Education policies: Why they fail in Nepal?

Lack of communication, no consultations and discussions with the concerned stakeholders, top-down approach and failure to understand the ground reality are some of the reasons education policies have invariably failed in Nepal

Nepal’s history of formulating education policy is of about 60 years, and the Education Act of 1971 with its ninth amendment is in force now. Over the years, the implementation of the policy has garnered mixed results. In some cases, the policy has failed partially while in other cases it has failed to a greater extent. The reasons for the failure are negligence of citizen’s voices, poor communication, lack of consultations and negotiations, and top-down approach of the policy-making process, among others.

Now, Nepal has a historic opportunity to correct the past mistakes in terms of policy formulation and implementation as the country is transitioning into the federal system of governance.

In the context of Nepal, people’s views, opinions and concerns are hardly taken into consideration while making policies, including in the education sector. In most cases, the policy-making process is driven by political agenda. In other words, it is those in power who lead policy-making process as such.

The first education commission report of Nepal (1956) overwhelmingly lays emphasis on the importance of teaching in mother tongue as per the citizen’s views. It took two years to prepare as it recorded people’s views as much as possible. However, the subsequent Education Act of 1962 does not respect the voices of people as it envisages teaching in Nepali language as a means of instruction. This clearly means the policy-making process becomes a political one, disregarding expert views, suggestions and recommendations, and it hardly takes account of the ground reality, leading to the lack of implementation.

In the past, the policies have also failed because of the lack of proper communication about the provisions up to the grassroots level. Although there are changes or amendments in policies time and again at the centre, the changes are hardly communicated at the bottom or to those who are directly related with the provisions. To give an example, the policy of preparing School Improvement Plan (SIP) was envisioned about 19 years ago and it is currently in operation, but our school stakeholders–headteachers, teachers, school management committee (SMC) and PTA chairs and members– are unaware of the process and lack such capacities in majority of the cases and they have no idea about how to go about it. So much so that resource persons fail to do the job in some cases.

Therefore, there is almost no policy communication from top to bottom, which has resulted in the poor implementation of policies.

In framing policies, there are hardly any consultations and negotiations with the stakeholders.

For instance, in the case of handing over schools to the community around 2003-04, the policymakers failed to consider the actual situation of parents and communities whether they would be able to take responsibilities of operating schools on their own. Instead, the policy was introduced by any means, not consulting and giving any choice for the parents/communities. As a result, the policy provision remained unsuccessful to a large part. The reason is simple. Parents/communities are not in a situation to own schools on their own for various reasons. In this case, the most important stakeholders – teachers – were not taken into confidence.

Teachers perceived that they would have to be under the control of SMC which is often led by someone who is less educated than them.

As a result, this created tensions among local stakeholders, making the policy a failure by now.

In the history of Nepal, the policy-making process has been a top-down approach, which assumes that Nepal has a homogeneous context all across the country. This is not true. Policy envisioned in one context may not be feasible/relevant in another context. Therefore, taking account of the local context in framing policy is crucial. This is more so in the context of Nepal that there is a great variation across the country in terms of geography, culture, language and so on. The best example for this is that there are two academic sessions: one in the mountain region and other in the hills and Tarai due to differing climatic and geographic conditions. In this context, framing a uniform policy cannot be a solution. That’s why this sort of policy-making process has become a failure in our context.

As Nepal is transitioning into federalism, it is in a historic position to correct the past wrongs. The new constitution has given rights to the local government (LG) to frame policies–including the education sector– on their own. Thus, it is imperative that LGs consult and negotiate appropriately with local stakeholders and take account of local contexts, priorities and needs while formulating policies. In addition, it is assumed that LGs will be able to communicate policies to the concerned stakeholders and will take people’s views seriously as and when needed. This historic opportunity of framing policies at the local level can be successful only if the LGs adopt democratic and transparent means of making and implementing policies.

Additionally, LGs should exhibit an adequate level of leadership quality and take into the confidence of the concerned stakeholders. To enable LGs to do this, there should be adequate technical support from the federal government, especially in terms of supplying competent human resources.

Budhathoki is education coordinator at Mercy Corps Nepal