Locally Contextual Education
In the latest round of incidents further exposing the centralised mindset of bureaucratic officials, an agreement has been reached between the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology and Nepal Teachers Association (NTA) to appoint, transfer and place teachers by establishing a separate cell of the ministry at the district. The ministry has consented on increasing the facilities of teachers more than that of the civil servants of equivalent rank. But the component of teacher accountability is visibly missing.
Prescribing a framework for the national curriculum, the statement of agreement clearly requires the state and the local government to abide by the central guidelines. Going beyond the spirit of the constitution, the accord has cast doubt over the successful implementation of federalism. Instead of strengthening the capacities of the local government and increasing teachers’ accountability, this move has entrenched the power of the central ministry against the spirit of devolution.
Although the constitution mandates the local government to manage primary and secondary education, the recent decision to heed the demand of politically motivated teachers has raised a severe question mark over the intention of the central agencies. Furthermore, the intention to revive the scrapped District Education Office has become evident.
In a recently submitted report to the government, a high level national education commission has recommended various measures for strengthening the public education system which the negotiation has discarded. Among various measures, the commission proposed a robust local governance mechanism that can play a vital role in the enhancement of school education. Suggesting for dissolving the current School Management Committee in the early phase of report preparation, the commission laid an emphasis on empowering the school principal rather than SMCs. However, the disgruntled teachers have got victory in revoking SMC leadership structure as it existed in the past.
Amid fear of losing the local stronghold in education matters, a section of the teachers is reluctant to work under the authority of the local government. Stifling the current public education system, they have even discouraged a handful of high performing teachers. These teachers have undermined the dignity of the locally elected representatives and regarded them as incompetent.
The situation, however, is not only in education but also in other important sectors like security administration. Needless to mention, there in ongoing tussle between the state and the centre related to placing Nepal Police under their respective jurisdiction. A recently held Kantipur Conclave became a forum for the existing Chief Ministers to express their grievances regarding the unwarranted intervention of the central government in several matters under state administration. Accusing the federal government of creating various obstacles in the form of overriding circulars and laws, the provincial heads vented ire against the national government leading to the inability to implement the vision for the state’s growth and prosperity.
Hence, the federal dilemma persists in education. With overlapping clauses enshrined in the constitution related to the power of federal, local and state government, the issue of devolving power has become challenging. For instance, schedule 5 of the constitution authorises the central government to take care of central universities and library among others. In the same way, the state is also given the right to manage university and library within its geography. Thus, it has become a complex matter as to whose authority will ultimately prevail. Again if we see the common powers of central, state and local level in schedule 9, education, sports and newspapers have been listed as one thematic area.
While the country is in need of a context specific education that calls for a vibrant local government, the present efforts are directed towards thwarting the activities of the same for establishing central control. A visionary rural municipality or the urban municipality can drive the society towards a progressive path by conceptualising a context specific education system suited for the local needs.
Promotion of education in federal Nepal ought to encourage a locally grounded curriculum that helps to meet the needs of the local population. Meanwhile, imparting education in mother tongue up to a certain level of school education would prove useful for the all-round development of students. In addition, involving students in vocational training and education after high school would be crucial in mitigating the burning problem of unemployment in Nepal.
A strong monitoring and feedback mechanism should be instituted at the local level to evaluate the performance of teachers. Punishing the irresponsible ones and rewarding the committed ones will boost the confidence of such teachers and help in transforming public education. As it is better late than never, revisiting agreement like this to embrace the spirit of federalism has become urgent. Any attempt to shrink the power of the two important tiers of the governance, local and state, won’t be in the larger interest of the nation.