Sunday, 11 April, 2021
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OPINION

Catch Them Young For Integrity Building



Mukti Rijal

Can students act together to keep vigil and monitor to assure that the school management processes and actions are carried out in consonance with the values and norms of integrity and accountability? Can schools students can be enabled to watch and check the acts of deviances and dereliction of duty ascribed to teachers, schools authorities, school reconstruction contractors and other actors that militate against the sanctity, norms and values of the integrity? An action piloted by a consortium of civil society organisations has established that students can help improve the integrity profile of the school through positive engagement with teachers, school management bodies, reconstruction contractors and relevant stakeholders .
In a colloquium held the other day to share the results of the activity, the implementing organisations namely Campaign for Human Rights and Social Transformation (CAHURAST) and Youth Initiative (YI) made presentations on the processes employed and the outcomes generated by the action in different 106 schools in Sindhupalchowk and Kathmandu Valley districts. The activity started in 2017 and designed under the rubric ‘Students Acting For Honesty, Integrity and Equality (SHINE)’ has been conceptualised and based on the tipping point strategy.

Culture of integrity
It engaged more than 2500 students and 140 teachers to promote the culture of integrity through monitoring of the services led and conducted by the school students, The underlying logic of the tipping point strategy is to carry out deep, focused and carefully orchestrated Actions in a single geography to produce anticipated results. According to the presentations made in the colloquium, SHINE is an initiative that educates, empowers and engages students with a view to promote the culture of integrity through an active engagement of students.
To this end, integrity clubs of the students have been formed in 106 schools involving 20-25 members in each club. Integrity clubs are the associations of students of 14-19 aged groups on a supervision of focal teacher of the respective schools. The major activity of the integrity club members is monitoring of the education service delivery, reconstruction of schools and execute other integrity related extra-curricular activities in the schools.
The monitoring of school reconstruction activities has been necessarily felt especially to raise voices to check several complaints of irregularities and resource misappropriation which can jeopardise the quality and resilience of physical structures of the school facilities. Since students will hurt first and suffer primarily if the school physical facilities are in poor shape, it is justified on the part of students to participate and engage in school service delivery and reconstruction activities and pinpoint the flaws and pitfalls seen and detected in the process.
In fact, the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child 1989 to which Nepal is among the champion countries accords guarantee to the children's participation right in the activities and processes that affect their interests and wellbeing. According to the organisers of the aforesaid colloquium, the student integrity club activities conducted in Sindhupalchowk and Kathmandu Valley districts, education service delivery in the target schools has significantly assisted in improving school education service delivery. Moreover, reconstruction of the schools devastated particularly due to earthquake has been accelerated. The absenteeism of both students and teachers has significantly decreased which have been largely appreciated by the teachers, school management bodies and local government authorities.
Moreover, participation of the students with disabilities in integrity club activities has contributed to boost their morale and receive proper recognition, outlines the comprehensive report prepared on behalf of the implementers of the activities. According to the report, the students have been divided into such thematic groups as eco group, water, sanitary and hygiene (wash) group, reconstruction monitoring group, education service monitoring group and the advocacy group. The eco group places focus on identifying environment related issues within school complex.
This group, according to the report, generally focuses on waste management resorting to reduce, reuse and recycle to make the school environment green and clean. Likewise, wash group focuses on development of life skills, mobilisation and involvement of parents, communities, government and institutions to improve hygiene, water and sanitation. This group basically looks into the issues of drinking water, water for toilets, first aid, sanitary pads, and classroom cleanliness and so on. In the same way, reconstruction monitoring group monitors the quality of the construction materials used to build the schools.
These groups have been primarily active in Sindhupalchowk district where school reconstruction activities have been initiated to restore the damage wrought upon by the deadly earthquake. Education service monitoring group generally takes the responsibility to look into teachers and students attendance, discipline, scholarship distribution provision, library and internet facilities. Advocacy group shares knowledge among all stakeholders to change or influence practices for positive impact on all. According to the SHINE report, majority of advocacy group members are students with disabilities.

Values of integrity
The results of the pilot activity indicate that the concept of instilling the values of integrity in school children through practical skills and application has both constitutive and instrumental impact. The constitutive value of the activity has been that the students have been oriented and nurtured to grow as a responsible and citizens with integrity.
The instrumental value of child integrity clubs has been that they have contributed to improve school environment, enhance accountability of the school authorities and other stakeholders concerned. Questions can be raised on how appropriate it is to indoctrinate students with the values of integrity and social accountability and catapult them into action. At a time when there is an acute crisis of integrity and accountability, imparting values of active and responsible citizenship is an important and valuable initiative. The authorities should take cues from such lessons and experiences and implement policies to incorporate integrity education in the school curriculum.

(Rijal, PhD, writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. rijalmukti@gmail.com)