If you plan for a year, plant a seed. If for ten years, plant a tree. If for hundred years, teach the people. When you sow a seed once, you will reap a single harvest. If you teach the people, you will reap a hundred harvests.
-- K-uan-tzu, 47 B.C.
Secondary education in Nepal has not received high priority. The government’s priorities, quite understandably, have been concentrated in recent years on primary education, and may be this will and should continue. But a strong, efficient post primary education, in all its aspects, is essential in Nepal to make the best possible use of its manpower and resources.
The education sector is characterised by an enormous school age population, under enrollment, low attendance and constrained financial resources. The Ministry of Education is responsible for planning, implementing, monitoring and evaluating educational activities, especially till the end of the secondary level.
National goals of education
The goals of national education can be mainly enunciated as follows:
Produce citizens who are loyal to the nation and have full faith in democracy.
Provide cadres of able workers.
Help bring out the genius inherent in each individual, and open up the avenue for exploring the possibilities of personality development.
Promote respect for human values, and national and social morals and beliefs in each individual for the sake of a healthy social life.
Accelerate the socialisation of the individual as part of the effort to strengthen social integrity.
To enable the individual to live in harmony with the modern age and in terms with the national and international milieu without jeopardising his/her own identity.
To stimulate the modernisation of the society, and to develop human resources necessary for nation building.
To inculcate the need to preserve the national environment and to conserve national heritage.
To assimilate the backward sections of the society into the national mainstream.
However, secondary education is affiliated with many problems. With such a huge number to choose from, many of which are interrelated, it is quite difficult to ascertain which are the key constraints to development.
The distribution of secondary schools is not even throughout the country. There is disproportionate concentration of secondary schools in the urban areas, and there are problems of access to the system, both physical and financial. The participation of girls and minority ethnic groups is low.
Secondary education in Nepal is not entirely relevant to the employment or developmental needs of the country, either at the local or national level. The curriculum is content-oriented, and the teaching emphasises rote learning. The quality of secondary education in Nepal is recognised as being amongst the lowest in South Asia.
Secondary education is highly examination-oriented. The examination and evaluation systems are traditional and ineffective in improving the quality. Many of the school buildings and facilities are obsolete and unusable. There is no smooth or systematic transition from secondary education to higher education despite secondary education being mainly geared for entry to higher education. The supply of teachers is a cause for concern, especially those who are qualified and trained.
The country’s weak economy is hardly able to keep pace with the rapid increase in population. The low income per capita and large percent of the population living in poverty, especially in the rural areas, are a pressing problem confronting severe under financing. Growth in expenditure has led to mounting deficit, which is financed with foreign loans and internal borrowing.
Investment in secondary education (both public and private) is inadequate. Primary and higher education has traditionally received much of the donor-aided funding. Quality education and its resulting internal and external efficiency hardly receive any resources at all. The government provides salary support, pension and some other facilities to secondary education, and expenditure for quality improvement such as text-books, teaching aids and teacher upgrading is generally beyond its means. Thus, although a reasonable attempt at mass education is made, the quality of human resources development remains low.
Nepal does not suffer from serious under financing alone. The problem is compounded by inadequacy in management, productivity and supervision of the sector, intensified by economic and socio-cultural pressures, leading to a relatively high drop-out rate, repeat rate and failure. In terms of external efficiency, the secondary education system is inadequately linked to the world of work. The management and supervision of education is currently inadequate to meet the challenge.
Headmasters are not trained for the job, and the District Education Officers offer little or no effective leadership. The supervisors at present undertake very little supervision. They have low status in the eyes of their peers in the secondary schools, have little or no financial support for travelling and are generally too few in number to be effective.
The school management committee is a pivotal agency for Nepal’s educational prosperity. Until now schools are established on the demand of or as desired by the people. But its powers and functions have at times been obscure or misunderstood.
As there is very little substantial administrative support from the government, most of the secondary schools are unable to pay out salaries to the teachers in time. Under such circumstances, it is little wonder that they do not appoint administrative personnel in sufficient numbers. Even well endowed schools have a skeleton staff to collect fees and to perform other minor jobs, and to guard the school premises and keep them clean. As a result, a reliable record of the students is not maintained, accounts are likely to be marred by irregularities and statistical data are conspicuous by their absence.
There are three emerging issues, namely, how to reduce the educational unit costs, how to generate new ways of financing education and how to direct scarce resources to the improvement of quality education.
Some of the ways to ameliorating the situation could be to opt for better school supervision and classroom management; allow more students to be accommodated; generate funds from the community and private sector; increase the number of students per classroom/school where it is low; increase the number of teaching shifts and make good management of time, space and energy.
For this, the government could ensure more government funds to education by way of policy and legislation. Subsides to higher education could be curtailed and the resources shifted to school education. A specific tax could be exclusively created for education, while steadily increasing the tuition fees and enhancing private sector participation.
In Nepal, however, projects, training centres and physical facilities are set up in most cases by the government with foreign grants or loan assistance. During the formative years, the government also comes forward with a heavy investment programme. Once the project is commissioned, it becomes apparent that the government’s grant or budget is not adequate to sustain the programme.
The way forward
Science and technology have conquered distance, bringing the world closer together. Viewed from the angle of the ever increasing international linkages, failure to work out coordination with the educational environment of the world would mean a disastrous shrinkage of educational opportunities.
The educational system of today has a bearing on tomorrow. For this reason, foresight is an important element in deciding on the educational system. More particularly, a profound vision is closely linked with the national goals of education. They shape the destiny of the individual, society and nation. If the education bestowed on a man of today is out of joint with the future, one will be left behind forever, the society in which he was born will lag behind other societies for want of modernisation.
(Lohani is former acting education director, MOE, Nepal)
This article was published first time in The Rising Nepal