Nepali Congress leader Gopalman Shrestha is the deputy prime minister and education minister in the current Cabinet. He is one of the senior leader the ruling Nepali Congress party. Shreedhar Paudel talked with minister Shrestha on his plans and priorities.
Q: Did you yourself opted for education ministry or got this position based on the portfolio allocation with the coalition partner?
Ans: Why are you interested on this? I have a tendency not to repeat any ministry where I have assumed responsibility previously. Education ministry is the ministry of my choice. I think education ministry has a very important task to deliver. Therefore, I am now in the education ministry.
Q: What were you thinking about education before assuming the current responsibility?
Ans: While talking about school and education, I would like to remember that there were no schools when we were studying during the Rana regime. By the time we were studying, schools were just opening up. I had to discontinue my studies for four years because the schools were not regular. When we interacted with the then Nepali Congress leader B P Koirala in 2015 BS he used to tell as, first ask for primary education, then secondary and then make demand for high school. Today, I am myself involved in education and school sector. I have worked as the chairman of school management committees of public schools in my constituency since their establishment. With the restoration of democracy in 1990, we established Tribhuwan Adarsha College and I am the founding chairman of the management committee of the college. I am still in the position; my friends do not let me leave the position. Now the quality of education is degrading. Private schools have taken up the market. There are no students in public schools.
Q: You shared your experience and background of working in education sector. What do you think are the current problems in the education sector?
Ans: I am identifying the problems. There are numerous problems. There are many organisations which are working like the sister wings of the political parties. This has happened because teachers have been given unnecessary privilege.
Q: How do you plan to solve this problem?
Ans: This is a deep rooted problem. This cannot be resolved at once. I want to move slow and steady.
Q: People want to know about your vision for the country’s education sector. Can you tell us about your plans?
Ans: Now we are in federalism and we have entrusted greater rights to the rural municipalities and municipalities. Now there is no need of education officer, all the salaries and facilities directly reach to that level. We are implementing this and are also sending bureaucrats. We want the bureaucrats deployed by us to look after the schools in their concerned local bodies. I am also in favour of improvements in the quality of education. Today nearly 6 million Nepali youths are working abroad. However, we are not able to send qualified manpower. Most of them are unskilled. We need to focus on techniques that help us make unemployed youths skilled and qualified for jobs.
Q: Most of the Nepalese still rely on public education. Altogether 85 percent of the students study in community schools. However, there is more influence of private schools. What do you want to tell on this?
Ans: What can we do on this? Private schools have a 100 percent result. They score maximum A Plus. Among our government schools, there are one or two schools which secure A Plus.
Q: I am also pointing out the poor quality of public schools. What are your plans for uplifting their quality?
Ans: We all need to work together to uplift the quality. All of us should demonstrate our commitment towards that endeavour.
Q: You are in the leadership position, so I want to know about your plans to take all sides on board.
Ans: I am talking about that with all the sides. I am trying to adjust myself and work towards that end.
Q: It has become more than a week of you assuming the post of education minister. Where do you see the problem?
Ans: There are problems. I am trying to find out ways to resolve the problem.
Q: Your answer is a bit vague. I am asking about your concrete plans...
Ans: You will get concrete answer, when I deliver on my work. What is the importance of just telling? You will know once I deliver on my work.
Q: How much time will it take for you to deliver?
Ans: I will deliver. You will see that in future don’t be desperate.
Q: Now let’s change the topic. Let us return back to your school life. What was the situation of your schools in the past? And how are the educational institutions that you are involved now transforming themselves?
Ans: In the past, the relationship between teachers and students was very harmonious. Students had a huge respect towards teachers. Now both teachers and students sit together and consume tobacco. There is even a trend of both falling into bad habits. We used to treat teachers like god. We need to teach the same attitude to the present generation and also to the teachers.
Q: Is the problem the result of bad teachers or wrong social trends?
Ans: This is a malpractise. We need to work for improvement. It is hard to put blame on anyone.
Q: I see the problem in people in leadership positions.
Ans: No, no. We need to have proper respect to teachers. Our culture inspires us to respect our mothers and fathers. We belong to that culture. I don’t know much of that relates to your culture. We used to be very terrified with our teachers. We used to be much disciplined. Now, neither students are following discipline nor teachers are fulfilling their responsibility.
Q: Is this the result of teachers failing to do their duty or wrong social trends. I just wanted to know your opinion.
Ans: Why are you trying to put me on a trap? Why should I fall into your questions?
Q: I don’t have any such intentions. I am here to discuss about your plans as an education minister. I am just curious about your plans. I have no intention to put any trap on you.
Ans: Ok, I have no problems on that. If you look deeply, you yourself can analyse where the problem is. The problem is the malpractices that are growing deeper in our society. The problem is our lack of education. We now need to make every one literate. All of us should work towards that goal. You also should contribute on that. I will make contributions from my side and all teachers should make contributions from their side. I have come to education ministry with a hope that I will get chance to work with intellectuals. Our focus will be the policy formulation. We are still in transition and in this transition within two to four months, before February 21, we have many tasks to accomplish.
Q: In education, there are so many policy level uncertainties. The regulation has not been introduced a year after the endorsement of the education act. The council of ministers has also directed the education ministry to prepare a directive.
Ans: That will be brought in near future.
Q: Another key problem is the management of the temporary teaches. How do you want to deal the issue related to life of so many individuals?
Ans: This problem has been solved in the past too. It is like the continuation of squatter’s problem despite resolving it time and again. We already have determined policy for resolution of the problem. However, some sections of temporary teachers have expressed their reservation over that. Among 30 thousand, 18 thousand have demanded an opportunity for giving exam and we have already initiated the process. Now they have again asked us to cancel the examinations. Like the government is doing the local polls in three rounds in an attempt to bring all section of society on board, we are a democracy not a one party regime; therefore, we are trying to hear views of all sides.
Q: What are your immediate plans that you will deliver before our next interview?
Ans: Now we will open polytechnic schools. In the past there were few educated people and once they passed SLC, they would get the job of a teacher. Now the number of teachers is more than that of students. We will look how we can solve this. Now no one fails and every one passes but one section doesn’t get an opportunity to study in college. We need to give opportunities to such students. We can teach them skills of plumbing, painting, wiring, cooking, agriculture and so one. We can provide them technical skills so that they can acquire required sills and get jobs in the market. We have developed wrong habits so our youths who complete there SLC are not interested to work on farm and raise livestock. However, they are ready to clean toilets abroad. We need to change this mind-set. If they stay in our village and get involved in the farming, tree and fruit plantation, they can make a lot of money. Now the focus should be on modern agriculture, training on farming among others. We need to change our education to achieve this. We need to make investments on intelligent people and offer them higher education. We need to have scientists, engineers and doctors who can contribute towards this goal.
Q: In the new federal set up, many of the rights related to education have been delegated to local bodies. How are you making necessary management?
Ans: We are deploying bureaucrats and that process would start very soon. We are planning to deploy undersecretary level staff in municipalities and officer level staff in rural municipalities. We have delegated the power of Singhadurbar to the local bodies. Now, there are 744 districts in the country. If bureaucrats make honest attempt, there will be reform. We still have question on how to monitor these attempts and how to safeguard district education office. The concept of district is not entirely over. There will still be a chief district officer and the police in district unit.
Q: There are also fears that quality of education would further jeopardise under the new set up. What do you say on this?
Ans: We should not just doubt. If there is good monitoring, if the elected ward representatives command their respective localities and work with true intentions without fearing that it will affect their vote base, there will be good result. I have recently interacted with two headmasters and one of them told me that everything happening is good.
Q: However, there has not been progress in bringing the teachers under discipline. They teach in public schools but send their kids to private schools. Will you change that?
Ans: The mind-set is changing slowly. There was discrimination in the past. Sons were sent to private schools and daughters were sent to community schools. Now awareness is spreading. Even poor parents, who work in sand or stone mines, now want to send their children to good schools. The public schools charge no fees still such poor parents are sending their children to private schools with a hope for quality education. We need to change this situation. I am involved in Tribhuwan Adarsha Bidhya Mandir and it has attracted considerable students after transforming itself into an English medium school. If there are principals with a similar willpower, the quality will surely improve.
Q: What is your view on higher level education?
Ans: Our student should not just go abroad for study, foreign students should also come here for studies. If we open good universities, students will come from India to study medicine. We should provide opportunities for our youths to study here. Otherwise millions and billions of rupees will go abroad. We need to stop this. There are so many issues that we can debate for hours. Instead of speaking I would like to deliver from my action.
Q: I was just wondering how long you would for that?
Ans: Definitely you will see the result. I have a good track record of delivering everywhere I worked. When I was the commerce minister, we signed trade and transit agreement with India. We are still benefitting from that agreement.
This Interview based on radio programme entitled 'Hamro Sikshya' which discusses the opportunities and challenges in public education in the new federal setup. The programme is produced by edukhabar.com with the support of Action Aid Nepal. It is aired from Radio Paschim Today based in Dhangadi, Radio Doti based in Doti and Radio Taha Sanchar based in Kathmandu. The radio programme can also be tuned through this link: http://www.edukhabar.com/audio/30 and also through aneroid app Edunepal.