With local governments getting greater educational rights, two schools of thoughts are dominating the public debate. One side is suspicious that the quality of education would further erode under the local bodies. Other side is claiming that this could be an opportunity to improve public education. Under the centralized system teachers deployed in remote schools used their power and influence and concentrated in cities. Politicisation in education reached all-time high and no one was held accountable for poor results. Therefore, the new role for local bodies should not be narrowed down. Instead, all our effort should be to increase the efficiency of the local governments. The local governments, schools and guardians should all work together to improve the quality of public education in Nepal.
The beauty of democracy is the space it creates for civil liberties. Freedom of expression is the integral component of democracy. This freedom helps us get divergent opinions and viewpoints on one topic. But some time opinions are divided on even factual things leading to complication in interpretation and decision making.
Any individual makes his position on any topic based on his past experiences, economic, social, cultural and political climate. Children may have simple imaginative powers but adolescents and elderly can come up with imaginative and even non contextual views. Some people who are close to government and power, they even start meaningless argument, which many describe as a mentality they inherit with their relations to power.
Nearly two years after the proclamation of the constitution, Nepal is in the process of forming local governments. However, it is becoming increasingly difficult to implement the rights allocated to the local governments by the constitution. Lack of far sightedness in political and bureaucratic leadership is creating complexity to implement the constitution. Both of the institutions are still working on the same old mindset. The annex eight of the constitution has allocated responsibilities of local government and annex nine has defined the shared roles. The Cabinet has even approved the report of the high level administrative restructuring commission which among others explains in detail about the education related roles.
In this context, one side is arguing that the handover of secondary education to local bodies could weaken the educational system in Nepal. They claim that it would weaken the quality of education and turn down achievements made in the educational sector in the last twenty years. They argue that education ministry should be retained in centre and district education offices should be retained at the local level. They also recommend keeping other educational related institutions intact. But this side is silent on how and why the quality of education will degrade in the new set up.
The other side argues that greater roles to local bodies would provide a new opportunity for improvement of public education in Nepal. They say that local governments would improve the quality of education and bring a radical change to the country’s ill educational system. Those advocating this view point are yet to explain how the much needed reform will come and what will be the results.
The argument and viewpoints from individuals supporting both school of thoughts appears somehow appears extreme. There is no guarantee that just giving a responsibility to any institution would deliver quality results. The implementation of laws, fulfillment of given roles and responsibilities, transparency and accountability, public participation and justice delivery mechanism among others are few components that will be crucial to positive or negative outcome.
Teachers are responsible for both achievement and downfall in public education. In the past when teachers were blamed for the current state of public education, one side always argued that the flawed government’s policy, weakness of institutions like education ministry, education department and district education offices all were equally responsible. This same group now is dissatisfied with the handover of education related duties to local bodies. Based on this background, some of the reforms that may or may not be executed by the local governments are explained below:
a) There may be thousands of reasons for the degradation in the quality of public education in Nepal. But local bodies can provide answer to those who complain that there has been no proper monitoring and supervision of public schools. Local governments can develop a monitoring and supervision system. However, those who are in favor of continuation of monitoring through district education office are reluctant to accept the oversight from local body.
b) The standard practice is that any official appointed will be accountable with the institution that gives him that role. The local governments have wanted an institution that would appoint teachers and make them accountable to them. But teachers are reluctant to be affiliated to the local governments and the political and administrative leadership is backing them. In the past headmasters with sense of duty used to lament with district education office for failing to mobilise teachers on duty. It appears that the local governments would register similar complaints with the central and federal governments in future.
c) In some informal interactions, teachers with high political and administrative connections used to boast that they had powers to change the district education officer. With the handover of the responsibility to the local governments, such power and political connection would be meaningless. Therefore, a section which practiced such activities in the past is worried about the handover of the power to the local governments.
d) As of now based on connection in the central offices, teachers whose positions are approved for rural schools, are discharging their duties in schools in city areas. Such teachers are not accountable to results and are even awarded by virtue of their affiliations. They are also not happy with the role given to the local government.
We may agree or disagree but we should not curtail the education related rights entrusted to local governments. We need to enhance capacity of local governments, make them more accountable and increase collaboration between local governments, schools and guardians. This can help in reforming the public education in Nepal. All of us have watched the effectiveness of the central government for 200 years now we should give a chance to the local governments. The local governments should focus into these areas:
a) Like people are sovereign in democracy, schools should consider guardians as their supreme force. The participation of parents in schools and the accountability of schools towards them can pave way for the educational reform that we are aiming. Their participation in the decision making process could positively contribute the implementation process.
b) Guardians should be involved in setting up priorities, planning and determining needs of schools. The local government should look into the priorities of each of the schools and allocate budget accordingly. The readymade school reform plan available in market will no longer make improvement in public education.
c) Sociological knowledge may play a major role to ensure participation of parents. Special attention should be given to take on board all sections of society even the most marginal groups. Just having token representation of a Dalit female member in the meeting of the school management committee would not fulfill our aspiration of inclusive development.
All of us have accepted the political restructuring of the state. In the same manner, we should not be reluctant to accept the educational rights provided to the local governments by the constitution. While we may have a challenging time ahead, it is both necessity and compulsion not to miss this opportunity of bringing reforms in public education. Instead of being emotional, let’s be realistic.