Dichotomy private versus public education: Let’s use the Stick and Carrot Approach ( ARTICLE II)

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Let’s start with an obvious statement: delivery of education is one of the most prominent “public” services performed by the government equaled, in terms of state’s involvement, only by the public health’s sector.

I strongly believe on the power of “others” to be able to have a strong role in the implementation of public service, shifting the equation on public service to a different level where others, non state actors can be the trailblazer for innovation and change. This is already happening to some extents in Nepal.

We should all recognize that in reality the public education system is already delivered by non state actors and therefore its overall governance system should reflect the changed reality.

A variety of implementing actors, if all well anchored to common standards and compliance mechanisms, is an added value. The problem is how to ensure the adherence to a strong framework nationwide.

Probably by World Bank’s imposition or soft persuasion ( you decide), the communities were given authority to set up and run the so called public schools in what we can call a real “communitization”  wave.

At the same time and it is kind of ironic, almost by the default, individuals, acting on their own, got plenty of opportunities to get involved in the direct management of schools therefore generating a thriving educational private sector.

Despite the tradeoffs and the side effects, I still believe that decision to decentralize educational power to the communities could have been one of the greatest achievements in the recent history of the country.

Please note the verb form. I am not totally negative on current level of community involvement and engagement but I am convinced that it could have been much better if a strong compliance and control system were in place.

The Ministry of Education should truly rethink the way it coordinates and monitors schools performances thanks to a new partnership approach rather than the usual top down centralized way of doing.

This means really empowering District Education Office, giving them “teeth’ to monitor and evaluate the performances of the schools, starting from reforming the JDs of Resource Persons and School Supervisors. Politics’ meddling in school affairs is a reality and it will remain. Let’s challenge the local leaders in a win win situation where the authority of DEO is ensured as the only educational “enabler” at local level that can incentivize and awards the best performances. Local leaders should therefore make their best to play by the rules in local ‘competitions” for more funding tied to school performances.

What about the so called “private limited” schools?

To be honest I still have some sort of doubts about running educational schools as just any other business, driven only by the only principle of making profits.

I feel like that private schools should not be considered as “mere” private limited corporations” but rather as public interest companies, a new form of incorporations that allows more flexibility in the management while ensuring that profits are reinvested in the core business.

Rato Bangala offers also an interesting case with its Foundation engaged in capacity building of local public schools, especially with its efforts to enhance quality teaching, something truly remarkable as recognized by UNESCO-Hamdan Bin Rashid Al-Maktoum Prize.

For me it is not enough that private limited schools pay the tax. They should have a much community engagement, a real CSR strategy able to link them up with other underfunded public schools or ensuring adequate number of scholarships for disadvantaged groups.

What’s about the underperforming private schools? Recent news informed that the Ministry of Education is going to force a merger between underperforming schools, those who have been classified at the bottom of the school grading assessment (This is something we will return on).

Is this enough? I guess no. I believe that with new parameters, privately run schools that are consistently underperforming should either be forced to shut down or as alternative, a community should be allowed to take over. The first option is very drastic and should consider the number of students enrolled in the schools, the provisions of alternatives in the vicinity and therefore the impact of the closing will have on surrounding schools. The second option actually has lots of advantages: the same guardians can constitute the funding School Management Committee and start exercising their responsibilities in running a public service.

We should not underestimate the informal skills of the people: they might be uneducated but the same trigger that push them to send their children to a private school, will allow them to navigate the education system and manage a school.

What it is important to understand is the role of Principal that should be more empowered to act as real manager and work on behalf of communities, the real owners. It is not the SMC running the day to day activity but it is the Principal reporting to its “board of director”, the SMC. Principals around the country need to act CEOs of local institutions. I met amazing examples of school principals whose leadership and capabilities have allowed their school to prosper. This should be the rule and not the exception.

Let’s engage private and community schools in a compliance mechanism that can award the best performances and punish those unable or unwilling to perform. I am sure that regulations are already there but what is missing is the implementation. Basically a truly a carrot and a stick (or maybe better asword) approach.

To be continued.

Position: Co -Founder of ENGAGE,a new social venture for the promotion of volunteerism and service and Ideator of Sharing4Good

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