Year of controversyFour years after the constitution came into force, the local governments have not been allowed to exercise their constitutional right of managing school education.
However, four years after the constitution came into force, the local governments have not been allowed to exercise their constitutional rights. The government last year formed a high-level education commission to study and recommend the steps it should take to shape the education sector as envisioned in the statute. However, the education policy endorsed by the government last month largely rejects the suggestions of the commission. Experts on the commission say the government, under pressure from the private sector, ignored their report which had recommendations from the school to the university level.
Along with the controversy over the education policy, here are the five major events from 2019 in the education sector:
a. Submission of the report by the High-Level National Education Commission:
The commission on January 15 submitted its report to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, but the report was never made public. Converting private schools as service-oriented institutions from their profit-oriented model was one of the major recommendations of the commission. It proposes converting private schools into “trusts from companies” within 10 years. The report assessed that allowing private schools to operate in the present fashion will go against the spirit of the constitution which ensures free and compulsory education for every citizen.
Article 31(2) of the constitution makes the state responsible to ensure compulsory basic education and free secondary education for all. Hiring headteachers on contract based on their performance, increasing the education budget to at least 20 percent of the national budget as per the government’s global commitment and ensuring that every child gets basic education in mother tongue are the major recommendations of the commission.
Private school operators stood against the report even before it was submitted to Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli. According to Shyam Shrestha, a member of the commission, this was the reason the government never made the report public. The education policy the Cabinet endorsed last month omits a majority of the commission’s recommendations, he said. A majority of the 24-member commission stood against the education policy, which they claim, only pleases the private sector. Though the policy was endorsed, claiming it would help boost the quality of public education, the government is not willing to make the needed investment for it.
b. The protest of medical students:
Private medical colleges have long been exploiting their students financially. Though the government determines the maximum fee the colleges can charge, the medical colleges never abide by them. The government in October last year set Rs 3.8 million for MBBS courses in Kathmandu Valley and Rs 4.24 million for the colleges outside the Valley. However, all the medical colleges are found to have charged exorbitant fees, breaching the government’s ceiling. A study by the Parliamentary Committee on Education and Health had shown that the colleges charged as high as Rs 6 million. The students qualified to take the admission don’t get enrolment unless they agree to pay the fees arbitrarily fixed by the medical colleges.
Starting earlier this year, the medical students who paid exorbitant fees, have been protesting regularly, seeking a refund of the additional fees their colleges charged. Though the government issued directives one after another asking the colleges to return the students’ money, many of the 18 colleges are yet to abide. The owners of medical colleges are either political leaders or donors of political parties, meaning they don’t face action for breaching the rules. Basruddin Ansari, who also leads the Association of Medical and Dental Colleges of Nepal, a network of private medical colleges, is a leader of the ruling Nepal Communist Party (NCP). Khuma Aryal, chairman of Gandaki Medical College, and Suresh Kanodiya, the owner of Nepalgunj Medical College, are leaders of the Nepali Congress.
c. Federal government unwilling to allow local governments to exercise their authority
Constitutional experts say the concurrent jurisdiction cannot override the explicit authority. The constitution explicitly authorises the local governments to manage school education up to the secondary level. The federal government, which has enjoyed full authority on education for decades, argues that as education also falls under the concurrent authority of the centre and the local level, it also has its say in school education. Therefore, four years after promulgation of the charter, local governments have not been given any authority other than paying the teachers from the budget allocated by Kathmandu.
Local governments only conduct the examinations of grade 8. The federal government still has a downgraded version of District Education Offices as Education Units in every district even as every local government has an education council led by its chairperson. The Local Level Governance Act-2016 clearly says that there should be no subordinate units of the federal governments at the district level. The attempts of some local governments to formulate regulations to govern school education have been stopped with the federal government saying that they must wait until the Federal Education Act is in place. Four years after the statute came into effect, the Centre is yet to table the bill for the Act in Parliament.
The local governments have already completed two years of their tenure without exercising the constitutional authority and have hardly three years before the elections. Advocate Sunil Rajan Singh has filed a writ in the Supreme Court against the centre’s monopoly over the local governments. The case is sub judice in the constitutional bench.
d. Efforts of some of the local governments to boost public education
Despite hurdles from the federal government, some of the local governments have taken innovative measures to improve the quality of education in the public schools under them. Some local governments, including Mandawi Rural Municipality in Pyuthan and Maijogmai Rural Municipality in Ilam, have made it mandatory for government officials and public school teachers to enroll their children in public schools. If they refuse to do so, they will have to contribute a certain amount of their salary to the local governments. Besides, many local governments have developed curricula for the students enrolled in schools under them.
In an attempt to control the duality in the school education, Purba Khola Rural Municipality and Gulmi Durbar Municipality in Palpa even integrated five private schools within their area with community schools. The elected representatives say the initiative was taken to end the disparity in school education. Some local governments, including in Changunarayan Municipality, have introduced retirement packages for old teachers to replace them with fresh graduates.
d. Controversy over the selection of vice-chancellors
The government two months ago formed separate search committees to select the vice-chancellors for seven varsities including Tribhuvan University. Except for the TU, the search committees called for resumes from candidates to lead the six universities stating that the vice-chancellors would be picked on merit basis unlike in the past. Over 250 professors and academics had submitted their resumes to apply for the positions. The search committees found 178 of them eligible. However, only those affiliated to the Nepal Progressive Professors’ Association were chosen among the three candidates for each university. Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli, as the ex-officio chancellor of the university, will nominate one among the three to lead the universities that have been without their leaders since August.