Saturday, 4 December, 2021

Education Sector In The Govt Policy Paper

Kushal Pokharel


Addressing a joint session of the House of Representative and National Assembly, President Bidya Devi Bhandari elaborated the government’s policy and programmes for Fiscal Year 2020/21. Considered as a precursor of the national budget, the policy and programmes has attracted huge attention of various sectors including academics, business among others. At a time when the nation is grappling with the surmounting challenges of COVID-19, policy priorities of the government is a matter of serious concern.
Education is one of the most important areas that have drawn interest of academicians, educational institutions, students and parents. The annual policy has emphasised technology friendly education. In this regard, a commitment of introducing high speed internet and information technology lab in all secondary public schools and campuses have been made. Furthermore, production of e-learning materials for making online classes effective, improvement in Early Childhood Development classes, curriculum revision at the university level have been spelled out in the policy document to ignite a ray of hope for education reform. Apart from enrollment, the policy also embraces the significance of student retention which is appreciable. Additionally, the agenda of promoting nationalistic feeling among students has got some space.
Having said that, the document has faltered in addressing education management issues during this testing time. With continuation of similar programmes on education for the past three years, the government’s much anticipated annual policy and programmes fails to bring fresh thinking in restructuring the education system in the changed context. In fact, confusion and wide ranging problems of students, teachers and educational institutions pertaining to education management during the pandemic have not been incorporated.
Despite the commitment to prioritise online learning, a clear-cut modality of achieving this goal is not mentioned. The policy is silent on improving teachers’ and students’ capacity for the same. More importantly, the document is mum on integrating the technologically deprived communities in the mainstream learning process. Appropriate policy response for growing educational divide between students across different regions and socio-economic background is missing.
Strengthening of public education system has been overlooked. While public education has become a predominant agenda throughout the world particularly after the pandemic, the case is completely different in our context. As a matter of fact, the government has nowhere envisioned a robust public education that can accomodate not only children from underprivileged and deprived communities but also from well-off families.
On the higher education front, the much sought after demand of university autonomy has been discarded. With the political interference severely constraining the academic worth of our universities, governing them through a board of trustees’- an important demand raised by educationists, remains unaddressed.
The policy paper has shown sheer reluctance to make local governments more accountable for managing education at the grassroots level. Opposed to the need of the present circumstance which demands a pro-active local leadership in every sector including education, the central government has expressed its willingness to continue its grip over the education management thereby ignoring the significance of mobilising local governments which are constitutionally key actors of development.
Amid this scenario, the question of how the upcoming budget will address the educational issues particularly the corona crisis, has become pertinent. If annual policy and programmes is anything to go by, there is little hope of the education sector getting top priority in terms of investment. While the general trend of spending in education has remained around 20 per cent of the national budget, it is currently around 10 per cent in our context. What is noticeable here is that the party of the present leftist government in its election manifesto had vowed to allocate 20 per cent in education but has shiedd away from doing it. This is a discouraging situation for a country like Nepal which is in need of a major education overhaul for producing competent citizens to accelerate national development.
Summing up, the future of education appears far from bright based on the recently announced annual policy and programmes of the government. While the situation is unfavorable for all nations across the globe, this could also be an opportune moment to herald sweeping educational reforms through a robust policy response. Since education remains an important sector to usher national development, policy priorities need to be very clear. In this regard, the upcoming national budget could be an occasion for the government to respond to the emerging demands of the education fraternity in the changed circumstance.
Moving one step ahead, the government needs to accord due priority to productive investment in this sector to generate multiplier effect in the economy. Rather than sticking to the routine programmes and tall slogans, the government needs to bring implementable policies and programmes to resume the process of teaching-learning.

(Pokharel is a social science faculty and a researcher.