Nearly 83 percent of the total school level students study at community schools. Therefore, we cannot imagine the change in standard of education in Nepal without improving the quality of community schools. There should be greater investment and greater mobilisation of resources for community schools. The authority rested in the central administration in Singhadurbar now has been transferred to local bodies with the provisions in the new constitution that has entrusted local bodies to look after secondary level school education. Many see this as an opportunity to change the quality of education. We have talked with former vice chancellor of Tribhuwan University Kedarbhakta Mathema on the opportunities and challenges ahead.
Question: What is your daily routine these days?
Ans: I spend most of my time in garden and study. When I am tired of reading, I go to the garden. When I am exhausted of watching my garden, I start reading.
Question: We expect your greater role in the changing scenario of the country. Your expertise should have been reflected in policies…
Ans: We worked hard and drafted a policy for medical education. You can hear what comments our politicians are making on it. It shows whether they take our recommendations seriously or not. We cannot just remain disappointed. We need to continue our fight. In my view, we need to continue fighting to strengthen democracy. In every countries of the world, there are similar challenges. Democracy always faces threat and we need to continue our struggle.
Question: When you say fight, how do you evaluate the quality of education in Nepal?
Ans: We have failed to add positive spirts and energy among students of the university. We are just awarding them degrees. Students should have interest and passion on what they are learning but that is not the case. When we talk about school level education, we say 98 percent of the teachers are trained. But the impact of trained teachers is not demonstrated in result.
Question: What is preventing to give spirits and energy to students?
Ans: I see the problems in teachers. They think teaching as part time jobs mainly in universities. Some professors are good but not all. In teaching, we need to be fully committed. Two years ago, one German expert published a book about Newari architecture which cost Rs. 40,000. He conducted research for 40 years before publishing the book. In my view, teaching is also like this. You should have rigour. Teachers should be experts and they need to make students prepare for similar role and send them out from universities to the outer world.
Question: What is obstructing such endeavour?
Ans: I already told you. It is the weakness of teachers.
Question: How can we make our teachers better then?
Ans: Our universities are at chaos. When I visited Trichandra College, where I used to teach 50 years ago, the same old coating continued in its wall, windows were covered with dust and there were web of spiders all over. Then I thought, whom does this college belong? When I returned back to my home, I already had the answer. It belongs to no one. Similarly, the Tribhuwan University also belongs to no one. There is no ownership. Successful universities have strong ownership and credibility. We don’t have both. Similar is the situation of our schools.
Question: We started practise of handover of schools to communities to increase the ownership. But it failed in Nepal.
Ans: That was not our decision, it was imposed by the World Bank project. They tried to draw parallel with the success of the forestry programme. There are no students from the community, then how can school be a community school. They learnt it from Africa and implemented in Nepal without proper experiment. Have the community schools now been accepted by the respective communities. In the past, schools were run by communities and there was credibility to some extents. You can imagine the credibility of Padmodaya, Judodaya schools in Kathmandu.
Question: The school I studied was built by local labour force who carried stones and wood. But, what has prevented communities to participate in schools?
Ans: You pointed out right. Now, only a certain class of society send their kids to community schools. Those who are poor send their kids to one kind of school while those who can afford send their kids to another school. So, how can we say this is a school of the community? My interest will always be in the school where my kids go for education. If my kids go to private school, I would have no interest in community school even if I live in the school’s locality.
Question: Figures show nearly 83 percent of schools still go to community school. How can we interpret differently just given the fact that there is more influence of private schools in urban areas?
Ans: I talked with a mason from Tarai region who was working at my house recently. I asked him where his son was reading. He replied me that it was a private school but he did not know its name. The most dangerous phenomenon is that the public have deep frustration with community schools. We may be proud of numbers but it’s a matter of pain for those who are working in the public education. Students are now quitting community schools. Few years ago, I visited community schools of Bara and Parsa districts with parliamentarians. We knew that the first thing the migrant work force from the village who were working in Qatar told their families while sending money was to enrol their kids to private school. Every time they sent money, they asked their relative to ensure that their kids were in private school. This is not a normal thing. It is a grave challenge to the nation.
Question: What brought us to this situation?
Ans: I already told you there is no seriousness from teachers. If there are no teachers, the school would not be what it should be like. There was no one to exert pressure on teachers to perform their due duties. There was no proper monitoring.
Question: Now there is discussion on making the school management committee more accountable. Do you think it will yield positive outcome?
Ans: In my view teachers should have greater commitment in teaching. Teachers were not appointed under due process, there was no scientific calculation of vacancies for teachers, and rules were haphazardly changed in the name of addressing problems of temporary teachers. This has brought greater misery to the quality of education. Education became a playground of politicians. They want to appoint their loyal supporters we saw this from the ninth amendment to the education act. We see the children of rich and powerful going to other schools. They have no interest in community schools. It is only for poor communities.
Question: The constitution has envisaged education as a right of the citizens. But it is not being implemented. Where are we heading?
Ans: We are not heading right direction. Community schools are the pillars to strengthen democracy. We need to understand why countries like Sweden, Norway and Singapore are focusing on community education? They can also open and run private schools but they are focusing on community schools because they prepare better society and nation. There should not be division in the society due to quality of education. We need to strengthen our public education to strengthen our community. If we had a community school of our village, then all the children would be studying there. We read in similar fashion. Kids of rich and poor parents both would study and grow together. Society would develop and democracy would be stronger under such a system. Our parliamentarians failed to realise this. There is no alternative of community school, if we want to strengthen our society.
Question: Now the country has adopted new forms of governance. The school education is under local government. Can the local government fulfil their duty?
Ans: They can. Instead of a Singhadurbar, located at the central capital, in my view, local governments can do a better monitoring. We need to make teachers accountable to some such institutions. We need to discourage appointing teachers without competition and merit. If their performance is not good, we need to question that. It is not the case now. The main thing is that they should not focus just to complete the course. They should also look whether students understand what they taught or not. Examinations should be conducted not to fail or pass students but to know how much they have learnt. Students should be given classwork and homework. If required, more examinations should be conducted. In community schools, this is not done but private schools do this. The state has given identity to teachers, pensions and other facilities but it is sad that we are not getting better outcome. I want to stress that we need to make them more accountable.
Question: But teachers complain that they have been made just a scapegoat. They say schools lack manpower and other resources.
Ans: I accept that. But weaker students should be taught better in schools. Teachers should do more work towards that direction. State has just provided lip service. Its responsibility is not complete just by providing salaries to seven eight teachers. We cannot say free public education just by doing so. The government’s investment is inadequate. We need to increase investment in education. I am vocal about performance of teachers but I believe they need greater support from the government.
Question: Can you see the local governments being able to manage the investment required for community education?
Ans: I believe that they should mobilise their own resources. I think they should not just be dependent upon the central administration.
Question: What could be such other resources?
Ans: I recently read in news that a hotel in Bandipur has to allocate two percent of its profit to community schools. There may be similar such initiatives. We can make use of our forest resource and other income. The local governments must identify such resources and focus on education. They can also ask parents to provide some funds. I have publicly said it’s a lie to declare free education with government not providing sufficient budget. It is like an election stunt. We cannot ensure free education under existing phenomenon. The government should increase its investment.
Question: You talked about the local resources but all the local bodies’ may not be capable enough. How can they address the challenges?
Ans: They should pay greater attention. They should channel certain percentage of their income towards education. They can impose taxation that would help in financing education. If the village exports something, a certain percentage of the revenue should be allocated to education. Then only schools truly become community schools. Just because of the name, they cannot be community schools. Everything today is fake. When all class of society can send their kids to community schools, it is a community school in true spirit.