Classrooms can not only ensure quality education

The new constitution has entrusted the right to maintain the secondary education to the local governments. This has triggered a debate over the management of public eduation in Nepal in the changed context. The main challenge now is finding the resources to finance the education based on the parameters set by the constitution. The local governments are discussing ways to find the resources and mobilise their existing resources for education. The local governments are responsible to find a way forward for financing the education. In this context, Shredhar Poudel has talked with Mr. Jiwan Lohani, an expert on education and taxation regarding the issue.

- As a researcher, how do you observe the current state of education in Nepal ?

Ans: If we compare with other countries of the world, Nepal is not among the countries with worst education system. But we don’t have a good education system either. We have our own distinct features. I feel we are in a education system that has no any directions. We don’t have a vision of what type of manpower we are trying to produce from our education. If we look at results, we have very few students and should very few schools in the country. But in the last 50 years, most probably, we have more number of schools than required and our education is bit controversial. Our public education system is failing. There is a big debate on whether it has really failed but the demand of private education is increasing.

- Why do you think the quality of public education in Nepal is degrading ?

Ans: One of the most important issues is investment. If you look into the investment of education per student in private schools, it is a lot greater than that of public education. I am telling you this based on our recent research. We have blamed teachers more than anyone for the current situation. One of my friends, who went for research, was told by a teacher, ‘Our teachers are talking classes on a regular basis, and students are reading too. Therefore, we have not figured out why the results is so bad.’we have concluded that only classrooms are not sufficient to improve the quality of education.  A study contudent on children above the age of two have concluded that Nepali kids are learning significantly less compared to kids below the age of two in other countries. It is the responsibility of parents and other family members to help in the learning process of kids before the age of two. Most of the portion of the child’s brain develops at the age of two. They are really fast learners at that age. Of the 100 things, they learn around 30 things below the age of two. Our kids are learning only two or three things out of 10, before they join school.

- Initially, you talked about lack of vision in the education system. Should that come from the government or from home?

Ans: When we talk about better quality of education in private schools, we should accept that the teachers at private schools may have forced students to read more. But parents are also investing time for their children at home and that would really make a difference. We should look into the overall investment in education. The access to the service of nutrition and other facilities would affect the learning process of kids. How much a child is prepared to go school, this is one of the key question. Then only there comes the responsibility of schools.

Let us compare two kids, who know 8 out of 10 and 2 out of 10 issues. The kids with 8 out of 10 goes to good school, where there are regular classes, techers show up in time and their parents are investing on the education. He is learning more and more. If little more attention is paid towards him, he will secure good grades. But how much energy we have to put on kids with 2 out of 10 to strengthen his abilities. We should also keep into consideration on how much we are investing on such kids. Our ongoing study says that the government is only making about a half of investment in public education. The investment in education is not only the investment on teachers, students, classrooms, chalk and dusters. The investment on education also means the atmosphere for reading at home.

- If home is the first place of learning, from which position there should be intervention from the government?

Ans: If you look at the financing of schools reforms, most of the funds are focused on schools. Almost all of the money goes to school but there is no funding focused on parents and guardians. We don’t have a funding focusing student. I think we should start from child stimulation. It is true that we have not been able to conduct such type of study. We should look into the difference between a healthy child and a child who is growing up in the absence of adequate nutrients. Nutrition can be a starting area. Education is a holistic area and it is linked with many issues. We need to find out why many of our students are not going to schools. We need to focus on students, schools and their families. We need to focus on creating a competent manpower.Our guardians are reaching a conclusion that the public education can not provide a standard of education that would make their kids competent enough for the market. That might have been pushing them to send their kids to private schools. If there were institutions offering better education than the private schools, they would search and send their kids to that place.

- So you have concluded that our education system is degrading?

Ans: If you look at the investment, I don’t say it has downgraded much. We can talk about failures of students in public schools in recent years. But in the past there were good students at public schools and there are lesser now. But in terms of investment and knowledge base, I think there have been improvements.

- What is the current level of investment per student from state?

Ans: It is nearly Rs. 12 thousand per year.

- What is the requirement ?

Ans: Our study shows the minimum investment should be between Rs. 50\60 thousand per year.

- What should we increase from our existing arrangement if we are to make investment up to Rs. 50/60 thousand per student?

Ans: There are many areas. We have not been able to invest on guardians. Most of the teachers complain that parents are responsible for poor performance of their kids. Initially I used to think that they were just trying to pass the buck. I never looked into the matter from a teacher’s point of view. Our study says that parents and guardians have a greater role to play. We have also not been able to provide adequate resources for our kids. In India there are now camapings to ensure that every kid eats one egg per day. We have not been able to initate any such programmes. We make to make more investment in nutrition. We are yet to realize the role of nutrition in education. Our research shows that students have access to very limited number of books and other reading and writing materials. Many students do not go to schools due to the lack of stationeries. That would make them feel bad inside schools.

- The budget on education allocated by the state is on a decling trend. Now it is limited to 10 percent. In the international forums, Nepal has pledged that the budget would be increased to 20 percent. So, how can we fulfill the gaps that you are mentioning?

Ans: The growth of the private education shows that there is the capacity to investment in education in Nepal. If we invest for education ourselves, we can say what our child did. But when we ask state to pay for the education of our kids, we can not ask similar question. Our education system doesn’t ensure accountability. The state is not investing in education equivalent to revenues it is charging the people.

