In Federal Context Proposed Panel Should Set Direction: Mukti Rijal

The government has announced a high level education commission will be constituted to suggest policy initiatives to redirect and revamp the education policy at all levels. The announcement has come at a time when the education sector is in a state of virtual stagnation and mired in deep crisis.  In fact, education has become directionless, without being guided and supported by appropriate goals and strategies that are needed to achieve the national objectives of social empowerment and development. When the education sector is allowed to become rudderless and be indifferent to the national needs and context, the investment and resources put into it fail to yield the desired results.
Changing contextThe goals and strategies once formulated need to be amended and adapted to suit the changing context and development. It is against this backdrop that the announcement to constitute the new high level education commission in the policy and programmes of the government last fortnight can be construed.

It will be the seventh commission constituted since 1955 in Nepal. And the most important commission that had recommended some far reaching changes in the education sector was formed in 1971, when the New Education Plan was introduced in the country. The New Education Plan not only nationalised the education system but also standardised its quality through the introduction of uniform curricula and text books.  Moreover, it had taken major initiatives to make the teaching profession dignified with determination of the remuneration according to the teachers’ qualification and training. Moreover, some initiatives were undertaken to promote vocational and technical education right from the lower secondary level.  This was a good beginning to make the education sector more productive and job- oriented in the market. But it was later de-emphasised or discontinued as the votaries of the humanities and liberal arts who manned the Ministry of Education prevailed over it.  With the intention of reforming and strengthening the education sector, high level commissions were formed in 1985 and in 1992, but the recommendations of these commissions were shelved in most instances and not implemented earnestly.  Since then, much has changed in the education sector, too. The school sector has been liberalised, and there has been a proliferation of private schools in the country. The education scenario has been dominated by the private schools as the performance of the public schools has been poor, especially in terms of learning outcomes. Though the government has poured more resources in improving the physical infrastructure and capacity development of the teachers employed in the public schools, the teaching learning situation has failed to make any progress.   It is indeed remarkable that the education sector has received the largest share of the national budget during the last few years. And the European donors in particular put their money and extended technical assistance to reform the public education system in Nepal, but nothing substantive changed as many public schools lost students out to the private schools, among others. Many public schools in the Katmandu Valley reportedly received no student enrolment during the last academic session, as a result they had to be merged with the neighbouring ones.  Prominent public universities like Tribhuvan University and Sanskrit University have confronted challenges in retaining students as the percentage of admission this year has dropped significantly, according to news reports. However, Kathmandu University has gained a big share of students this year, indicating that a proper academic environment and quality of faculty matter for retaining and attracting new students.  This year the budget for the education sector has also been slashed sizably. It may be due to the fact that additional resources had to be allocated for rebuilding and reconstruction of the assets destroyed by the April 12 earthquake. However, the gross resentment over the results commensurate with the investment made in the education sector by the government, people and development partners may also be a reason why the resources put in it has been rationalised and streamlined.  In addition to it, a new context is being introduced in the country with the enactment of the new federal constitution. In the federal set up, the powers, competencies and mandates of the different layers of the government are allocated constitutionally, and each tier of the government is independent to exercise the authority and execute the functions embodied in the constitution.  The federal government can neither dictate nor interfere with the competencies and mandates of the provincial government as each layer of the government is exclusively independent in the matters and subjects defined by the constitution.  According to the draft of the constitution circulated for public reasoning and scrutiny these days, the subject of education is divided among the three tiers of the government. The list of the competencies shows that university education is divided primarily between the federal and provincial governments.  The federal government will look after the major policy issues, including the central universities, whereas the provincial government will also handle higher education, including provincial level universities. It must be decided whether the existing Tribhuvan University, Sanskrit University and others will be designated as central universities or handed over to the provincial government.  New directionIn India, some major universities were handed over to the provinces while institutes and universities of strategic importance were retained by the central government. For example, Benaras Hindu University, Vishwabharati University, Aligarh Muslim University, Jawaharlal Nehru University  et al are categorised as central universities,  whereas reputed universities of the colonial era like Kolkata University, Allahabad University and Madras University have been categorised as provincial universities  funded by the exchequer of the respective provincial  governments.  It is hoped that the commission to be formed by the government will not only give a new direction to the education sector but also thrash out the issues relating to allocation of competencies among the different tiers of the government within the federal framework.

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