Innovation in education: Closing policy gaps

2014-04-05

Himalayan News Service

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Good policies are the most important driving engines of progress. However, the process in the generation of policies matters if you hope to achieve good results. Effective polices are not developed on a whim any more than effective engines can be built ad hoc. In fact, the foundations of good policies are based on research, data, information and analysis of best practices. Meaningful public input and engagement is also necessary in ensuring that the public has an opportunity to weigh in on the policy formulation process. Since 1954, Nepal has gone through several education-planning processes with the aim of improving education. While the increase in access to education has been impressive, its quality, as I’m sure most would agree, has not been satisfactory.

For some 35 years (1956 to 1990s), the Nepal government was engaged primarily in the expansion of education; as a result, there were 32,130 schools in the country as of 2010. Based on reported data, the school-to-student ratio is 1:235. With this kind of ratio, one would think that teachers would often be in a position to provide fairly well-focused instruction – getting to know their students’ needs in depth, teaching in classrooms of reasonable size, and so on. But without a student enrollment audit and teacher employment data audit, it is difficult to get a very meaningful sense of what, precisely, this ratio means in practice. The government has also implemented per pupil funding without developing robust measures to check for ghost schools, ghost students and ghost teachers. Some of the things that the government could be doing to create robust policy have been suggested here:    

Survey & Analysis of Past Policies

It would be extremely fruitful to survey and analyze past policies and identify implementation gaps in order to create a roadmap for the future that is guided by past lessons. Such a study, and its publication in a usable report, would be an aid to transparency and an asset to planners both within the government and at donor agencies. The study should look at the policy decisions that have occurred within the last 20 years and explore the context under which the policies were introduced: e.g., whether they were spurred by a study, by a donor agency, by the international trend at the time, etc. Among the questions to be asked would be: Were the policies implemented? What was their result? If some were not implemented, what were the causes and what has been done to address that? Do any current policies have linkages to old policies?
 

Nepal’s government needs to implement a practice whereby the number of schools, number of students enrolled in those schools and number of teachers employed are audited by an independent auditor commissioned by the Department of Education so that problems of ghost students, ghost teachers and ghost schools are addressed.

The objective would be to produce a usable report that could provide guidance and a context for new players on the scene, including newly appointed government policymakers, parliamentarians, new donors, and newly appointed officials in influential donor agencies who may have little context of Nepal. In effect, Nepal has been a constant laboratory for policy experimentation; it is important to comprehensively analyze the results in a historically grounded, comparative and transparent fashion to ensure that lessons can be learned, disseminated and inform future decisions and directions.    

Best Practice Analysis

Much stress is often laid on the challenges and shortcomings of Nepal’s schools, or on overall trends that lead in a positive direction. But there have also been individual successes – for instance, schools that improve in high-poverty areas where other schools lag behind (for instance, in completion rate, enrollment of girls, etc). It would be useful as a “best practice” model to identify public schools from all over the country that have been doing an excellent job in terms of providing quality education, engaging students, using local resources, increasing the graduation rates of girls and marginalized population, mobilizing the community, producing the  highest test results, and document their practices.

How have they been able to achieve those results? What kind of social conditions exist? What resource conditions? What level of community involvement? Are there any other kinds of external resources that may have been mobilized? By looking at “best practices,” it would be possible to discern how similar results could be replicated in other schools, while recognizing, encouraging and learning from the achievements in the field of some of Nepal’s most creative, hardworking and effective educators.

Education Audit

When public money is spent, there has to be a robust system of accountability to ensure that taxpayers’ hard-earned money has been put to good use. Nepal’s government needs to implement a practice whereby the number of schools, number of students enrolled in those schools and number of teachers employed are audited by an independent auditor commissioned by the Department of Education so that problems of ghost students, ghost teachers and ghost schools are addressed. Another added advantage of such audits would be that the data obtained will be accurate on all indicators. Recently, for instance, the government has been considering the idea of an education review office; yet the purpose of this office is still, it appears, in formation. One of the responsibilities given to this office could be to have an education audit, with per student funding tied to this audit. This would be an important step in enabling the appropriate level of data to be collected regularly and available to policymakers.

When you go to the trouble and expense of designing and building an engine, and when you know that lives and livelihoods will depend to a great deal on the functioning of that engine, it’s a good idea to have as much information as possible available to determine whether it’s likely to work. Nepal is still at a rudimentary level when it comes to data-driven education policy. But by gathering information on what has been done in the past in a coherent way that allows it to be analyzed, and by creating mechanisms such as an outside enrollment audit to provide solid data on the current situation, it is possible to go forward and design policies that will be effective for our children, our communities and Nepal as education drives us into the future.

(Source: Republica Nepal: Published on July 18)