विहीबार, ०६ असार २०८१

Political apathy towards public education reform

बुधबार, ०६ मंसिर २०७४

Local bodies have almost completed more than six months of their tenure expect in the province two where polls were delayed by few months. The country is heading towards parliamentary and provincial elections and parties have formed alliances to strengthen their positions. The elected representatives of the local bodies have also been affected by the fever of elections. The dreams distributed by parties are resembled in the election manifestos of parties and campaign of candidates. Some of the announcements are so unrealistic they have been dubbed as ‘jokes.’

The ruling Nepali Congress had tremendous potential if it had wanted to improve the public education when it was in power. However, its credentials on education have never been impressive. In 2048 BS, when Krishna Prasad Bhattarai was the prime minister thousands of temporary teachers were directly made permanent. The problems created by the decision still affect the education sector. The merit system is still under the question. The result of the examination conducted for teachers in 2052 BS was announced after ten years. The Nepali Congress leader Govindaraj Joshi amended the education regulation incorporating the provision of retotalling to ensure that the applicants with political affiliation get the appointments. The congress party was always at forefront to appease its cadres who used ‘hook and crook’ to get the permanent appointment of teachers. The then Prime Minister Girija Prasad Koirala offered juices to agitating temporary university teachers and gave them permanent positions. Lately, the problem of temporary teachers was almost close to solution but Deputy PM and Education Minister Gopalman Shrestha made it non-curable like the cancer by introducing wrong policy.

It is wrong to provide reservations to two to four thousand people just because a handful of them stayed in fast unto death. In the past, the temporary teachers conducted agitation and the Education Act was amended to fulfil their demands. Now nearly 700 thousand aspiring teachers who had obtained license to appear in the examination for the post of teachers have announced their agitation. Nepali Congress appears one step ahead than other parties in breaching rule, process and system. The manifesto of Nepali Congress states that education is the primary responsibility of the state. But the party has played a major role in introducing privatization in education and its growth and expansion which eventually made the public education weaker.

When we look into privatization of education, the work and deeds of ‘revolutionary’ left parties is not an exception. The CPN-UML for example has a slogan that education and health are the primary responsibilities of the state. But in both health and education it is the UML which has promoted and protected private investment. The investment of its leaders and cadres in health sector has triggered national dispute. The CPN-Maoist Centre has also demonstrated double standards on the issue. During the decade long armed insurgency, the Maoists vandalized buses and other properties of private schools. In some districts they even closed private schools. But today, many Maoist leaders have their investment in private schools and are making money.

The role of political parties and their sister wings is always poor when it comes to enhance the quality of public education. The recent changes in the governance system and the handover of the responsibility of secondary education to local bodies have generated some hope of improvement however the task is challenging. The desired outcome is not possible if the representatives of the local government fail to rise above the partisan interests. While there may be different causes, the level of learning at community schools is very poor. The attraction towards private education is growing. Large number of community schools are relying on government rather than acting for reform. While the number of students in public schools is declining, permanent teachers too have not much work. The cause of decline in number of students, the growth of private schools is attributed to ‘almost zero’ level of accountability and responsibility.

The universities the country have been a victim of political power sharing, lack of infrastructures and teachers with weaker moral and ethical values. In most of the university, the pass rate is less than 40 percent. The universities with greater infrastructure are also in the state of misery. The Nepali Congress has said it plans to establish a new South Asian level university in the country. Some parties have also argued that they would make tangible improvement in quality of education at community schools to end the dual education system in the country. Such claims appear ridiculous. An efficient education system requires rules, process, accountability and efficient teachers. Until the human resource is not capable enough, there will be no positive result.

It is nearly 25 years we have made the primary education free. It is more than a decade that secondary education is free in community schools. But still now 80 percent of the community schools are forced to charge some type of fee just to survive. In nearly 3,600 high schools across the country, there is no single permanent teacher. The physical infrastructures are very weak. There are no approved high schools. The high schools are charging fees ranging from monthly Rs. 200 to Rs.8-10,000. So, how can the completely free high school education be implemented in such context? Ironically, the budget allocated for education every year is on a declining trend however parties in the government are stating that they would make high school education free of cost.

The political parties have maintained in their manifestos that they would enhance the quality of community education, reduce the inequality and provide high school education free of cost. They have also stated that they would promote private investment in community school so that it can be operated in a public private partnership model. It also states that the private sector which wants to participate in such an initiative will receive subsidies from the state. This implies that the political parties want to further increase the role of private sector in education, moreover in community education.

The political parties which have promoted such irrational policies and encouraged dual system cannot drive the much needed reform in community education. They are the same political parties who agreed that the basic and secondary education would be under local bodies in the new constitution. However, they agreed to curtail the educational right of the local bodies while unveiling the local governance act. The silence of the local governments over the matter shows that they are ready to abide by the decisions taken by the ruling parties and the government at the centre.

We urge local governments and their office bearers to seize the opportunity and show that they are capable to do their duties by enhancing the quality of public education. They should rise above their partisan interests. They should develop a system under which teachers and school administration should be accountable to ensure adequate learning amongst the students. They should develop a monitoring system to oversee the functioning and daily activities of schools. They should encourage good practices. If possible, enrol your kids to the government schools and be an example. Such steps will increase the trust of parents and slowly motivate teachers and other officials to send their kids to the community schools. Always remember, change starts with self.