Monday, 6 December, 2021

Revisiting Public Schools

Prem Khatry

Satisfaction is what an individual would look for in life. And, obviously, education can provide satisfaction of the highest order. The feeling of satisfaction would be generated from different corners but it is the human mind and heart where the feelings enter and finally settle. Satisfaction is also like a wave in the sea – one goes, another emerges but with different form and activity. This is where man finds a philosophy of life – nothing is permanent, waves in mind are like the ones one faces in the sea.
All his life, this scribe felt satisfied in imparting a bit of his experience and book based knowledge to students –from the small village children coming to school for alphabets and numerical to TU Kirtipur where students of his age or younger – shared knowledge with him for 36 years. A vivid memory comes of schools opening gradually in the village where elders would count small amount of rupees and paddy rice as individual donation for the sustenance the school required to keep the lessons going. The teachers were the main attraction as the elders' dream was to keep the school alive through teachers, mostly short and long term guests coming from the cities, Terai and often from as far as east and north India.
A period of time came in the life of the school at Pyauli, Bhojpur, or for that matter, in many public schools of Nepal when they began to plunge into the partisan politics leaving the space for fast-mushrooming private schools. For example, a tiny – 8-page-long – critically composed booklet addressed to the headmaster of Pyauli's Sharada Secondary School, Bhojpur, became some type of 'ceremonial' statement as far west as Baitadi, or Dailekh. The principals and even the DEOs there were fully convinced that the picture drawn from Bhojpur was so similar to these regions. Schools became platforms for party politics there as well and nobody was concerned about the ever decreasing status of the exam results. The doomed status didn’t melt the hearts of the school management committee as nobody would accept this bitter fact. The political playground was larger and spacious than the actual playground so urgently required for the physical and mental growth of the children attending the schools.
For years, Nepal's public education system has closed its eyes and shunned rooms to enhance quality and bring about timely changes. It doesn’t have to be over emphasised that the school is the sole and effective catalyst to change the face of the family, the community, the village or the State. It has enormous responsibility to do so. The scribe's rather 'tough' note served to the school at Pyauli emphasised on the role and responsibility of the only school of the area.
The saying 'every dark cloud has a silver lining' is likely to come true in the public school sector in Nepal. It is not possible to cite many examples but recent information received through media and some memory of the recent past show some positive indication in this regard. One such example comes from the Thankot-Satungal area. A public secondary school realised the lacuna and planned to strengthen the nature of teacher-student relations almost following the ancient system when all attention of the teacher was focused on the student sitting in front of him/her. Result: the young students grew to be a king, a minister, a skilled bowman/woman, a seasoned philosopher, a smart politician, a writer or a shrewd businessman/woman. Every student grew as a mini computer with powerful ‘memory’ card.
Gradually the Thankot school began to show the sign of quantum jump from the scratch to a level when private schools charging high fee and showing pomp often demonstrate their capacity. What more would you expect in those days when nation building with all arts and crafts was in place. This success story pleasantly surprised the neighbours in terms of (then) SLC results. There were also several schools in the far west where the School Management Committees (SMC) with the headmasters and his team made similar efforts in putting the teacher to task and showing the long awaited result.
What is the magic in these stories? The magic was the teacher’s dedication, SMC’s encouragement in terms of reward and punishment, and the community’s strong belief that the better performance of the private schools was the result of the better management, longer school hours, politics-free environment at school, work based benefit to teacher, and relatively better physical facilities. On the contrary, public schools suffer badly from negligence on the part of the teacher despite more facilities and benefits, more holidays and less work and lack of responsibility, among a host of other causes. Result: Enrolment and exam result have gone down despite better facilities to teachers. Here, infrastructure is hardly assessed and improved over time.
One more example comes from Damauli, the headquarters of Tanahu. The Satyavati Secondary School has an overwhelming student number of about 2500 and it is growing by year. The school has to screen the enrolment through an entrance test. Satyavati doesn’t have to struggle for survival or worry about performance. Parental support is always at the high gear. Another school in the same block suffers from a host of malaises. These are examples of what takes to be considered ‘good’ and vice versa.
Finally, Image FM has been instrumental for this scribe to pull information together to complete this and many write-ups in the past. According to the information gathered by the hard working Image correspondents, many public schools are now coming to realise that it has not too late to revamp the system and put it for competition with its own making and creation: the private system. There needs to have a stronger public system to prove its worth and yield a result where every section of society is satisfied. Now that the local government has the responsibility of running school education of its territory, educationists, policy makers, government authorities and experts must come together to make school education goal oriented. And, the goal is: Dignified Life for every Nepali.

(Former Dean of Humanities & Social Sciences, TU and Fulbright scholar from University of California, Khatry writes on cultural issues)