Monday, 6 December, 2021

Elite Stakes Dwindle In Public Education

Mukti Rijal

The quality standards of the public schools in Nepal have deteriorated over the years despite massive resources outlay for the sector. It is the vested interest of the policymakers and political party leaders that has often been alleged to contribute towards deterioration of the school education. The National Education Commission that is supposed to oversee and conduct examination for the selection and recruitment of teachers in a very fair and objective manner has not been able to function fully. In disregard to the principle of fairness for the recruitment and evaluation of teachers, the government acts in such a manner that compromises on the objective practice of recruitment for teachers pursuant to the education commission standards.

Vested interests
There are several instances to show how the government can act for political expediency in defiance of the values and standards of quality school education. The government had agreed with the association of the ad hoc teachers committing that they would make the regular and permanent without having to go through standard open and fairly competitive test. Even as they fail in the tailored exam, they would be compensated for in a handsome manner. Such and many other shortsighted decisions of the government giving in to the pressures and influences of the vested political interests have created adverse consequences, impairing the education system in the country.
As a result, the attraction of the public towards the community schools has drastically gone down. Every year government formulates plan to launch massive campaign to help enroll students in the public schools but the result has been largely a failure. Even some community schools in the urban and semi-urban areas have failed to attract and get new enrollment of students especially due to their poor teaching-learning environment. Some schools especially in the Kathmandu Valley that have been blanked due to zero enrollment of the students have either been merged with the neighbouring schools or the teachers concerned have been transferred and adjusted accordingly.
The government had also proposed to provide incentives to the teachers and civil servants who tend to choose to send their children to study in the government-aided community schools. Even some local governments -- Rural Municipalities and Municipalities -- have enacted regulations to obliging the teachers working for the community to their children to the community schools.
This was expected to contribute not only to increase the rate of enrollment in the schools but raise the legitimacy of the educational institutions. However, it did not help much. Today it is found that teachers in the community schools, irrespective of the levels, send their children to the private schools indicating that they themselves have no confidence in the teaching-learning environment in the schools that they are venerated, paid for and employed in the privileged and respectable position of teachers and educators. When the teachers who need to own and be accountable to the teaching and learning outcomes in the school have lost their trust in the effectiveness of learning in the schools they are associated with, it is almost futile to expect the improved and the quality learning environment in the public schools.
In Nepal, during early 1970s, the government formulated a national policy making education a subject of government obligation. Though the reach and expansion of the schools was limited and confined to some convenient locations in the district in those days, education imparted to children in the public schools was uniform where students from haves and have-nots communities attended and received education.
It means that same level and quality of education was imparted to the children no matter differences and disparity in their social and economic status and background. Public school education was a kind of equalising and leveling means as children of rich and poor, upper and lower caste groups joined in the same school and shared the same educational pedestal and facilities.
When the education sector was liberalised and opened for private sector participation especially during the late 1980s through amendment to the Education Act and Rules, it unleashed an unregulated mushrooming growth of the private schools both in the urban, semi-urban and even in the rural areas. The private schools slowly captured the education landscape. As a consequence, the social and political elites started to disown and discard public school education on various counts.

Lucrative business
First, they let down and withdrew from the public schools leaving them to fend for themselves by sending their children to the private schools. Moreover, as private schools and colleges became more of a kind of lucrative business enterprises and ventures, political and social elites emerged as the key and important stakeholders for private investment in education sector. Today they can foil any policy initiatives and measures to rein in and regulate the private schools. Once elites and educated group of people lose their stakes and interest in the quality of public school education, the social support, participation and pressure to ensure and maintain the quality of education in public schools is bound to be insufficient. This has been clearly articulated in the National Education panel report chaired by the education minister, which the government failed to make public.
The crux of the matter lies as to how to strengthen and expand public stakes and ownership for education as it is the core and obligatory function of the state in a democratic society. As the school education has come under the purview of the local government according to the federal constitution, it is also incumbent upon the local government institutions to work towards transforming and standardising the public schools in the country.

(Rijal, PhD, writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues.