhanced role of the state to shoulder responsibilities for ensuring availability, accessibility and affordability of education in the country.
Take the cases of the welfare states in Europe especially the Nordic countries labelled as democratic socialist nations, education has been used and evolved as the means for minimising class divides and disparities. This is only possible when the state guarantees the right to education as its core function, leaving very less role for the private sector. It is expected that the commission suggests in no uncertain terms requiring that the government take over the private schools and institutes devising suitable modality in ensuring management efficiency and egalitarian thrust of the education in the country.
The federal constitution has entrusted competencies related to school education to the local level governments- rural municipalities (Gaupalika) and municipalities (Nagarpalikas) exclusively as stipulated in the Schedule 8. At the same time, the 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. Similarly, 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, the 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 levels.
It will be construed 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 governance. The notion of cooperative governance can bear fruit only when we establish truly collaborative relationship between the federal, provincial and local governments .In fact, when the three levels of the government work in tandem, the quality of education can be enhanced in the country. Needless to say, 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. This is also due to reason that the performance of the government aided community schools has been poor especially in terms of producing desired 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.
The development partners and donors have put their money and extended technical assistance to reform the public education system in Nepal. However, the support of the development partners has not been able to bring about substantive change as 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 succeeding academic sessions as a result of which they had to be merged into the neighbouring schools. 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. 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 with 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 education. The commission should not lose opportunity to ensure that the public ownership of schools was established to make education as basis for building an egalitarian order in the society.