Public education crunch:Low priority, more expense


Dr. Mana Prasad Wagley

Authorities at the Ministry of Education (MOE) always create a hue and cry in public education trying to justify the lack of funds. In fact, the highest budget in the social sector has been allocated for public education for the past several decades in Nepal. Out of the 34,000 schools in the country, barely five hundred can be traced as good educational institutions depending upon their products at the time of the final examinations. Some three hundred schools cross 70 per cent pass rate in the annual SLC examinations. What about the other more than 90 per cent of the public schools? Nobody cares about them; neither is the MoE nor the local authorities are accountable for this. This stupidity has made all Nepali people shed tears because 78 per cent of all the students studying in this country are in public schools. The irony is that instead of trying to make this part qualitative, the Department of Education remains busy in regulating the private schools, spending almost half a year in 2012; the regulations, however, have no guarantee to be implemented.
A multi-donor project has failed to improve public education in Nepal. The evaluation documents of the BPEP, EFA, SESP, SEDP, and others are there as evidences. Besides, there have been many researches conducted about the different components of public education by independent agencies in the past two decades. However, nothing has improved except for the number of students in schools. There have been promises in plan documents including EFA and SSRP, through which the government ensures quality education for all. This slogan has been just like the slogan of the political parties at election time.
What does the MoE do then? It simply changes one word or the other every year from the previous educational plans and programs and produces it to the NPC. And the NPC endorses the same and forwards it to MoF providing justifications for the financial package. In fact, the MoF, sometimes, raises questions on the program and justification before allocating the budget for education. However, this meager effort has made no impact at all. In this manner, the MoE has been surviving with the least probability of sustaining the fate of public schools in Nepal. The approval of the mushrooming private schools is one of the evidences that the MoE wants public education privatized in this country. The next evidence is that MoE has now stopped affiliating private schools in the urban areas, but it does not restrict the same for rural sector. This means the MoE wants the flood of private schools in rural sector so that public education will be crippled. This “privatization of education mindset” of MoE authorities, who earn their living by public taxes, is not tolerable at all. If they really think that they could do nothing for the benefit of public schools, let all the public schools be run by the private companies. If that should be the case in Nepal, they have to be ready first to close down the MoE and DoE. Is there any accountability on the part of the MoE? Have they ever come up with an agenda for quality improvement? Have they installed student and teacher support systems in schools in a substantive manner? Have they been able to promote the quality of public education by spending 17 per cent of the national budget that comes from the sweat and blood of the taxpayers? Have they ever realized this hard fact? The answer to all these questions is a big “No”. How can they then justify the positions they are holding at different levels in the MoE and DoE?
The donors’ part is also lethargic. They always measure the progress based on disbursement. Only spending money can never guarantee quality. They should have spent money for the improvement of the system not by distributing money in different echelons. Have they been able to improve the curricula and textbooks? Have they been able to improve the student assessment system? Has there been any qualitative improvement on the part of teachers and SMC? Has there been any improvement in SLC examination results of the public schools? The answer to all these questions is again a big “No”. Then why are they spending their taxpayers’ money in Nepal for nothing? It is another shame on their part. Do they know that Nepal’s education system is teacher-centered and not student-centered? Let us take only one example: our system guarantees the monthly salary of teachers but never guarantees the quality of education of the children enrolled. Now, they have to rethink the way they are spending millions of dollars for the past three decades in Nepal. Either support the substantive and visible quality education or do not support at all.
We cannot justify the huge expense made in education sector neither by the government (now 78 per cent) nor by the donors’ (22 per cent). Then why should one worry about investing at all? This indicates that the MoE has remained unsuccessful in preparing concrete plans for quality on one hand and the donors remained unsuccessful to streamline their investment to produce quality on the other. From the lessons learnt, let us commit to build a foundation to promote quality by hitting hard on the past nuisance.
Dr. Wagley is an educationist -
Source: The Himalayantimes