Education in Federal Nepal
– Dr. Devkant Joshi
Principal, LRI School,
Nepal is a country of great diversity and significant disparities. The federal structure was hoped to be more relevant than a centralized state to respect this diversity. Hence, introduction of federalism has taken place mainly to allow participation by previously excluded groups and communities in decision-making.
In the education administration, there are several levels under the central ministry: the Regional Education Directorates, the District Education Offices, the Resource Centers, and the schools. Both at district and village level, there is a District or Village Education Committee, which approves the education plans prepared by the DEO on one hand, and the Resource Center and the schools on the other. In both these governance systems, the levels with greater responsibilities are the district and local ones.
Nepal not long ago opted for a policy of decentralization. This has mainly taken the shape of strengthening the local government and community structures. This is true for education and for other sectors. In the context of Nepal, Government’s decentralization policy is gaining momentum and local governments are expected to play an increasing role in the planning and implementation of public services. When commenting on basic and secondary education, participation and ownership by the community in school development, including resource mobilization and management support for quality education, have demonstrated positive results across the nation.
However, there remains much discussion and significant disagreement on the shape etc of the federal provinces. The debate so far has not focused education in all earnest. It seems that the Ministry of Education has not undertaken any study on the implications of the federal system for the structure of its administration and for its own role (with the exception of the project within which this work is undertaken). Their focus is on making the existing system function well before the federal system is implemented. In a nutshell, they are not ready for transformation for now.
Complementarity between different actors is crucial to the success of decentralization. Federalism tends to create new actors or to invest existing actors with new authorities. It is essential that the different decision-makers in education, at whatever level they are placed, work together, and that their actions are complimentary and not conflicting. There has to be a balance between central regulation and local autonomy. But many conflicts around decentralization center on this tension. Any education system including the most decentralized one needs some central regulation to remain as a ‘system’.
The essence of decentralization is that local level actors have autonomy and there is a balance between professional-technical expertise with political legitimacy. Federalism means that provincial and local governments are elected. These governments have political legitimacy to make education policy, but they need to take into account the technical expertise that education bureaucrats have.
An actor, such as a School Management Committee (SMC) or a Local Government or a Provincial government, should not be assigned functions for which they have neither the resources nor the capacities. However, if the policy set is to give new functions to an actor, then efforts have to be made to ensure that this actor will have the necessary resources and capacities.
There has to be balance between professionalism, autonomy, and accountability. This means when an actor has genuine professional skills and the other characteristics that come with professionalism (specialized training; service orientation; social status), that actor can be given significant autonomy but will also be held accountable for the way in which the autonomy has been used.
In a new federal system, it is important to build upon the existing structures else there is a risk to weaken the entire system, by creating entirely new structures, which may not be very effective at the beginning. If an additional level is simply added to the existing ones, there may be conflicts between the new and the existing structures, and there may be too many levels, creating a heavy bureaucracy. In the same vein as the previous principle, successful strategies need to be retained and integrated into the new federal system. For instance, if it has been demonstrated that schools grants are a reasonably effective school financing mechanism, especially at secondary level, it makes sense to keep this strategy. The instauration of federalism in Nepal should at the same time be seen as an opportunity to transform the education system, where such transformation is needed, and to address Education in a Federal Context in Nepal 116 A Resource Material on Education and Federalism in Nepal 2014 deep-seated problems, which have been impervious to previous attempts to resolving. The instauration of federalism is indeed a major change which may open space for reforms which previously were difficult to imagine or implement.
Education has always been an idea of modernity, prestige, social status, and a basic requirement for ‘development’. The use of schools as instruments of social change became the key sources of legitimacy for political systems from time to time. With the historical and cultural baggage of course contents, there appears substantial challenge under the federal system to change the policies on education or change the curriculum.
The challenges ahead are manifold. The issues are: What will be the history content of textbooks? What will be the language of pedagogy and textbooks in schools? Who will manage, who will finance? What about the schools run by religious institutions like the Gumbas and the Madrasass?
