Department of Education (DOE) has remained the most influential arm of the Ministry of Education (MOE) in our education system since its establishment. The major role of the DOE is to implement the policies made by the MOE. In this sense, DOE is accountable to what has gone (right or wrong) in the education sector of Nepal. The major practices on educational system of Nepal have been moving as directed by the DOE; whether it is curriculum, instruction or evaluation. The Curriculum Development Centre (CDC), the District Education Offices (DEO) and Office of the Controller of examinations (OCE) are meant to follow DOE instructions. Even the private schools of Nepal turn their ear towards DOE to know if there are any instructions to their regular operation.
In the past few months there has been a series of decisions made by the DOE to regulate the private schools. Nonetheless, these decisions are not at all related with regulating the private schools nor linked with quality of education. Sometimes the DOE comes up with the weight of textbooks one student at each level should carry. Will it solve the problem? This immature decision is ludicrous. On one hand, the DOE through its DEO sends mandatory rules to implement the government approved textbooks and reference books, and, on the other, it fixes the ceiling of the same basing on weight. Does DOE know how many kilograms of textbooks it has prescribed to the schools? What about the weight of the books distributed to the students in each class? Is there any restriction it has made in the past, about the number of reference books one school should use? No there are none. Instead of making such an inappropriate decision the DOE should have asked the private schools to limit the number of reference books in each subject to one or two. One of the recommendations of the High Level Task Force on Education in 2001 was like that.
Another decision of the DOE about the dress code is similar. Do the officials at DOE think that the principals of the private schools are unethically practicing the dress code? Trusting the founder principal to run healthy academic institutions on one side and dictating them to follow the dress code on the other contradict. No principal is in favor of making their school glamorous. If, by chance, there are any; it is the weakness of the monitoring system of the DOE itself.
Regulating is not dictating; it is facilitating. In other words, the DOE should play roles of making the provision of inclusion of private schools in the mainstream mechanism. The duty of the DOE does not end by only providing approval to establish them. Children, whether they study in public schools or the private ones, are children from Nepal. All of them need protection through safe environment, health care, hygienic food, and quality education. Similarly, the teachers working in private schools deserve equal attention, from the DOE, as their counterparts in public schools are receiving. Only through the competent human resources the DOE can ask for quality in education. Has it ever focused any public workshop especially for private schools? Has it discussed the issues of private school teachers in any forum? Has it given any heed to the welfare issues of children studying at private schools? It must be a shame for them when the traffic police initiate this by monitoring the school buses sometimes. Thanks to the traffic police who has made private school principals alert about the safety matter of the children.
What does DOE do then? It has been wrapped with several problems of public schools for decades not being able to solve any. Eighty percent of its activities have been linked with the donors. It spends half of the year trying to keep the donors in good humor. It remains busy in collecting or creating quantitative information as much as possible to show its progress. Highly depending upon the DEO in 75 districts it seldom monitors them. It does not even have a scientific EMIS in school and district level. That is the reason why it is sending school budgets based on fake data sent by them. One can see such anomalies in the Nepali media these days. In the absence of monitoring, many districts have provided approval to unlimited numbers of private schools that outnumbered the public ones. Similarly, the DOE does not even know how many schools have been merged, closed or are not functional due to few number of students.
Talking about the number of private schools the DOE publishes one figure and PABSON gives a figure of more than eighty percent of that figure. Which is true? If PABSON is true then there must be about half of the private schools running without government permission. If DOE is true, there is not much to trust depending upon the mushrooming numbers of private schools. Who is to decide this? It is a pity that the DOE does not even know the number of schools and teachers working in it. Thus, it is highly suggested that DOE should transform itself as a facilitator of private schools rather than spending time on technical matters like weight of textbooks and dress code. Let it be done by the private schools themselves with an in-built monitoring mechanism by the DOE.
Dr. Wagley is an educationist