MANA PRASAD WAGLE
Recently the Indian Supreme Court issued an order to the government of India to ensure the Right To Education (RTE) of all children aged 6-14. The verdict wants the government to arrange free and compulsory education for these children throughout India. Considering RTE as constitutionally valid the Supreme Court issued some ground rules for RTE. One, each school must strive towards honoring the right of children to education. Two, all schools must work towards equity in education. Three, all aided schools whether public or private must follow the rule of free and compulsory education. Four, even the non-aided
private schools must allocate 25 percent seats for the economically backward people. This verdict is supposed to make a landmark jump on quality education in India, of course, with the equity in access. In the past the constitution always claimed equity but the practice never followed suit. Now it has become mandatory for the government and all the schools to follow suit since the apex court issued the order.
In Nepal, we have also been talking about free and compulsory primary education on one side, and also talking about ‘basic education for all’ on the other. Moreover, the interim constitution of Nepal, in principle, ensures the right to education of all children aged 5-17, i.e. up to secondary level of school education. However, in practice we get none. Last year the government attempted to experiment with free and compulsory primary education in some selected districts, but the result is negative. In fact, our MOE tries to experiment with every possible means but never comes to an end; the reason being the lack of preparation and homework.
Sometimes the Finance Minister announces compulsory education for grades 1 to 5 and free education for grades 1 to 8. The political party leaders claim our school education is free. The MOE has not been able to control the raising of fee from the poor children at
local school level. None
of them seem to have
followed the spirit of the constitution. The lesson here we have to learn from the verdict of the Indian Supreme Court is that the activists of child right should now go to the Apex Court of Nepal and plead for the same. Nepal is also one of the signatories of Child Right Act, and they should not forget this.
Protecting the rights of children is, in fact, protecting the future of the nation. Until now the political parties of Nepal do not seem to have this common sense at all. They know how to create illusion in Nepali public to ensure their seats in the parliament for as many years as possible. Moreover, they know how to ensure the earning route for their cadres. But, they have never demonstrated their behavior towards ensuring the rights of the children of this country. This indicates their intellectual bankruptcy towards development.
We have been spending a large share of public paid tax in education each year, the outcome being distressing. Most of our education budget goes for ensuring teachers’ salary and benefits at the cost of educational quality of our children. The government has failed to provide equity access nor has it been able to ensure quality in education. This has deteriorated the total education system of our country. The first step towards mending this mess is to ensure RTE of each children residing in Nepal. Equitable access is very important to bring all children into the mainstream school education. Those who will not yet be able to join school for various reasons even after the provision must also be provided with the alternative opportunities through non-formal education. We still lack around 5 percent of school age children at our schools, the reason being the lack of focus of the government towards free and compulsory education. Neither the MOE has been able to manage free education nor has it yet made the regulations for compulsory education. At this stage the only means to persuade them to work could be the verdict of the Supreme Court. Thus, education and child right activists must strive towards this as soon as possible.
We always talk much and do less. That is the main reason why we suffer. This applies in every sector of development of Nepal including education. Otherwise, we would already have achieved a quantum-jump in educational development after heavy investment in the past two decades.
The most important thing is the priority set up in certain development approaches that has a long lasting impact for the nation. Education is one of them. Unless RTE is seriously undertaken each and every development activity of the nation will remain crippled. At this point, can Nepal learn something from the verdict in India?
We are in the process of building new Nepal with a new constitution. On this verge of making new Nepal let us prioritize RTE of children in the real sense so that we would be able to fulfill a dream of prosperous Nepal in the near future. Let this fact be realized by our lawmakers as well as practitioners in such a way that they move this action in a meaningful way.
Dr. Wagley is an educationist