Ditch the Education BillThe government has overstepped its rights by trying to revive the abolished District Education Offices.
As a Member of Parliament, I played a pivotal role in registering a resolution proposal in the National Assembly concerning the implementation of federalism in June 2022.
The resolution aims to achieve several crucial objectives, including activating intergovernmental relations, establishing the necessary legal arrangements to eliminate duplication of functional responsibility between the federal units, ensuring consistency in policy and lawmaking across the federal units, and creating institutional structures solely based on rights and responsibilities. Additionally, it includes putting an end to the distribution of small schemes and programmes under the guise of conditional grants, addressing the shortage of employees at the subnational levels, and conducting the necessary groundwork to streamline the number of ministries and ministers in the provinces, among other key initiatives.
The National Assembly unanimously approved the resolution proposal and directed the government to implement it.
On July 1, 2023, a meeting of the National Coordination Council devised several measures to implement certain aspects outlined in the resolution proposal. These measures include halting duplication in grant distribution between federal units, dismantling redundant structures that do not align with federalism's principles, addressing overlapping and duplication in development projects, drafting necessary laws and resolving the shortage of employees at the subnational levels.
The work has only just begun, and only time will unveil the outcomes. However, the government's approach towards federalism is worrying, as its mindset seems to lean sharply towards centralism. While it agrees on certain policies, it selectively chooses which ones to implement. This inconsistency is evident in various examples, such as the revival of the abolished District Education Office, where the federal government appears to have overstepped its constitutional rights, undermining the essence of federalism.
After Nepal became a federal country, most of the former district-level offices were abolished, including those responsible for education, forestry, agriculture, livestock, irrigation, underground water resources, urban development, drinking water, health and small-scale industries, among others.
At the same time, certain district offices appeared in their provincial avatars, such as the Division Forest Office, Agricultural Knowledge Centre and Water Supply and Sanitation Division.
After federalisation, the constitutional rights of many district-level offices have been transferred to the local level, but the attempt to maintaining them in various forms and disguises is not proper.
Concerning the district-based education offices, they were abolished, only to be revived as “education development and coordination units” under the federal government's domain.
Additionally, the provincial governments have established their own education units at the district level. This has raised criticism, as the constitution grants the right to oversee higher education to the local level, rendering the federal government's Education Development Coordination Office redundant. The interference by the federal government in the jurisdiction of the local level has been widely criticised.
the Education Development Coordination Office has been facing continuous criticism from local governments and civil society, the government is attempting to re-establish the abolished “District Education Office” through the new Education Bill. The bill has been approved by the cabinet but has not been registered in Parliament. This move has been seen as a dishonourable act undermining the principles of federalism and infringing on the functional rights of the subnational governments.
Additionally, this provision significantly curtails the rights of the local level as guaranteed by the constitution, and goes against the spirit of the Local Government Operation Act 2017.
The primary functions of this education office encompass various tasks, such as enhancing the educational quality of schools, conducting school mapping, bolstering teacher and human resource capacities, and maintaining records of public school property, among others.
It is vital to acknowledge that the responsibilities and authority assigned to this office not only contradict the Local Government Operation Act but also overlap with the Provincial Government Business Regulation 2018.
As per the constitution, the establishment of the provincial structure is deemed essential within the district. However, there is no requirement for such an entity at the federal level. The province itself is designed to fulfil the roles of coordination and cooperation within the district.
Instead of establishing education offices at the district level, a more effective approach for the federal government world be to directly allocate human resources, financial support and other necessary resources to the local government level. This alternative strategy would enhance service delivery, prevent duplication of functions, and increase the overall effectiveness of the local level while also saving national resources.
The Education Bill proposes to introduce changes to the current examination system, aiming to eliminate the Secondary Education Examination (SEE) of class 10. Under the new arrangement, the secondary level will extend till class 12, with the National Examination Board conducting the examination. Grade 10 exams will be managed by the provincial government while Grade 8 examinations will fall under the jurisdiction of the local level. It's important to emphasise that the proposed District Education Office would not have any role in the school examination system.
To avoid establishing unnecessary structures in the district, which are not constitutionally recognised, we must address the issues faced by the existing constitutionally recognised District Coordination Committee. Some of these committees are dysfunctional or inactive, and introducing new entities without careful review might lead to the misallocation of resources.
Principle of decentralisation
Before registering the bill in Parliament, it is imperative to thoroughly review and correct its provisions to align with the constitutional framework. The focus should be on empowering and strengthening the local and provincial structures to efficiently coordinate and collaborate at the district level. This approach will ensure effective governance and the proper utilisation of resources without introducing redundant administrative entities.
Taking the principles of decentralisation and effective governance into account, the proposed bill should be meticulously examined to ensure it upholds them and does not create unnecessary administrative layers.
The bill seeks to revive the District Education Office and also the Education Department which has been abolished. The Federalism Implementation Monitoring Committee has also recommended the abolition of approximately half of the existing five dozen departments. In response to the committee's recommendation, Prime Minister Pushpa Kamal Dahal has pledged to implement the recommendations in Parliament. However, the government's approach seems to contradict the principles of federalism. There is no alternative but to reject and oppose it.