Federal government authorises local governments to manage school educationLocal governments blame the centre for waiting for months to announce the decision and hindering children’s education.
The government on Thursday came up with a directive making local governments responsible for managing the teaching-learning activities at school level using virtual medium, or by bringing students and teachers together in small groups.
But local governments say the federal government did not consult with them before coming up with the directive.
The directive endorsed by the Ministry of Education tasks the local level to categorise the students in five different groups based on their access to virtual learning platforms first and provide them with the learning opportunities accordingly. The local governments say the federal government passed on the responsibilities to them after it failed to manage the teaching-learning activities on its own.
“If the local governments had to do everything why did it take months for the federal government to decide,” said Bhim Prasad Dhungana, general secretary of the Municipal Association Nepal, an umbrella body of the municipalities across the nation. “We would have done our preparations as per our convenience if we were given the authority on time.”
The new academic session normally starts in mid-April. However, all schools and colleges have been closed since March 18 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The country went under a full lockdown on March 24 to contain the spread of the coronavirus. Dhungana said the federal government passed on the responsibility five months late upon realising that there was no possibility for the resumption of schools anytime soon.
“The directive has given so much responsibility that it will take over a month just for the preparations to start the classes,” Dhungana said.
According to the directive, the local governments will have to categorise the students under five groups based on their accessibility to alternative learning platforms like TV, radio and internet, before starting the teaching-learning activities.
The local governments will also have to prepare separate lists of the students enrolled in different schools, those who are out of the school system, and those who attend schools in other parts of the country but are now in their respective local units due to the pandemic.
The local governments will have to mobilise teachers or the volunteers to conduct the direct classes in small groups for students who do not have access to any kinds of virtual teaching medium. Such students account for around 40 percent of the total students, according to an estimation by the Education Ministry.
However, a recent report by the UNICEF shows only three among ten students do not have access to any of the virtual teaching-learning mediums.
It would be the responsibility of the respective local governments to ensure the teachers coordinate with the students, taking the classes through the virtual medium, do their homework after the classes are over, according to the directive.
While the federal government has prepared the audio or audio-visual learning materials, the local governments too could have prepared them based on the national curriculum framework prepared by the Curriculum Development Centre.
“For the students who have access to more than one learning platform, it would be their choice to adopt any of them,” reads the directive. “The respective local governments will manage that.”
The federal government, according to the directive, will have a coordinating role and would provide the needed resources. The directive says the federal government will provide the public schools with free internet service to ease the teaching-learning activities.
“The service will be provided to the schools that have the availability of computers and broadband internet,” said Deepak Sharma, spokesperson at the ministry.
According to the government’s Economic Survey for the fiscal year 2019-20, among the 29,707 public schools, only 8,366 have computers while the number of schools that can offer Information Technology-based study with the internet connectivity stands at 3,676, which is just 12 percent.
Had the local governments got the authority on time, Dhugana said, they would have already started the alternative classes by now, at least those local units thate were least affected by the pandemic.
Not all local governments were equally hit by the pandemic, therefore, those which were least affected would have made a good achievement by now, Dhungana added.
Education experts say local governments have raised a valid question as to why the federal government took such a long time to take the decision.
“It is true that the responsibility was passed only after assessing that there was no possibility to resume the schools anytime soon,” said Basudev Kafle, a professor at Tribhuvan University who has done several research on school education. “Now the main question is how well the local governments are prepared to start the classes.”
He said the federal government assumed that the threat of pandemic wouldn’t last long and the schools can be reopened after a few months. But as the scenario proved different, the responsibility was given to the local governments.
Kafle said the federal government should also be generous while decentralising resources, not just responsibilities to local governemnts.
Sharma, the spokesperson for the Ministry of Education, however, defended the ministry’s decision.
“We had never faced such a problem before, so there might have been some lapses,” he said. “The past is gone now. It’s time for all tiers of government to join hands to ensure our children get to learn maximum, using the available resources in the remaining time.”