Though shift of responsibility to the local levels is expected to improve education system, real reformation is still questionable
The Constitution of Nepal in Article 31 has guaranteed right to education as fundamental rights of every citizens which include right to access to education, right to compulsory and free basic education, and free education up to the secondary level. Under the Constitution of Nepal and the federal structure of governance the responsibility to operate and manage basic and secondary education now falls on local government. This paradigm shift in governance can work in favour of public schools which will be run under the scrutiny of locally elected representatives minimising the probability of neglect that has haunted the public education system in Nepal so far.
Though the shift of responsibility of regulating school education system to the local level government has spurred the expectations of many, the new government with newer responsibilities is likely to face challenges in getting immediate positive results. Mayor of Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC), Bidhya Sundar Shakya says, “The responsibility of operations up to the secondary level has now been given to the local levels but it is a new working area for us. It is not an easy feat for us start smooth operations immediately. We still have little idea to work with in curriculum designing, managing physical infrastructure, managing teaching and non-teaching staff. We also have to look at managing financial resources allocated to us.” He believes that expectation of sudden reformation in the public education system must have a practical underlining to it. Even the federal governance system is still in its transitional phase with unclear shift of rights and responsibilities so it is too early foresee its success or failure. He states, “Once the Parliamentary and Provincial elections are complete and respective laws and regulations are in place with clear division of working areas, each level will perform respective duties accordingly. I assume the education sector will be managed gradually then after.” Shakya believes that the public education system can be on par with private school education system only by implementing competitive curriculum. He further states that KMC has appointed Metropolis Education Officer for KMC who will be responsible for the education sector within the KMC according to new federal system as opposed to the earlier version wherein District Education Officer had to look after schools on a district level.
According to Ministry of Education Spokesperson, Hari Prasad Lamsal, Ministry of Federal Affairs and Local Development has introduced Local Level Governance Act 2074 under which the local representatives can make rules and regulations under the criteria set within the act. This ensures that the local levels can also make relevant educational plans and policies by themselves. He states, “The federal level law is already made and provincial and local level laws are to be made. Once all these laws are in place a well-managed structure will definitely be created.”
State of public school
The public education system is in a sorry state with only a limited number of public schools performing well at the national level. Lack of dutiful teachers, absenteeism of teachers and students, poor teaching practices, delayed or non-availability of textbooks, poor and insufficient infrastructure, lack of basic requirements like pure drinking water and hygienic school environment; high drop-out rates, political interference, lack of modern teaching-learning practice et cetera are a few things that burden the public education system in Nepal. The results of annual examinations go on to show that the quality of education provided in public schools is dismal as compared to that in private schools. The gap becomes wider when compared to schools in rural and urban areas. The statistics of Ministry of Education 2016 shows that there are 144,212 community schools and 34,065 private schools in Nepal with a total enrolment of 7,446,098 students. Among the total enrolment, community schools consists of 82 per cent students and rest 18 per cent are in private schools. This ratio stamps the fact that the future of more than 80 per cent students is bleak in regards to receiving quality education in the country.
School management responsibility
Stakeholders assert that lack of ownership in public schools is and has been the major reason of the poor state of public education system in Nepal. Krishna Thapa, Chairperson of Community School Management Committee Federation of Nepal — an umbrella organisation of community school management committee representing 43 districts, says, “Involvement of the community in management of schools is a must for the improvement of public schools and this is where the School Management Committee (SMC) should be allowed to step in. The right to manage schools should be given to SMC by giving SMCs an active, neutral and responsible role.” He worries, However, if the local governments still control schools like the central government before them, then reformation of public education system is a far cry.” Stressing that there are successful examples of SMCs contributing to the success of public education system in countries like India, China and Bangladesh, he assures that if SMCs are given the rights then Nepali public education system too could be improved. The federal system has, however, introduced monitoring bodies at the local level making it easier for public schools to access required help for the betterment of the schools in local communities.
With decentralisation of political power to the local levels, stakeholders assume that public education system which is often criticised for below par quality will improve. It is because the government now has representatives closer to the educational institutions opening avenues for positive changes. This has also ensured that the local level representatives themselves are accountable to the success and failure of schools `leaving little room to pass the blame to higher authorities sitting in Kathmandu.
Education Expert Prof Dr Bidhya Nath Koirala asserts, “We visited different schools, local level municipalities and village councils (Gaunpalika) in different districts including Kalikot, Sindhuli, Kapilbastu, Nawalparasi, Rolpa, Bajura and Achham to check if the local level representatives along with SMCs are working towards managing and improving education system in their respective areas.” Prof Koirala held interactive sessions with the school authorities and the local representatives to find out whether the new system is
producing expected results or not. He says, “From my experience I understand that good results can be expected from this new set up of local level governance system.”
As it will take many years to reform and overhaul public education system and for competitive education system to take root, Prof Koirala suggests that mass media should help in disseminating messages for the need of improvement in the public education system. With positive examples of better public education system different local level representatives and stakeholders of public schools can learn to improve the system from within.
Pramila Sharma Kafle, Principal of Tarun Secondary School, Balaju believes that with federalism local level governments will have lesser number of schools to survey. This will inadvertently lead to closer scrutiny of schools and bigger accountability resulting in good outcomes. Lamsal also anticipates, “Because accountability has now shifted to local levels and with the distance shortened between the government and educational institutions, public education will definitely improve in the future.”
Being the major determinant of development, education system governed by local levels now needs to look into skill-based education that will fulfil the need of local market further.
Though elections do have its own importance it has long been affecting educational institutions as most of the voting centres are set in public schools. According to Thapa, about 90 per cent of the total voting centres are in community schools. Schools and colleges are shut down for several days prior to elections for polls. He states, “Up to 5-day closure is acceptable as the Election Commission do not have much option in regards to holding elections elsewhere. But in the previous local level election, Jorpati based Chamunda Secondary School was forced to close for 16 days.” Kedar Bhakta Mathema, Former Vice Chancellor of Tribhuvan University stresses, “Though election itself is important for every democracy I don’t think that holding elections hampers education in any other country like the way it does here.”