Big reforms ahead in Nepal education

KATHMANDU: Schools, both private and government, inside Kathmandu have welcomed the amendments made in the recently passed Education Act Eight Amendment Bill. They have stated that the Bill is very positive in terms of its intention to promote education at the regional level.

The Parliament had endorsed the Education Act Eighth Amendment Bill, tabled by Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel including a report from the Women, Children, Senior Citizens and Social Welfare Committee, unanimously on June 4.

The Bill is currently awaiting enactment from the President which will actually effect the changes proposed.

“If the changes are implemented in reality, Nepal will also be stepping up to the international standards and it will help create uniformity with the world systems,” stated Manager of Koteshwor-based Cosmic International Academy, LaxmanGhimire.

Change in examination system and side effects

As per the new development, the national level school termination examinations (currently known as the "School Leaving Certificate examinations"), which is being conducted by the SLC Board under the Office of the Controller of Examinations till now, will be held at the end of Grade XII from next academic session, instead of Grade X.

For many, however, the change in examination system is not a major concern. The change in examination would not affect the quality of education for the students as all systems, though varied, aim to impart knowledge to students, they argued.

However, this change in the Bill has raised many concerns over the amount of efforts students would put in their study. “Though the change in the system only means that the process of examinations would change, students have misunderstood the concept. The students seem to be in the mindset that they do not need to work as hard as they did in their SLC examinations in the past. Hence, they are likely to go lazy,” Ghimire opined.

“SLC is a foundation stone for students in Nepal. The national level examination provides a sense of competition among all the students. But now, the SLC examination will be as same as the district level examination (Grade 8), decreasing its importance and students’ efforts. With the less effort from the students’ side, it can be said the quality of education might also decline,” Balkumari-based Capital College and Research Centre Principal Hari Chandra Lamichhane said.

Ghimire also argued that this system would be economically beneficial to the students if they continue their education in the same school. It would also provide them a familiar environment to study in, he added.

On the other hand, Principal of the Liverpool International School, Shesh Mani Poudel, said the change might bar students from the experiences of making new friends and enjoying the college life that students now and before this have enjoyed. Also, if the system is regionalized, supported with respective infrastructure, the flow of students coming to Kathmandu from moffusils would also decrease.

Structural reforms

Currently, there are four levels in school education, categorized as primary level (Grade I to V), lower secondary level (Grade VI to VIII), secondary level (Grade IX to X) and higher secondary level (grade XI to XII).

As per the latest records made public by the Education Ministry, there are 34,335 schools that have grade 1-5. Likewise, 14,924 schools are lower secondary; 8,814 secondary and 3,659 higher secondary. The record further shows that 34,506 schools provide primary level education whereas 9,109 schools provide secondary level education.

According to the Bill passed on June 4, school education will now be categorized into two levels: basic education (Grade I to VIII) and secondary education (Grade IX to XII). Spokesperson of the Education Ministry Dr Hari Lamsal said that the schools can run classes from grade 1 to 12 if they meet the criteria for physical infrastructure. But if not, they can even run classes from 1 to 10 or the combination of 1-8 and 9-12. Schools would be free to continue the classes they have been running now, according to Lamsal.

Students of technical and vocational stream will now have to undergo a mandatory practical course for an extra year (12+1). This aims to make the students academically sound and competent enough to join the job market as soon as they complete their study. The government has allowed technical and vocational education at 139 schools at present.

The first batch of students from technical and vocational stream recently appeared in Grade XI board examinations conducted by the Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB).

The Bill also seeks to transform the HSEB, which has been regulating higher secondary schools across the country at present, into the National Education Board (NEB). The Board will also conduct the national-level school termination examinations, including those at the end of grades VIII, X and XII, from the next academic session.

“The responsibilities and priorities of the NEB board will be decided later. It is very early to say how the NEB will execute its plans. But for the time being, the Board will work in a way so that it would not hamper the smooth and regular operation of the examinations and their respective result,” informed Spokesperson Lamsal.

The NEB will comprise 13 members from the HSEB board including representatives from the National Planning Commission, the University Grants Commission, vice-chancellors from various universities, secretaries from ministries, educationists, teachers’ union representatives, guardians and others. It will also advise the government on education-related issues and policies.

The Board will be led by a person appointed by the government on the nomination of the recommendation committee. The chair must hold a master's degree from a reputed university and have at least 12 years of experience in the education sector.

The recommendation committee will be headed by chairperson of the Public Service Commission including at least a woman educationist and two persons nominated by the Education Ministry. The new law also envisions formation of an Educational Quality Testing Centre to test the quality of education. District Education Council will also be formed at district level to draft plans and policies for development of the education sector.

Another significant provision is that the Bill bars cooperatives from running schools. The schools would have be a member of guthi to open the schools from next year.

Also on June 2, the Open University Bill-2015 was also endorsed by the Parliament paving the way for establishment of open universities in the country. This is expected to end the current practice of making political appointments.

The Bill was proposed with a vision for an institutional solution to closing the existing knowledge and education gaps and in providing internationally-accredited degrees in Nepal.

