As the country celebrated 40th National Education Day and World Literacy Day on September 8, 2019 (Bhadra 22, 20176) the motto of this year's celebration has attracted every one’s mind, which is “ Our Determination, Strengthening of Community Schools “. The theme is relevant in today's context of eroding quality of such schools. We can hardly have any debate that unless our community schools, where almost 90 per cent of our students get enrolled, are reformed enabling them to provide quality education, our overall secondary education cannot improve. With some exceptions Nepal’s community schools are not performing up to our expectations. Our educationists and policy makers aren't tired of repeating the same logic that there is an urgent need to take appropriate measures to enhance the quality of instruction in public schools, in the operation of which Nepal government is spending a huge amount of money on annual basis. Despite the grumbling, which may not be altogether illogical, that there is not enough budgetary provision to successfully implement programmes aimed at strengthening public schools, one must admit that the government has been increasing the amount of budget allocated to education sector each year. In the opinion of a former education secretary who was also the convener of a Working Group to Suggest Measures to Reallocate Teachers' Posts, there is serious problem of deputing teachers in various schools, starting from Basic Primary Level to Secondary Level. As per his group's findings the problem is more complicated as the level of schools goes up. He has elaborated that in the Basic group covering classes from 6-8, there is the shortage of teachers’ posts numbering around 24000. The schools running classes from 6-8, which are feeder schools to neighbouring secondary schools, need strengthening urgently. No secondary school can raise its quality without being backed up by qualitatively strengthened feeder schools. Currently, nation-wide secondary schools on an average are facing the shortage of three teachers, which means that these schools are suffering a lot having failed to make available required teachers to take up classes. Courses of subjects in which the shortage occurs, will likely remain incomplete, the impact of which is on students' overall academic achievement. Regarding the schools running plus 2 classes (XI and XII), the problem of scarcity of teachers is alarmingly serious especially in those that offer science programmes. Master’s degree holders in core science subjects plus Mathematics are so high on demand in rural areas not only because they are smaller in numbers country-wise but also that they are reluctant to go outside the towns and cities. The rural-based schools have been unable to attract them even by offering lucrative salaries due to lack of their career opportunities in those areas. Quite disappointingly there are more teachers than needed in the Basic Primary schools (running classes from 1-6), which is nothing but the sheer wastage of government resources. In this regard the noble endeavours of some local governments (municipality or rural municipality) of devising means to persuade the aged, non-technology savvy and incompetent primary teachers, who can't teach in English medium to voluntarily quit their jobs in return for monetary incentives are worth- commendable. How far such efforts though made for sincere reasons to enhance the primary level students' academic progress will come to fruition is uncertain. Improving teaching learning environment in community schools is dependent on many factors like the effectiveness of school management committee, availability of minimum educational infrastructures including buildings, computer labs, science laboratories etc. But the foremost of them is the subject teacher. A real teacher is one who holds competence in the subject concerned and is wholly committed to help students learn in a pleasing way always guiding and counselling them when required. Teachers should see no distinction between students and their own children, otherwise, they would lose the professional morality. Sometimes, some teachers are found engaged in private tuitions charging fees. They seem to indirectly coerce them to come to them to be tutored, which is a double crime. Professional ethics is ignored here. A student cannot learn more than the teacher knows himself. The standards of students will be determined by the professional competence of the teachers. Therefore, teachers should always be prepared academically before taking up the classes. A better-prepared teacher can motivate the students in the class. Motivated students learn faster and better. It is a good news that Nepal government has started implementing the federal structure of the constitution, which provides for different responsibilities in the education sector to local and provincial governments. Provinces and municipalities and rural municipalities are now slowly taking up their educational responsibilities like some provinces encouraging girl students by providing them bicycles in Tarai region and some municipalities allocating funds for incentivising poor but talented students in their own areas. One of these municipalities as this scribe has learned from reliable sources is Falewash Municipality in Patbat district of Gandaki Province, which has decided to help Bhawani Vidyapeeth Secondary School located within its jurisdiction by offering scholarship funds especially to plus two science students. This school has bagged the third best community school award in secondary level of class XII based on National Education Board results of 2075. The prize has more symbolic value because the school has been awarded a certificate recognising the milestone achievement besides a flag and a cheque of one hundred thousand rupees. Deservedly, the latest class XII science results of the above school were excellent considering constraints of a rural-based institution as all 23 students passed the final examination with higher grades. Awarding prizes won't be sufficient to strengthen the schools. Though recognition inspires the awardee to work harder but unless root cause of erosion of quality is properly addressed, long term progress is not possible. More support from the government in providing teachers is warranted at a time when it has designated years from 2076-2085 as the decade of strengthening of public instruction. Keeping teachers aloof from politics will be crucial to meeting the goals of quality education.
(Thapa was Foreign Relations Advisor to the Prime Minister from 2008 to 2009. He writes on contemporary national and international issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)