TOPICS : Neglected teachers in Nepal’s schools

Nepali education has been languishing for years despite huge investments in the sector. One of the major reasons is the shortage and poor quality of teachers.

The McKinsey report, co-written by Sir Michael Barber, the former head of the British government’s delivery unit and an adviser to former British PM Tony Blair, states that well-intentioned school reforms have failed in many countries despite massive spending increases, smaller class sizes and greater school autonomy. Why? They overlooked the most important ingredients in the whole system: teachers.

One might believe that the schools should offer greater financial incentives to attract more applicants into teacher training and select from among them to improve the quality of education. Not so, says the McKinsey report. If money were important,countries with highest teacher salaries — Germany, Spain and Switzerland — would be the top performers in


In practice, the top performers are the ones offering their teachers average salaries. Nor do they have a big pool of trainees but select the most successful. But Singapore screens candidates before teacher training and accepts only as many candidates as there are empty seats. Once selected, the candidates are employed by the education ministry and more or less guaranteed a job. Finland also limits the candidates to teacher-training courses. In both countries, teaching is a high-status profession because it is fiercely competitive and there are generous benefits for each teacher.

In Nepal, the trained teachers fare the worst. They are unpopular with the students as they are only good at “lecturing” and reading out loud from the text. In fact, those with no teacher training perform better. Obviously, Nepal has not yet been able to attract quality manpower into teaching as it is regarded as an unattractive profession.

In South Korea teachers come from the top five per cent of the graduates, top 10% in Finland and top 30% in Hong Kong and Singapore. Primary school teachers in South Korea have to pass a four-year undergraduate degree from one of only a dozen universities. Getting in requires top grades. In contrast, secondary school teachers need only have a diploma from any one of 350 colleges. This has produced a enormous glut of secondary school teachers — 11 for each job. As a result, secondary school teaching is a low-status job in South Korea; everyone wants to be a primary-school teacher.

McKinsey’s conclusions seem very pertinent to Nepal. Good teachers can be produced with the right kind of selection and training; it does not take a fortune to attract top graduates into teaching career; and with right policies both the schools and pupils can progress in their careers. The quality of an education system depends ultimately on the quality of its teachers. Hence there is an urgent need to reform primary teacher selection process as the richest fruits can be reaped by providing top-notch education at the starting levels.