Ripple effects

To reflect the transformation of HSEB into the NEB, organizations representing private schools – Higher Secondary Schools' Association Nepal (HISSAN), Private and Boarding Schools' Organization Nepal (PABSON) and National Private and Boarding Schools' Organization Nepal (NPABSON) – are thinking of the merger among them.

NPABSON president Karna Bahadur Shahi stated that the merger would make the organization stronger. Shahi expressed that, with the new reforms, existing different organizations must respect the other and work in coordination with a new name.

“The transformation process of the HSEB as per the new law would not hamper the education of the students.”On this, Lamichhane also said that the "0 +2 colleges" (schools running only Grades XI and XII) would hold a meeting and soon come to a conclusion on how the colleges would accept and adapt the changes from the next academic session.

Points of discontent

One of the major dissatisfactions that he pointed out is that establishment of new schools have not been allowed as per the Bill. This is not a good aspect of the Bill as a larger portion of the investment in the education sector is made by the private sector and if new schools would not be opened with private investment, the development of the sector would be affected in a significant manner, Lamichhane commented.

He stated that though the decisions are well-intended, they were made unilaterally without much homework and discussion with the stakeholders. It would have been more dynamic if the government had discussed the issues with stakeholders, he said, adding the organization would launch a drive to voice their dissatisfaction over the Bill.

In response to Lamichhane’s concerns, Spokesperson Lamsal denied that Bill was prepared without discussions, but agreed that the Bill could have been made better if more discussions were held. He added that after the Rules would be finalized, amendments could be made to address their demands if needed.

HISSAN Chairperson Ramesh Silwal said the government should not have copied the failed system of Indian education system. He commented that the Bill was silent regarding reforms of the Council for Technical Education and Vocational Training. Silwal added that the Bill hence promoted dual systems in Nepali education and it was not good.

To this, Lamsal said he was not aware of the Indian system, adding that system’s failure in some circumstances would not necessarily mean that it would not work in other contexts as well.

Educationist Prof Dr Bidya Nath Koirala has also expressed that the system has not changed much. It has just shifted from one dimension to the other, he commented.

Prof Koirala, however, expressed that "there is a hope that the National Education Board works independently and develops international standard tests like TOEFL. This will create a check and balance system."

Issue of temporary teachers

Meanwhile, the Bill, in line with the School Sector Reform Plan, has provided a solution to the decade-long problem of temporary teachers. They will now be allowed to fight for permanent posts or accept retirement with a golden handshake scheme.

Though laws provide that schools in operation for at least three years can gain the permanent status, many of such schools are yet to receive the status. “In this situation, it cannot be guaranteed that the temporary teachers would be made permanent. However, the Bill has stated that the temporary teachers would be allowed to sit in an examination to qualify to be permanent teachers,” Lamichhane shared.

Private schools, however, have said that the provision is not practical at the moment. There is a chance that teachers would choose service over permanent status as they might risk their job if they appear for the exam.

Budgetary context

In the budget presented by Finance Minister Bishnu Prasad Paudel at the Parliament on May 28, only 118.2 billion (11.2 per cent of the total budget) was allocated to the education sector.

Many institutions, including the Education Ministry, have expressed their dissatisfaction over the lack of budget in the fiscal year 2016/17.

But private schools have, more or less, voiced that the budget allocation alone cannot bring changes in the education sector. “Large numbers mean nothing when the budget is not mobilized properly,” said manager of the Cosmic International School, Laxman Ghimire.

Some have also opined that not even a rupee from the budget allocated by the government is invested in the private sector, so the budget does not directly affect them. NPABSON president Karna Bahadur Shahi informed that more than 90% of investment in education comes from the private sector.

And, with the new reforms not allowing the new schools to open, the investment made in this sector would definitely be hampered.

According to the HISSAN Chairperson Ramesh Silwal, in comparison to the previous years, the percentage of education budget has decreased, but the volume of the budget has definitely increased. However, if we consider the amount allocated for the salary of the teachers, the actual investment in the education sector has decreased, he maintained.

Silwal added that they wished for around 20 per cent of the budget to be allocated to the education sector, but were disappointed with the allocation. Also the sole fact that education has been kept at number 6 in government’s priority list is also dissatisfactory, he added.

In the increased budget volume, increased portion of the budget has been allocated for the salary of the teachers. Principal of Kanti Ishwori Rajya Laxmi Secondary School, Ram Sharan Khanal, assumed that the budget would be seen to be effective in salary distribution only.

Being a quake-hit school, the school awaits the government’s support to reconstruct its damaged building, Principal Khanal said. The government has put reconstruction in its top priority, but only the time will tell how much of the budget would be mobilized, he added.

No significant change in fees

The government has also revised the free education policy in the Amendment Bill. But, it is applicable to public schools only. A student can receive free education till secondary level. However, in the private schools, students will have to pay the amount defined by the school according to their policy.

Private schools at present have been divided into four basic categories; A, B, C and D. According to their respective category, the schools determine certain fees on the basis of their infrastructure and the extra-curricular activities they provide in the school premises. However, the fees should be limited within the given range.

The same process will be applicable even after the changes are made. There will not be much change in the fee structure in the private schools/colleges. “It may change with natural causes, but it will not change much,” shared CCRC Principal Hari Chandra Lamichhane.