When the minister for Education, Science and Technology unveiled the National Education Policy last week, he sounded confident that the policy will lay a strong foundation for sweeping education reforms in the country. The minister claimed that the new policy has addressed the questions of improving quality in addition to accommodating the voice of the major stakeholders. The policy envisions Nepal as an educational hub providing world class education through employment intensive and production-oriented education with the use of appropriate technologies. The government has provisioned policies in the field of technical education, teacher management and infrastructure development. For instance, granting permanent status to the teachers only on the recommendation of the Teacher Service Commission, arrangement of qualified and self-motivated teachers in all schools within five years and minimum qualification to be a teacher at early child development class under teacher management are worth mentioning. Similarly, requiring the graduate students to mandatorily serve the country as volunteers for certain period of time has been provisioned. Another interesting addition is the establishment and operation of specialised schools in music, ayurveda, sports and science. The declaration of Nepal as a fully literate nation in near future by conducing life-long learning programme has also attracted the attention of the policymakers. Meanwhile, expanding opportunities for inclusive and special education to meet the learning needs of differently-abled children on the basis of priority, encouragement and positive discrimination are much needed arrangements to address the concerns of the secluded section of Nepali society. However, an important section of the education community has expressed utmost dissatisfaction regarding the manner of policy formulation. In fact, the reservation pertains to the government’s unwillingness to address various reform measures suggested by the high-level national education commission formed by itself to seek suggestions and feedbacks on the pertinent issues facing the education sector. Although the constitution clearly mentions that Nepal will now be socialism-oriented, the government has not strongly exhibited its willingness to shoulder key responsibilities of education and health which are globally the obligations of State according to one member of the commission who expressed his frustrations through a recent interview with an English national daily. In this regard, the recent policy has offered less to rejoice bypassing the valuable suggestions of high level commission. The discontent is directed towards the government for its willingness to serve the interest of the private sector at the cost of public welfare. Among the major recommendations were increasing education spending over 25 per cent of the national budget, making it compulsory for government employees to enroll their children to public schools, and converting private schools into service-oriented institutions ultimately forming trusts. No less significant were the suggestions pertaining to make entire school education free and compulsory by 2030 and disbanding the practice of the prime minister’s academic leadership as chancellor in universities. The policy comes at a time when the medical education sector is witnessing a severe crisis. With students taking to streets demanding refund of the illegally collected fees from the medical institutes, it has become urgent for the government to address this problem and bring the medical college operators under legal ambit. The issue of regulating educational institutions pertaining to medical as well as non-medical sector should have also been the policy priority. However, this has not been the case. The policy is silent on fostering entrepreneurship through education which has a significant role in the context of Nepal where the problem of educated unemployment is growing. Imparting necessary knowledge and skills through an enterprising curriculum could have been the preferred option. There is still some time for the government to reflect on the feedbacks received after the announcement of this policy and make progressive changes when giving it a full shape. Since the Act entails a legal obligation, it is crucial that the arrangements of the Act addresses all the pertinent issues facing the education sector. Endorsing a better Federal Education Act will be a milestone in the transformation of education in Nepal. The Act should also embrace the spirit of federalism and adopt a more decentralised approach to education planning as envisaged by the constitution. As demonstrated by the global evidences, in the absence of effective education policies and laws, the country’s path of development will be daunting. Hence, identifying key priorities of our education and ultimately carving our development trajectory should be the main focus while formulating an act. More importantly, listening to the suggestions and getting inputs from other political parties including the civil society and getting the genuine concerns of education reforms included in the Act will be useful for changing the educational scenario.
(The author is a member of the Social Science and Research Faculty at NIMS college.)