The property and income of every citizen is taxed to educate the child of every citizen. Even though some choose to send their children to a fee-charging school he is not exempt from contributing his support to the education of all children. The golden rule in educational finance is : “Thou shalt educate thy neighbor’s children as thine own.” At first this idea of equalisation was applied to small areas, as the county and state. Now the old slogan “the wealth of the state must educate the children of the state” is being supplemented with the clause “and the wealth of the United States must be used to equalise the education of all the children in the nation”. Furthermore, the phrase “all the children in the nation” implies that more adequate educational opportunities and greater financial support be provided for exceptional or a typical children, since their learning opportunities, as in the case of the blind, are below par, and the costs of their instruction are above average. American public education will not be genuinely democratic until there is nation-wide application of the principle that opportunity and burden shall be equalised for all learners.”* 69. The second issue refers to the conditions of grant-in-aid. Here strict adherence to certain general principles is necessary. To begin with, the tendency to use grants-in-aid as indirect pressure levers for policy decisions should be discouraged as far as possible. Secondly, the quantum of specific purpose grants should be restricted to the very minimum and confined to basic programmes of national significance only or schemes in the nature of experimental or pilot projects. Thirdly, the procedure for sanctioning these grants will have to be simplified to the utmost. And lastly, a suitable machinery will have to be devised to obtain, from the State Governments, a report on the utilisation of grants and the results obtained thereof. This can probably be effectively done by appointing high level advisers who should pay visits to States and submit reports after a special study on the spot. 70. Another useful suggestion to be made in this context is that the specific purpose grants should be included in the Centrally-sponsored sector. In a Centrally-sponsored scheme, ‘planning’ should be a joint responsibility in which the fundamental principles are laid down by the Centre, but a large initiative and freedom is left to State Governments to make the Plan suit its local needs and conditions; ‘implementation’ would be through the State Government; and ‘finance’ would come from the Centre on a hundred per cent basis and outside the State Plan and ceiling. This will ensure that the programme is most effectively implemented and also that such implementation does not interfere with any other schemes. 37 Improving the quality of education is often offered as a goal of Decentralization, and it reflects the notion that local people can solve local educational problems better than the state (Winkler, 1993, p. 66). But in the Nepali context there is a huge debate on federalism whether it is going to be geographical, linguistic, culture, ethnic or others. What will be the national language and what will be the medium of communication at national and local levels. Which department (central, state or local) will make the policies, curricula, and take the responsibility of financing the education? For example, if Madhesh Pradesh as demanded by most of the Madhesh-centric parties will be one state, what will be the language of educational materials, what will be the curricula, which language will be the medium of teaching, what will be the content of education materials such as nationality, geography, culture, language. Will there be existing texts of Prithivi Narayan Shah or Bhanubhakta Acharya? What will be the priority of content when it talks about the Nepali political movements and martyrs. Madhesh martyrs, madhesh movement or Janandolan 2006? If the federal state will be just opposite as most of the Madhesi parties wants, what will be the language policies. For instance, will the Nepali language become a bone of contention between seekers of ‘Tharuwan’ and ‘Akhanda Sudurpaschim’. Similarly, for the majority of schools in Kaski and Lamjung districts, Gurung can be a better medium of teaching than Nepali. A lot will hinge on what will be the common language, what will be the medium, what will be the teacher trainings manual, what will be the curriculum, what will be the historical, social, political and cultural content of the text books and who will make the policies and who will decide that what will be taught in the school. So, conflict in political, ethnic, linguistic, or identity area will affect the educational policies of Nepal. What will be the solution or how can handle and manage such type of challenges. Hanson suggests at least four centers of power that can significantly facilitate an educational Decentralization programme if they collaborate within the context of a shared vision: political parties, national and regional government institutions, teachers’ unions, and local citizens. The single most important force in determining the fate of a Decentralization initiative is whether or not the main political parties have a shared vision about the course and content of the reform and agree to collaborate. For example, the Venezuelan reform (1968) was ruined as successive political parties, all of which professed belief in Decentralization, made massive personnel and policy changes solely to capture attention and credit for the programme (Hanson, 1976). In Argentina (1993), a new law of education was passed which supported Decentralization (federalisation). However the process of the Decentralization remains uncertain for long time because of weak collaboration and initiation of political parties(Hanson, 1996b). Spain got it right in 1978 when both major political parties collaborated in crafting the Decentralization reform of government and supported it as being in the best interest of the nation. “Country before party” was the watchword at that decisive moment (Tussel & Soto, 1996). A second