विहीबार, ०६ असार २०८१

Power to local bodies: An opportunity for education reform

सोमबार, १९ भदौ २०७४

The new constitution has entrusted local governments for maintaining secondary education. With the new federal set up, there are concerns over how the local government can effectively perform their new duty. Our correspondent Harisundar Chhunka has talked with education expert Prof. Dr. Mana Prasad Wagle.

How do you evaluate the power given to local government regarding education?

- We have been voicing over concerns over the centralisation of education for a long time. In a centralised set up, the state cannot focus on all sectors. It can fulfill its responsibilities at the top level but it cannot concentrate deeper and improve the quality of education. The education therefore should always be at the hands of local bodies and there should be ownership of community. It is good news that the constitution has handed over responsibility of the secondary education to the local government. However, it is a matter of disappointment that local bodies are yet not given the authority to implement their new role. No one is supporting the local bodies for implementing their role. So, the local bodies are now in the state of confusion.  Now, they should do the tasks which were previously done by the district education offices, regional educational directorates and education ministry among others.  If we can institutionalize this, I believe that education in Nepal will make significant achievements.

What can be a way forward in this state of confusion?

- There are few steps that should be taken. First, the government should bring special programmes aiming the elected representatives at local bodies. They have not any experience of running the educational affairs. They might have donated land or money for schools and worked in the school management committees. The provincial governments are yet to be elected. The ministry of education, education department, regional education directorates, and district education offices are still functioning. All of them should disseminate information to the elected representatives on formulating education related policy, laws, resource allocation and management among others. The bureaucrats have those experiences and they should share that with the local bodies.

Local bodies need financial resources to implement their education role. How can they manage the required resources?

- This is a very serious issue. Of the total 126 billion rupees allocated to local governments, around 60 billion rupees will be sent to local bodies and it is said that the amount will be a conditional grant. That amount should be spent on the allocated topics. The local government will have the authority to define their priorities. There is also allocation for education but most of the money is for salaries and administrative costs. The money will not be sufficient therefore they need economic resources.

There are three ways for funding the education. First, there are different types of grants that the central government will provide. The provincial government can also help the local governments. The annex 9 of the new constitution has provisions regarding it. The local bodies are responsible for school level education. They can mobilise their income for education but the government has not provided them a free hand. The local bodies can only spend five percent of their total income for themselves and should send 95 percent to the centre. Five percent might be a very small amount. In big cities like Kathmandu, Birgunj, Biratnagar and Pokhara the amount could be significant. But in remote districts like Humla, Jumla, Kalikot the situation is different.  The central government should provide additional funds to local bodies which have resource constraints. The central government should formulate a federal educational act and reflect these aspirations on law. The education act should have policy on educational aid and assistance to address the resource constraints of the ministries.

How can we determine the basis for that?

- First we should be clear what do we mean by school? And how should it look like? Hoe many classes should be there? What type of desk, bench and infrastructures should be there? How much we want to spend on training of teachers? Do we want to use technology in school or not? Do we want library or not?  We should identify the minimum standards that each of the school in the country should meet and calculate the expenditures accordingly.  It is the responsibility of the state to ensure the minimum standards are met. The state has committed education for all till grade 8 and free education till grade 12. The federal government should provide the money to meet that objective.

The local government can undertake other responsibilities. But if the central government asks the local government to construct a school building, to pay salaries for teachers, to have a technologically sound school, it will not have money to do that by itself. Therefore, the central government should bear the cost of minimum requirement, the provincial government should support financially to upgrade quality of the education and the local government should have authority to collect taxes. It is not that the local governments should be given power to arbitrarily collect taxes. They should decide whether they want to charge land tax or service tax. They should also dwell upon imposing taxes to private school and formulate laws accordingly. While formulating law, there should be adequate discussion. If the local government decides to impose a tax of Rs. 200 per student studying in private schools with a justification and roadmap for improving education at public schools, I think everyone would support it.

But will it be practical ?

- Both of us live in local bodies. Our children read in schools. I have more money and I can afford them at private school. You are poor and you send your kids to community schools. But students in both private and community schools should get quality education. If we can convince people in the community, if I am paying Rs. 4,000 for my kids at private school I don’t see any difficulty in paying another Rs 50. Based on consensus, we can formulate laws binding the parents sending their children to private schools to pay certain percentage of the fees for the upgradation of education in community schools.

How can local resources be used for increasing investment in education?

- Before 2028 BS the schools were run by communities. When systematic efforts were initiated for managing the education, the district education committees used to collect funds and support the schools. In that context, many of the land revenue offices used to impose one percent tax for education. All of that income would come on an educational fund, we can lunch similar initiative. We can also fund education from the sale of tobaccos and cigarettes. If people are convinced we can make laws and implement it. We need to be farsighted and bring ideas that will generate public support. And the local governments should also ensure that they can impart quality education.

How can the local government guarantee the quality education?

- If we can ensure quality education, guardians will pay fees. They will pay money because they know that private school would also charge fee. If community school ensures quality education, parents would think that they can pay Rs. 200 instead of sending their children to private schools which charge Rs. 2,000 monthly fees. If we can convince people, there are many opportunity for local governments. They are in the state of confusion and now we should show them a forward looking path. 

The elected representatives at local bodies are in the state of confusion on whether they should increase the tax limits or tax rates? What can be done on this?

- I think the most fundamental thing is food, shelter and clothes. Then it is education, then health and security. Education is a matter of concern over all. People can pay taxes but the local government should have a planned approach. The decision should be taken by municipal or rural municipal councils. There should be open discussion with the public. Now we have a great opportunity. Some rural municipality have already taken decisions and started formulating laws. If we move forward in the right track, we can make tangible gains in education. 

This Interview based on radio programme entitled 'Hamro Sikshya' which discusses the opportunities and challenges in public education in the new federal setup. The radio programme can also be tuned through this link: and also through aneroid app Edunepal.