On of the study that we are currently pursuing shows that each family is paying around Rs. 4,000 to Rs. 5,000 per month in the form of tax. There is taxation on telephone, electricity and almost all essential commodities. Education and health are the only two areas where the state can return the benefits it makes from the tax back to the people. But I don’t find adequate investment on education. If we compare our total population with the revenues people are paying, we have preety significant amount of money. I belive money is no longer a problem. If we can invest only 20 or 25 percent of the amount in education, the existing allocation on education would grow by two or three folds. We are competing with big nations. We should not be happy thinking that we are way forward than Africa and Afganistan. But, if we are to compete with bigger countries and have a vision of what kind of human resources we required for future, we need to increase our budget. Just increasing budget of the education department or providing more benfits to bureaucrats, buying new cars and having new buildings will not make an impact. That amount should directly or indirectly be invested on parents, students, creating good atmosphere at schools and homes and education friendly atmosphere. We have core problems inside our education system but if we are trying to find a solution outside it. We are trying to introduce laptops and other learning methods. It’s not bad but our foundation is very poor. As I told you earlier, we need to strengthen parenting. The current investment should be wide and should have specific goals.

- How can we increase the possibility of greater investment in education?

Ans: First and foremost, I think the government should find out the true meaning of what it means to make education a priority. I have been advocating that investment in education is not a mercy. The state can receive a lot of advantage from education. The investment in education is an investment in the investment in people. If education results good health behaviour, the expenditures on hospital will come down. An educated individual can be much more productive and it will benefit the state. But we are looking into investment in education as if we are mixing water in sand. The state should have its educational goal. It should have a blueprint that it would require certain numbers of doctors, engineers and accountants among others. So, far the Nepali state only has the vision that it would require a large number of teachers. We have adequate number of teachers but we don’t have over goals. We can gradually improve our quality of education but our goals, first, should be clear.

- What is obstructing the state from having a clear vision?

Ans: It will require a political viewpoint to ensure investment in education. It is yet not complete and we need to tell that we will invest more. Political parties have expressed their lip service but they have not seen the advantage of investing in education. This is due to our poor policy evaluation. No one has been able to say that how much they have benefitted from the investments made so far.

- What are the outcomes of your research? What should be our priority areas?

Ans: Currently, we are investing Rs. 12,000 for children everyyear but when they started returing they are contributing up to 20/25 folds. It is the state’s failure to make adequate investment.

- The rights of education have been transferred to local bodies. With local government’s running the secondary level education, how can local governments complete their task?

Ans: I am very positive towards the local and provincial governments. Our study shows that almost all reforms that are taking place in Nepal, most of them are occurring at local bodies. You can directly meet and interact with your local representatives there and immediately get reaction. It is difficult to reach out to the local government. They stay in Singhdurbar and they won’t reach out communities to look into those problems. I have doubts whether the revenues would be allocated fairly in the new federal set up. If all the revenue this country collects is shared on a fair basis and if local bodies fulfill their responsibilities in an accountable and transparent manner, I am optimistic that there will be required reforms.

- What steps local government can take for reforms in education?

Ans: First of all, it should explain the citizens on why it is charing taxes to citizens. Many people are not happy their villages now have been changed to municipalities because tax rates are high. We have not yet developed a feeling that the tax amounts we pay to the government will eventually return back to us. But local governments have this possibility. They have a geographical advantage and they can discuss with their citizens on taxes, income and take a decision on the basis of consensus.  There are child care centres, which can provide safety and care to children and provide opportunity to parents to carry out their works. The establishment of child cares will help growth of children and also address challenge of meeting required nutrients. In addition to it, educational materials can be managed in schools and they also can take steps for educational reform and capacity building of teachers. The fundamental issue however is that the local governments should first determine their priorities.  It should find out areas from which it can generate resources to finance education. In many places, there are natural resources like stones and sand mines. Of the revenues collected from such areas, the government should have a commitment that specific percentage of amount would go in education.

- What can be a beginning point for local bodies to determine their priorities?

Ans: I think most of the demands will be on infrastructures. We have very poor infrastructures in schools and other development sectors in Nepal so there will be always high demands for that. We need to identify what level of investment we want to make on infrastructures. The next area is determination of priority and setting up educational goals. Similarly, they should also look into the status of facilities at schools that fall under their jurisidiction and identify areas regarding children and parents in which the investments can deliver better results. Unfortunately, it will take 20/25 years for getting return from the investment in education. This is the biggest challenge because the elected representatives have to go in election after next five years. They are under pressures to deliver the immediate goals. But I believe that investment in child care centres would yield a positive outcome.

- Do you find the local governments serious to undertake these tasks?

Ans: I have not been able to directly reach out to officials at the local governments. But they appear confused. Even the central government is not clear on its goals so we can not expect a lot from the local governments. I think they have still some sorts of awareness.

- Who is responsible to show directions to local bodies?

Ans: The answer is the state. But I don’t think the state would have that degree of time and interest. The non government agencies, journalists and others, who would want reform in education, should support local governments. Researchers like us should also reach out and should interact with local governments. The central governments should also pressure the local governments to get things done. But we should not just be dependable on the central government, we need to advocate that taxes paid by us should return back to our communities. We need to increase investment in education and that investment should directly benefit guardains, schools and students. We have not worked much on the deeper level at the local units so the local governments have this opportunity. We accord more priority to evading taxes rather than paying it because we are not receiving adequate returns. We can always find execuses and blame education, government and policy for failures. But we need to increase our investment in education.

(The interview was broadcasted on the ‘Hamro Sikhsya’ radio programme. Please click this link to listen the audio interview. 19th episode of the Hamro Sikshya. )