Education and Accountability
By Hira Thapa
As the eyes of the educationists are fixed upon the upcoming school leaving certificate (SLC) final examinations scheduled from March 14, 2013 considered the iron-gate for prospective college goers, it may be contextual to discuss a little bit about the instructional quality of school education with special reference to government/community schools in the country. Thousands of such schools, where majority of Nepali children receive formal education, are unjustly blamed for poor performance of their students every year.
Any independent observer would reasonably conclude that the root causes of eroding teaching standards in government schools, which provide free education up to secondary level, have either not been unearthed properly or have been turned a blind eye by those enjoying the perks and privileges at the Ministry of Education. Even the guardians of the students visiting community schools bear a major chunk of responsibility to the falling standards of such government-funded institutions, blinded by an illusion that they have not lost anything here as they do not pay any fees for their wards. Who has to explain to them that the government funds made available to the community schools is nothing but their own tax money?
A dilemma exists because the government of Nepal has been pouring billions of rupees as grants to community schools in maintaining them. The government pays the salaries of the teachers from primary to secondary level, some of whom draw as high as any gazetted first class civil servant draws. Unfortunately, these schools perform so embarrassingly in SLC examinations each year.
One may be tempted to remark that many government schools are not equipped with basic educational materials and face a growing problem of trained and competent teachers’ scarcity. This point has some elements of truth though in majority of the schools inside the cities and in their close neighborhoods the shortage of teachers is not that serious issue. What is really lacking is the dedication and more significantly the accountability on the part of the teachers in community schools, who have grown ungovernable with no supervision either from the government or the concerned school management committees and the guardians.
There are exceptions everywhere and this applies to some government schools in different parts of the country. In the recent past a community school (Gyanodaya Higher Secondary School) in Bafal, Kathmandu was very much in the media because it has been setting a good example of maintaining enviable records of teaching standards although it is not a private school, which charges an exorbitant amount of fees from the students. There may be many other schools which have been performing quite satisfactorily but are not highlighted in the media. This establishes the fact that higher fees alone is not essential to have a school run smoothly and efficiently where the maximum number of students get through the iron gate with excellent results.
School management aspect has also been neglected in an astonishing manner with dirty politics having its sway over its formation and functioning. The intrusion of local politicians in management committees, who bear no accountability to the welfare of the academic institutions has contributed heavily to the deteriorating situation of government schools around the country. Worryingly, a nexus prevails between the incompetent teachers and the local politicians who have utilized the schools as forums to continue their nefarious political activities with utter negligence to their own solemn duties.
An immoral partnership between the teachers and some of the school management committees is seen even in running private schools in the vicinity of the government school to which they are attached. This scribe has himself observed such painful scenario while volunteering in a community school in Parbat (Bhawani Vidyapeeth Higher Secondary School) as one of its former students and tried to persuade the teachers and the school management teams to refrain from such unethical behavior, but in vein.
I had queued up before the Indian Embassy complex in Kathmandu in the freezing temperatures of mid-December last year to submit the Mahatma Gandhi scholarship application forms intended for grade XI students, who are poor but talented (I was carrying the documents on behalf of students of the school where I volunteer and happily all of them have been short-listed and interviewed as well at Pokhara almost a week ago). During that wait one of the guardians of such applicant was expressing dismay at the intellectual bankruptcy of government school teachers, who boast that their kids attend the so-called boarding school in the same village, where the worst performers of community school have been employed as teachers. What a pity!
An interesting irony is prevalent in the standard of English the private schools have been maintaining where the students (with some exceptions) are hardly instructed to the correct use of possessive forms of nouns. I have encountered a number of times when a boarding school going secondary level student finds it difficult to answer correctly if he or she is asked a question like “What is your school’s name? Most of the times their answers will be “My school name is XYZ.” There are several examples of incorrect use of apostrophe‘s especially after plural nouns like boy’s or girl’s etc. which we read in signboards hanging on the walls of Kathmandu-based hostels. More frustratingly, some of such schools are ignorant of the true meaning of the word boarding, which means residential. Do all the boarding schools provide hostel facilities for their students as their names suggest?
A valid question arises as to why the community schools, where we have a good number of qualified and trained teachers, do not meet our expectations compared to the private schools, which have less qualified teachers.
Teachers are supervised constantly and are hired and fired quickly in case of private schools. They are constrained to protest against the injustice they may have to suffer in terms of limited facilities (such teachers are the lowest paid) because they are not given any appointment letters. The proprietors are all in all and can function the way they like and the teachers are quite vulnerable and they seldom grumble fearing the possible loss of their jobs. They are forced to be dedicated.
Conversely, the teachers in the government schools are not held accountable to what they have been doing in the class rooms. None bothers whether they are punctual or regular. They are not required to complete the course of their subjects in due course of time. The government has no supervisory roles, which picks up some incompetent teachers as resource persons and deputes its school inspection work to them. Astonishingly, the school management committee rarely discusses about their performance even after the SLC results when a maximum number of students have failed in Mathematics, Science or English. When nobody bears responsibility for poor results, how can one expect improvement?
Therefore, all the three main stakeholders viz teachers, school management committees and the guardians must rise up to the challenge and act determinedly to ensure quality teaching environment so that those who perform better are rewarded and those failing in their duties are punished. Only carrot and no stick principle has been the main culprit. It is imperative that such principle is discarded sooner rather than later.
(Thapa was former foreign relations advisor to the Prime Minister in 2008-09. His most recent book is “Diplomacy in the Changing World”. Email: firstname.lastname@example.org)
(Editor’s Note: Nepalis, wherever they live, as well as friends of Nepal around the globe are requested to contribute their views/opinions/recollections etc. on issues concerning present day Nepal to the Guest Column of Nepalnews. Length of the article should not be more than 1,000 words and may be edited for the purpose of clarity and space. Relevant photos as well as photo of the author may also be sent along with the article. Please send your write-ups to email@example.com)