The eighth amendment to the Education Act rectifies one mistake and commits another
Madan Ashrit Lower Secondary School of Sabaila village in Dhanusa district is now facing the most serious crisis in its history: infrastructure expansion has stalled, teachers are scarce and students are leaving in droves.
Over 50 students migrated to private schools in 2015, and more are expected to leave this year. The school has been without a management committee after two villagers were shot dead in a clash between rival political groups last year.
Established in 1996, the school receives an annual grant of Rs 1.2 million from the government. Local politicians wanted to control the budget with their own candidate to head the school management committee (SMC). The Nepali Congress and the Maoists formed an alliance against the UML. A gang — allegedly mobilised by former UML legislator Yoga Narayan Yadav — attacked the NC-Maoist supporters, killing two. Yadav is now facing trial.
“After this tragic incident, we do not have the courage to conduct another election to form a new committee,” says Headmaster Ram Pukar Gami, “and without it we will not be able to overcome this crisis.”
Since 2011, six persons have been killed in clashes over the SMCs in Dhanusa alone. Three more were killed in Rautahat in the same period, in disputes over control of school budgets. Disagreements and violence have disrupted SMC elections in more than 5,000 schools, mostly in the Tarai.
Krishna Thapa, President of the School Management Committee Federation, says: “In the absence of local elections, school management committees have become a platform for local politicians to flex their muscles.”
In general, schools run by democratically elected and functioning management committees that include parents perform better. But this still means politicians who want to control school funds choose poor and pliable parents as members, and purloin the school budget.
Parliament passed a much-delayed bill to amend the Education Act 1971 last month, dismissing provisions to elect heads to SMCs. Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel told us this week: “There will be no more disputes and violence, because we did away with school management committee elections.”
The provision to allow only parents to head the committees has also been scrapped, and Krishna Thapa says this will undermine efforts to improve education: “Now those driven by ulterior motives will be heading the committees.”
Experts say allowing politically influential people — whose children are themselves in private schools or abroad — to oversee the running of government schools proves that the amendment to the Education Act was passed because of political pressure.
Rajendra Dahal, editor of the education magazine Sikshak, says: “This is a lost opportunity.”
The amended Act also allows over 17,000 temporary teachers to become permanent teachers. Those who are not confident that they will become permanent through an internal competition can opt for golden handshakes.
Lawmaker Radheshyam Adhikari of the opposition NC argues that unqualified and under-motivated teachers is a factor in the low quality of public education and Nepal has wasted a chance to hire young and qualified teachers, by retaining the old and exhausted ones.
However, temporary teachers are still not satisfied. They shut down all government schools in Dhanusa for one day this week, demanding that even those who fail in an internal contest should be entitled to golden handshakes, and have threatened a nationwide education strike.
Temporary teacher Amod Kumar Jha from Dhanusa says: “The golden handshake is not even sufficient to buy funeral shrouds.”
Teachers are not fired even if a majority of their students fail every year, and are not answerable when they close schools in political protests. The amended Act bars them from being executive members of political parties, but they are still cadre.
Teachers argue that participation in political activities is their fundamental right, one that is enshrined in the constitution. President of All Nepal Teachers Organisation Lal Bahadur BC says: “In a country like Nepal where even judges and justices visit political leaders for promotions, it is nothing but hypocrisy to bar us from participating in politics.”
Nepal is launching the multi-billion dollar School Sector Development Project (SSDP) to reform the public education system, from this month. But inaction, impunity and confusion that led to the failure of the School Sector Reform Program (SSRP) persist.
Says Krishna Thapa of the SMC Federation: “We are not hopeful about the SSDP, because it is a copy-and-paste from the SSRP.”
“We are not just trying to please donors”
Interview with Education Minister Giriraj Mani Pokharel
Nepali Times: How do you think the eighth amendment of the Education Act will reform Nepal’s education sector?
Giriraj Mani Pokharel: This is a historical change in education which has restructured the school system and the examination board. We have allowed temporary teachers to become permanent by passing an internal exam, or retire by accepting golden handshakes. Now, not only the parents but those who care about education can lead school management committees (SMCs). Most importantly, new schools can be registered only as trusts, not as companies. This is to provide free education until Grade 12. It is also to discourage commercialisation of schools.
But temporary teachers want those who fail the internal exam to also be entitled to golden handshakes.
The government signed several agreements with teachers before I became Education Minister. I have only implemented those agreements by passing a bill to amend the Act. It was necessary because teachers had waited a long time. Many had retired while waiting for the bill to be passed. As someone who fought for justice and against discrimination, I cannot do them injustice. But I must tell temporary teachers that it is not fair for them to have their cake and eat it too. If they fail in an internal competition, they should not claim golden handshakes.
Donors spent billions to reform Nepal’s education sector, but the SLC pass rate remained low. Was the letter grading system introduced to hide this failure?
Why would I try to do that? The letter grading system was introduced because judging the capability of students based on what they write during the three hours of exam time was not the right method of evaluation. It was not introduced to please donors. What I am now concerned about is whether I can provide colleges for all students who pass SLC exams.
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