New school reform plan set for rollout despite two previous flopsA 10-year Rs953.43b Education Sector Plan will come into action in July.
The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has adopted an ambitious programme aimed at improving the quality of school education by investing close to one trillion rupees in the next five years.
The Education Sector Plan (ESP), which has a total budget of Rs953.43 billion, will be rolled out from the new fiscal year that begins in July. Though it is a decade long programme, currently the budget planning has been done for five years only.
The ESP will replace the ongoing School Sector Development Plan (SSDP), which was launched in the fiscal year 2016-17. “The new plan will come into implementation from fiscal year 2022-23,” Devendra Paudel, minister for education, told the Post. “It mainly aims at improving public education.”
This is the third multi-year plan adopted since 2009 aimed at improving school education. Both the previous programmes largely failed to achieve their stated goals. Restructuring the school education, increasing enrollment from the Early Childhood Development (ECD) classes (pre-school) to the higher grades, decreasing the dropout numbers and providing free basic education were the targets set by the School Sector Reform Programme (SSRP) that commenced in 2009.
However, in its five years, even school restructuring, the most important goal the programme had set, couldn’t happen. It also had aimed that 80 percent of the children enrolled in grade one would have attended ECD classes while all the school-age children would have joined schools.
As those goals were not achieved by 2014, it was extended by two years till mid-July 2016. Though school restructuring did happen, an amendment to the Education Act in June 2016, just a month before the programme was to end, left other goals largely unmet. Even today only 70 percent of students enrolled in grade one have ECD programme experience while two percent of children of school-going age remain out of the school system.
Around 200,000 children, mainly from marginalised communities, have never joined school while the dropout rate is high at every level.
The SSDP succeeded the SSRP from fiscal year 2016-17. Increasing enrollment and retention, improving quality of education, setting-up disable-friendly infrastructure, providing access to safe drinking water and sanitation and decreasing the teacher student ratio are some of the goals of the SSRP, which comes to an end in six months.
It has set 30 indicators to measure its outcome, most of which remain to be achieved. It had aimed to increase school retention rate up to grade eight, which stood at just 82.2 percent by the end of the fiscal year 2020-21, to 97 percent. It also aimed to ensure that all the children of school-going age have joined school while 89.5 percent of children joining grade eight have ECD programme experience.
However, according to the latest Economic Survey report, just 70 percent of students in grade one have ECD experience while net enrollment rate is at 98 percent. Had the programme achieved its goals, the learning achievement of the students from grades five and eight would have reached over 6o percent. However, different studies by the government suggest, the average learning outcome is less than 50 percent.
The SSDP also said that the education sector would receive 17 percent of the national budget by fiscal year 2020-21 and allocation to the sector would be increased to 20 percent in the next two years as per Nepal’s global commitment. However, the education sector has received around 11 percent of the national budget in the current fiscal year 2021-22.
Education experts say going by the experience from the two previous plans, it is almost certain that the target set by the new plan too will be left unimplemented. Bal Chandra Luitel, a professor at the Kathmandu University who had contributed to the new plan, says no matter how good any plan is, it cannot be implemented without political will. “I can say the new plan has been prepared with a good motive, however, its implementation seems challenging,” he told the Post.
He says the implementation of the ESP demands close coordination between the federal, provincial and local governments. However, the three tiers of the government are engaged in a dispute over whose jurisdiction do the schools actually fall under. Schedule 8 of the constitution gives local governments explicit authority to manage school education up to the secondary level.
The 753 local governments have long been demanding that they be allowed to manage the schools under their jurisdictions. However, the federal government is reluctant to oblige saying education is also on the list of concurrent rights of the federal and local government. “The jurisdiction dispute can be resolved by formulating a Federal Education Act,” Luitel told the Post.
It has been more than six years since the promulgation of the constitution, but the Education Ministry is yet to draft the law. Luitel said the Education Ministry needs to discuss the draft law with the representatives of the local and provincial governments but that has not been done.
Experts say lack of political will among the decision-makers and the tradition of making plans without analyzing the ground realities were the major reasons for the under-performance of the previous programmes.
There was a funding deficit for both the programmes—the government didn’t release enough budget nor did the donor agencies provide the grants they had committed. A consortium of 17 bilateral and multilateral donors including the United Nations contributes to Nepal’s education sector.
The government is expecting around Rs880 million as donor commitment in the ESP.
“Initially they consult education experts on the plan but ultimately the bureaucrats and donor agencies prevail,” complained another education expert who was involved in discussions when the ESP was being worked out, on the condition of anonymity. “This is not how the long term plans are formulated.”
Education experts say a plan makes no sense unless it is executed properly. “I can say the ESP will suffer the fate of the SSRP and SSDP,” Binay Kusiyait, a professor at the Tribhuvan University, told the Post. “There will be a problem of ownership once it is rolled out as there is no proper coordination between the three tiers of government.”
The education minister, however, says he is confident that the new plan will work as it has been prepared after rigorous research and study. “We have properly analysed why the SSRP and SSDP couldn’t achieve expected results,” said Paudel, the education minister. “There will be no funding gap while all layers of government will work together to execute it.”