New responsibilitiesWith Nepal transforming into a federal system, school education has come under the jurisdiction of local authorities. But five months after local governments were formed, little has happened on this front.
Umesh Raj Regmi
With Nepal transforming into a federal system, school education has come under the jurisdiction of local authorities. But five months after local governments were formed, little has happened on this front. Except for releasing the salaries of public school teachers and staff, there has been no progress as confusion prevails. As per the constitution, 23 specific educational powers have been assigned to local governments, like issuing regulations and guidelines, drafting the curriculum and making the budget. The basic level examination is also conducted by the local level. An education section will be established at each local level office which is primarily responsible for running education-related activities.
Elected representatives at the local level will guide the staff and advise them on implementing people-oriented projects. In the past, these rights were held by the District Education Office (DEO) and the Department of Education (DoE). The DEOs will cease to exist within a few months. School supervisors, resource persons and other staff will continue to do what they have been doing but within a particular local territory.
The local government, in coordination with provincial and central agencies, will form a structured educational system to improve the quality of education. The local government will not be prevented from initiating and implementing anything new within its jurisdiction. The distribution of textbooks, implementation of skill-based training programmes and adjustment of qualified teachers at the local level are likely to improve once local governments start functioning in a full-fledged manner.
Confusions lead to disputes
Currently, the main problem at the local level is managing the staff in the education section. A dispute over seniority has emerged between the executive officer and the head of the education section. Because of insufficient staff and leadership in the education section, an educational plan has not been drafted. Moreover, elected representatives and even the staff are not clear about what they need to do immediately. This is because of a lack of an education act and guidelines at the local level. Therefore, there is confusion over what actions should be done and how they should be done.
There are not enough experts at the local level to frame education laws, regulations and guidelines. Limited staff at the village councils will make holding examinations, monitoring and reporting difficult. Elected representatives would like to show tangible progress in the education sector as they have made many promises during the election campaign, but government officials go through a standard process. Hence, the representatives and bureaucrats might not always be on the same page. Public concern at the local level is mostly about education, health and development projects.
Sometimes, unscheduled supervision by the people’s representatives and immediate instructions to the staff may create difficulties at the local level. The new structure and set-up for the staff is confusing enough. Proper management of the staff and delivery of the required materials to the 744 local levels may be problematic in the beginning. Public pressure will be challenging for the staff of the education section. Managing more than 6,000 teachers teaching in grades 11 and 12 in about 4,000 public schools across the country will be difficult for the local governments.
Practicality is key
To regulate educational powers at the local level, there should be complete management of the staff in the education section. The dispute over seniority between education officers at each local body needs to be addressed respectfully and practically. It is urgent to orient the newly elected mayors, vice-mayors, chairs and vice-chairs in all municipalities and village councils about the powers and working areas of the local level in education. Government agencies working in collaboration with non-governmental organisations involved in the education field can organise one-day orientation programmes at each local unit to explain and clarify the rights and working modality for top level representatives and staff. An education act and guidelines should be developed at each local level with the help of experts right away.
Yearly and periodic action plans of educational activities should be drafted urgently. The requirements of public schools have to be identified by forming a fair and working school management committee. Attempts should be made to address the real needs and issues of schools in accordance with the available resources at the local level. The motivation level of the teachers and staff in the education section must be boosted. Meanwhile, the role of different non-governmental organisations is vital. They are often likely to join hands with local governments in matters of school construction, infrastructure development, teacher training, vocational education and funds collection.
Educational activities at the local level should be free from political interest or personal interference. In the name of people-oriented work, local leaders may assert a lot of pressure. So, government officials should be given a professional work environment. Central level guidance and coordination is highly important until local governments can function in a full-fledged manner. Despite the confusion and challenges, local governance of education should be taken as an opportunity. If the powers granted to the local level are used well, the quality of public education will definitely rise. Let’s be positive and work optimistically to strengthen the level of education in the country.
Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation