Deficits In School Education
School education in Nepal is mired in twilight of confusion. In fact, school education is passing through a disruptive phase. No level of government owns it properly nor policy clarity exists to define roles and obligations for each level of government. Of course, federal constitution of Nepal entrusts local government the roles and function related with school education. But the central government appears reluctant to fully transfer the authority related with school education.
The authority in regard to recruiting, transferring and adjustment of the school teachers is retained by the central government which is currently exercised by the central agency at the district. Needless to say, the central government was required to disband the existing district education offices and transfer human resources and assets to the local government- Gaupalika and Nagarpalika. But it has firmly retained at the centre by reincarnating these offices as district education coordination units. Local governments suffer from capacity deficits to look after and govern school education effectively.
Thus, the school education is in a state of disarray at present as it is like an abandoned rudderless ship. At this juncture, the country’s educationists, policy planners and academia met, the other day, to discuss the issues related with school education and the challenges facing today. Since the school education has been devolved by the federal constitution as the responsibility of the local government, the discussion intended to devise the ways and means as to how the local government capacity could be strengthened and resources mobilised to meet the school governance needs. Though some discussants had put their focus on revenue mobilisation for financing school education, participants mostly talked about the need to make proper use and rationalisation of the available resources.
Education has been the major priority issue in Nepal for long which can be evidenced by larger budgetary allocations and cooperation from the development partners. Though ministers and policy makers have always harped on the need in making education competitive and development oriented, political meddling has given rise to several problems. Since teachers in Nepal are politically affiliated and organised into unions and associations at the call of political parties, the question of teacher accountability and commitment to their occupation has been very important.
Even in the countries where teachers are not politically aligned and recruited more or less on the basis of merit and competence, the issue of teacher accountability is often raised. In the developed countries like USA and Canada too teachers do oftentimes resist the measures introduced by the government to reform education seeking to make them accountable to the learning outcomes. Generally, the case of teacher strike in the US is cited in this context. The teachers had resorted to strike in Chicago city not very long back when the city’s Mayor introduced measures to make teachers’ performance outcome oriented and enhance learning outcomes at the school. If the learning curves of the students are better, the teacher will be given incentives. If the performance is poor, he or she will be held accountable. What had prompted the Chicago Mayor to push the reform provoking the wrath of teacher union, according to the news published in the media, was the dismal and poor learning outcomes of children in the city schools.
The state of affairs pointed out above in the US city of Chicago resembles to the problem we are facing in Nepal. The teachers in Chicago city are among the best paid in the US but the performance is said to be poor compared to the standards and quality in other cities. In Nepal, the public institutions are in a shambles. The best schools are counted from among those managed by the private hands whereas the old public schools endowed with historic legacy like Padmodaya, Bhanu Madhyamik Vidyalaya, previously known as Durbar High school founded during the time of Chandra Shumshere have sunk into oblivion.
Though the school education up to lower secondary level is almost free, and the students passing out from the public schools are given preferential treatment and incentives in their pursuit of higher education especially in medicines and engineering, the dwindling attraction and interest of guardians to send their children to public schools underscores the need for dispassionate introspection into the situation. By all standards, the salary structure and perks given to the teachers in the public schools is higher when compared with the private schools. The demands articulated by the teachers working for the private schools from time to time to raise their salary and perks at par with the public aided schoolteachers is itself an indication of not so poor salary structure fixed for them.
Teachers in public schools are treated more or less at par with the civil servants. When there has been raise in the salary of the civil servants, a corresponding increase of the perks of the teachers is also announced simultaneously. During this fiscal year, teacher’s salary has increased significantly. But this does not ensure that teachers’ accountability to their job will be enhanced.
It is high time efforts are made to make teachers accountable to their job to improve learning outcomes of students. The constitutional provision to devolve the function of education to local government constitutes a big leap forward for decentralised delivery of the education services and make teachers accountable. But the problem lies in the partisan orientation of local government and absence of their capacity to steer and govern schools.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)