Quality in education - Need for innovation and inclusion

The National Planning Commission (NPC) has announced that it is not going to design the ritualistic five-year plan this time, rather it would focus on a three-year rolling plan in all sub-sectors. The reasons might be many, such as that the past five-year plans were limited to plans and never implemented; the plans were too ambitious to become successful; and/or the political transition is so critical that the NPC members do not see their tenure for more than three years.

Whatever the reasons, the NPC has to come up with a certain plan for the country before the 10th Plan ends in July 2007. That’s why it has sent directions to the ministries that the plan be made and sent to the NPC. The intention this year looks a bit different than that of the past ones in the sense that the instruction of the NPC focuses more on social harmonisation, integration and rehabilitation. Moreover, the NPC has told the ministries that they should not be afraid of the shortage of funds if the proposals are innovative.

In this context, the Ministry of Education and Sports (MoES) must be making some effort to come up with innovative proposals for the country’s educational development. It had done the same in the past but the plans were never implemented, sometimes because of the MoES authorities’ incapability and sometimes due to its overambitious plans. It’s hard to believe that funding wasn’t a problem for the education sector in the past 15 years. But it is true.

The funding allocated for education, especially for primary education, was never spent fully. The two big projects on basic and primary education (BPEP) were unsuccessful in raising the quality of education simply because the MoES could not come up with a mechanism to spend the money. In BPEP II alone, about $30 million out of the 106 million was not spent. The government never asked for the remaining funds of the donor agencies within the project period. Isn’t it an irony that education sub-sectors are cash-starved?

Now the NPC says there will be no financial crunch for innovative projects. What if the same incapability of government mechanism comes to the fore again? It’s not a matter of funds, but that of professional and bureaucratic strength of the authorities on the driver’s seat. Has the NPC ever attempted to assess such strength of the authorities? Has it been accountable for the results of the planned activities it has endorsed? The same episode will be repeated if the NPC thinks that its accountability is limited only to the development of plans and not beyond. Its other mistake is that it asks the ministries to design the plan for rehabilitation, reintegration and social harmonisation but never thinks that the beneficiaries should also be involved in making such plans. The answer of why past plans failed despite huge investments by the government and development partners is that the plans never addressed the beneficiaries’ needs, neither did they reflect their ideas. Making national plans in Singhadurbar and educational plans in Keshar Mahal are the major reasons for the backwardness of the country and chaos in the education sector.

So the MoES should think very seriously that the plan made this time is implementable and beneficial to the population living below the poverty line. There are about 1.6 million children who have no idea what the school is about; about 1.5 million dropped out and never attended school; and about a million cannot become regular in schools. Would the new plan be able to address this population? Can the MoES come up with alternative strategies to educate this mass within three years? These are crucial questions before they sit and collect past plans, cut and paste here and there and submit a new plan to the NPC.

This hints at how inclusive Nepal’s education is. The majority of the children who are out of school come from the families that are disadvantaged and living under extreme poverty. Can the new plan incorporate these groups? Forget about others. This is the problem of access to education for the downtrodden group. There are piles of problems in Nepali education system that have hindered quality. How can quality be expected if the schools do not have furniture, drinking water and toilet facilities? Nor do they have sufficient teachers to run the classes. We should not go far to experience these anomalies, there are hundreds of examples in the outskirts of Kathmandu. The MoES should come up with innovation. The question of relevance and quality is far from the Nepali context at a time when the children have no access to education.

In the new context, it is essential that party politics does not enter the classrooms. The best way to come up with appropriate plans is to, first, include representatives from disadvantaged groups and then come up with a consensus among all political parties to follow a code of conduct in education. It would be better if the MoES prepared a code of conduct, came to a consensus and then prepared educational plans.

Dr. Wagley is professor of Education, TU