Government schools ; Victims of ministry’s short-sightedness

The incapability of the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) was illustrated perfectly with its extreme measure to shut down all government schools until June 11 (Under public pressure, however, the ministry requested the schools to re-open after several days of closure.) Regular classes should have begun in mid-April, which has not happened due to the unavailability of textbooks, which still continues. Janak Education Materials Centre (JEMC) was unable to print textbooks on time. JEMC’s excuse: it had to print ballot papers for CA polls, which in turn resulted in the delay. This is one example of how centralisation of educational sector is jeopardising the careers of students. Not only JEMC, the MoES and Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) are equally blameworthy for the current state of affairs.

What do the Minister and Secretary for Education do as members of the Board of Directors at JEMC? They are absent from most meetings. They do not even listen to other board members. On the one hand, the board members are trusted with crucial decisions regarding printing and distribution of textbooks but on the other, the same members do not hold themselves accountable when problems arise. In this context the major responsibility goes to the Secretary of Education. The irony is that the Secretary has remained mum in this regard, as if he is free of all blame. It is a great shame that MoES chose to shut down schools to cover its own incapability.

The Secretary should have tendered his resignation for his inability to carry out his administrative duties. As the secretaries of all ministries are political appointments, their inefficiencies and irresponsibility are covered up by the concerned parties. As a result Nepali bureaucracy has failed to serve the people. MoES has made many unethical decisions relating to teacher recruitment, scholarship distribution, changing education regulations and meddling in autonomous university activities. This is an example of intellectual bankruptcy in the MoES. Same thing happened regarding the printing of textbooks.

The minister prioritised ballot papers at the cost of the studies of eight million students. Can they compensate two months of valuable time the students lost? The irony is that the government made the decision to shut down the schools under them but not the private schools. At a time when the country should move towards equity in education, the government seems to be promoting commercialisation. In the past too, JEMC had been woefully unsuccessful in delivering the textbooks even when they were printed on time. This is a clear indicator that it is time to consider about alternate printing and distribution bodies. We can get cold drinks and ready-made noodles in the remotest parts of the country, but not the textbooks. In other words, the textbook distribution mechanism has serious flaws.

Now, the other side of the coin. Do the teachers need textbooks all the time to teach their students? Cannot they teach language, mathematics, social studies and science lessons on their own? The MoES spends millions of dollars in loan to train teachers but unfortunately ends up with instructors who seem handicapped without textbooks in their hands. Do they need textbooks even to teach grammar, factorisation, social values and Nepali politics? Absence of textbooks is certainly a hindrance, but imparting students with what knowledge they have gained over the years is invaluable as well. Instead of pushing students to streets, the teachers could make a serious contribution to avert such a trend. But this will not be possible unless they keep away from active politics during school hours.

Next time around, if the government was unsuccessful in printing paper notes, it would shut down all financial institutions. If it remains

incapable of importing goods, the

industries will be shut down. But the government bureaucrats will continue their business as usual. How long can Nepalis tolerate this kind of nonsense?

The government should institute reforms in educational administration for it to

function effectively within the federal set up. The roles of the central and federal

governments should be clearly defined.

The central government should have no right to intervene on the use of textbooks, choice of publishers and distribution, recruitment of teachers etc. Only national goals and the ways to achieve them should be outlined by the central government.

Matters like minimum national standard on physical facilities, teacher qualification, monitoring and supervision, student-teacher ratio, assessment and evaluation, financing of schools and other policy issues can be prepared at the centre but the federal states should have full autonomy to implement them. Moreover, the centre should ensure that set standards are maintained. Whether it is the central or the federal administration, closing down schools in absence of textbooks is no solution.

Dr Wagley is an educationist