necessary component is to have the collaboration of the major institutions of government,such as: the ministries of education and finance, the office of national planning, and the national, regional, and municipal legislatures. Any one of these institutions can do significant damage to a Decentralization strategy if it chooses to pursue its own model and refuses to compromise. The Role of Federal Government in Education: A comparative Study 38 A Resource Material on Education and Federalism in Nepal 2014 A third critical center of power that can significantly advance or retard the Decentralization process may be the national teachers’ unions, school associations (like the Private and Boarding Schools Organization, National Private and Boarding Schools Association), Guardians’Association Nepal among others. If the teachers’ union membership does not feel threatened by a fragmentation of their bargaining units or it improvestheir working conditions and benefits, the the teachers can be a formidable ally (or foe) in the change process. Finally, Decentralization in education can only work if community members are prepared to put in the time and energy necessary to make the reform work if the local communities distrust, do not take seriously, do not participate in, or do not want to assume the added responsibility, then the opportunity for successful change through Decentralization is seriously limited. In sum, the greater the accepted vision of Decentralization within and between the distinct centers of power, the greater the chance of success. 2.4 Conclusion and Recommendations One of the most important but challenging issue in the process of education restructure will be the multilingual, multicultural and multiethnic background of students. Teaching materials, curricula and the necessity of teacher’s language skills will be determined by the nature of state and the language policies of the nation. There is no clear-cut concept of new federal structure but any type of federal system will demand a different educational structure than now. Since, Nepal has already adopted multilingual and decentralized education system to an extent the anticipated changes may not be a totally new and shocking experience. However, it will demand much more planning and new adjustments to the existing education system. The Interim Constitution of Nepal (2007) has acknowledged the importance of multilingual education by granting the right to receive basic education in mother tongue. Part 3, Article 17 of this constitution mentions: (a) “Each community shall have the right to get basic education in their mother tongue as provided for in the law,” (b) “Each community residing in Nepal shall have the right to preserve and promote its language, script, culture, cultural civility and heritage.” In Nepal, the local bodies have been authorized to run primary schools in mother tongues by the Local Self-governance Act, 1998. Similarly, the provisions in Education Act (amended in 2002) and Education Regulations, 2002 have been made for running primary schools in mother tongues. The Curriculum of Primary Education, 2007, has also authorized the concerned stakeholders to impart primary education in respective mother tongues. National Curriculum Framework, 2007, has stated that the first phase of basic education (1-3) can be imparted in mother tongue. The Three Year Interim Plan, 2007, also focused on the institutionalization of education in mother tongue and expansion of such programme in par with the demand and promotion of multilingual education. Implementation Guidelines 2005 for District Curriculum Coordination Committee and Regional Curriculum Coordination Committee have also made provisions for developing curricula and teaching materials at the local level. The commitment made by Nepal at the World Education Forum 2000 in Dakar to ensure the right to every child particularly girls and children from ethnic minorities for the complete free and compulsory primary education of good quality by 2015 and making the schools inclusive learning centers of excellence will take more time to achieve. The introduction of mother-tongue literacy classes in different parts of the country were not continued for 39 a number of reasons and one of them was the interest of the learners to learn the second language other than their first language (Khadka, 2006). However, there are some positive signs in this regard and Nepal has endorsed Multilingual Education Implementation Guidelines, 2010. The MEIG, focusing on “bottom-up” approach, has acknowledged the prominent role of the language communities, school management committees, local bodies, non-governmental organizationsin establishing child right to receive quality basic education in mother tongue. Curriculum Development Centre (CDC) has produced textbooks for mother tongue as subject for different grades in a number of languages. Various studies (Benson, 2002; Dutcher, 2003) have identified that overall educational attainment of children can be enhanced if they are taught in their mother tongue in early grades. In contrary to this, teaching in a dominant language, which is different from children’s mother tongue, in early grades invites serious challenges in education e.g. high drop-out rates, low educational attainment and lack of classroom interaction (UNESCO, 2003). India is one of the most diverse countriesin terms of language, culture and ethnicity with 427 languages(Ethnologue, 2005). The constitution of India supportsthe use of learner’s mother tongue in education. However, the number of languages used as a medium of instruction has declined from 81 in 1970 to 33 in 2005. India, Pakistan, South Africa, Canada and many other countries have accepted the multilingual or minority policies in education system. Language has always been a contentious issue in South Africa. In 1997, the Language in Education Policy (LiEP) was started, making a place for African languages in the schools. English and Afrikaans remain the primary media of learning. The African languages are offered from first through fourth grade in predominantly black