Restructuring school education : Sound thinking or wild fantasy?
Twelve years of school education (grades 1-12) is not a new phenomenon on the global scene. In Nepal, the Royal Higher Education Commission, 1983, first initiated discussions on this concept. While reviewing higher education, the Commission realised that unless the flow of Proficiency Certificate Level (PCL) students to Tribhuvan University was controlled, the quality of higher education would not improve. The Commission seemed to have considered the fact that it was too early for 16-year-old students to complete school level or start working. Therefore, it was recommended that the existing 10 years’ school education be expanded to 12 years by allowing grade 10 passers to continue receiving another two years’ education within the school
The issue of phasing out PCL and merging it with school education was widely discussed among educationists at different forums in 1988. Based on these exercises, the government eventually decided to add another two years’ education to the school system. The Higher Secondary Education Act, 2046 was passed by the last session of the then Rastriya Panchayat in 1989, creating the Higher Secondary Education Board (HSEB).
But the purpose of introduction of HSE was not only prolonging school system to 12 years. The main idea was to reform the whole system of school education. It was a holistic reform exercise aimed at bringing about a radical education sector reconstruction including curriculum renewal, modernisation of teaching-learning techniques, making student evaluation more scientific, reducing regional disparities, providing greater access and equity to disadvantaged sections (rural, female, poor, etc.), making education more relevant to the needs and aspirations of the people, raising the quality and effectiveness of education by improving competence of the teachers and educational administrators, catching up with international trends in school education, and improving teaching and evaluation in the school system.
The implementation of HSE has been taken positively by educationists, parents, teachers, and students. That is why, even without sufficient financial backing of the government, HSEB has been able to attract a very high percentage of SLC passers. Every year, a large number of new HSE schools are established with private initiative.
Nevertheless, HSE has been criticised for being expensive, promoting education as a commercial entity, not being accessible to rural and disadvantaged communities. HSEB, on its part, has been criticised for not having a regulatory framework to set clear guidelines for fee structure, service conditionalities of teachers, monitoring mechanism, and developing its own cadre for exam and academic matters. It is also criticised for not emerging as a national institution for monitoring and supporting of the schools at district level. Another problem with the present HSE system is that it does not have a single school under its own managesment. Thus it has not been able to address the issue of providing +2 education to poor, rural and disadvantaged groups. The obvious reason is that higher secondary schools have been run on totally private initiative. The implication is that a lot remains to be done for HSEB to emerge as a national system of school education. Towards this end, the government and the World Bank have recently signed an agreement.
The reason for the World Bank’s support for HSE is to integrate grades 11 and 12 into the school system, which has been a government policy for the last two decades. In line with this thinking pattern, the Ministry of Education and Sports has forwarded its three-year interim development plan. But contrary to this line of thinking, the Minister for Education and the high officials of HSEB are recently reported to have argued that it is not grades 11 and 12 which should be integrated into the existing school system, but, instead grades 9 and 10 which should be transferred to HSE, thereby confining school education system to grades 1-8. Changing the structure of school education this way has several implications.
This step of the MoES and HSEB has confused the people involved with secondary-level education. One wonders what could have led the Minister and his allies to entertain such a wild fantasy regarding the structure of school education: to put in place a system that is not found anywhere else in the world. If the officials concerned have any good scheme for transferring grades 9-10 to the institution which manages schools under non-governmental initiative (and one which can justify their argument), they would be highly appreciated for their profound thinking.
There may or may not be some logic behind what the Minister and the HSEB officials have said so far. The only way to prove that their idea is based on sound thinking, not a wild fantasy, is to present their proposed reform in a professional manner.
Dr Khaniya is an educationist