schools, after which English takes over as the instructional medium. The private schools and the attraction on English medium or national languages have played a crucial role to devaluate the importance of mother language in childhood education. Bangladesh is an example where the tribal people rapidly shift away from their heritage languages to Bangla as a consequence of competition from the majority language and from the lack of language maintenance support from the authorities. The privatisation of schools may be the crucial part of discussion while we talk about the new education system. Apart from this, the role of central (Federal) government and state government in education system is one of the most crucial parts of education policy making. On the one hand we talk about Decentralization or federalism where most of the responsibility and authority will be handed over to state or local level and on the other hand, we must consider the national programme that needs national efforts and must do together. For example, women education, child education, disable education cannot be ignored by the nation or central government. The major argument is that the education is not a subject of ignorance and there must be some role and responsibility with central government and state government that can control, manage, implement or change the policies. If, some states have poor performance in education attainment then the central government cannot ignore it without taking any responsibility. So, state governments are free to make policies and implement the plans for good purpose or for betterment of education. In an article on “Education in a federal system: A case-study of Belgium” (2006), Caroline Varin sees some problems within different educational systems across ethnic lines which can increase social and economic inequality. In a federal country such as Belgium with preexisting ethnic tensions, this inequality can lead to political instability. So, it is very important to increase communication and cooperation among states in order to harmonize the country. The Role of Federal Government in Education: A comparative Study 40 A Resource Material on Education and Federalism in Nepal 2014 Apart from social, linguistic or cultural dilemma within federal education system there is no clear-cut policies on financial support for the state. No sound programme of local or state taxation can be devised and established which will support in every community or a school system that meets minimum acceptable standards. In many countries, if the central/federal government does not support the schools and the related services in the less able areas, several million children will continue to be denied educational opportunities. So, education system not only demands the autonomy and Decentralization for the betterment but also waits for the central help if it is in helpless situation. Nepali education system seems different than either from other South Asian countries like Pakistan, India or Bangladesh where the education system and the Decentralization process has a long history or from the developed countries likeAustralia, Canada or US where states have more responsibilities on education planning and policies. These countries had already an educational setup in every state so the states became powerful in the education sector. However, educators realise that the active participation of federal/central government is also needed in national education project such as women’s education, child education, free education etc. Apart from this, central government must help or support those states which do not have good record in educational attainment. The new South African constitution identified schooling as a provincial competency so that the governance and administration of schooling is now the responsibility of the nine provinces. However, Nepal is going to be part of a unique set of experiences. On the one hand it has a long legacy of old British education system whereas on the other it has adopted the Decentralization of education policies with weak performance. The policies on Decentralization and improvement of education system has been planned well enough in terms of multilingual class, textbooks, free education, child-centric education, Decentralization of authority to local level. However, it still enacts with a hierarchical decision-making process holding the Centralized power and decentralizing the departments, offices, agencies. The different experiences from various nations show that we can use existing educational departments and infrastructure for the future federal setup. The role and responsibility may be different and there must be some adjustment in number, places and authority etc. However, the basic infrastructure for the existing decentralized education system of Nepal more or less can play separate role in a different situation. In the second table, I have tried to relocate the role and responsibilities of different departments, administrative units and offices that can make policies and plans and implement it in different political or administrative situations. Till date, there has been no clear idea on the future of federalism with regard to its structure and how many levels of government will be formed under this process. However, the report assumes that there will be three levels of government and they will have separate power relations. The role and responsibilities of federal or central government and state governments will be more or less same but in the case of state policies and planning state government will be more powerful than the federal/central government. However, in the nationalscenario or in the case ofsome debatable issues such as culture, language, curricula, history central government can suggest and make balances among different states. Apart from this, the implementation of the national education project will be handled by the central government. It can also direct and help the state government for better performance in education system and to ensure the education rights of marginalized communities, girls and disabled children.