Reforming the National Education System: challanges and possibilities. ( Article I)

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There are few topics that can generate passionate debates like the way public education does. Recently Republica, the national daily, published some good articles. Here a brief review before my reflections.

Dr Peshal Khanel, Lecturer at Tribhuvan University highlighted how the concept of “school culture” plays a central role in understanding the impact of behaviors, values and attitudes towards school learning outcomes.

Beth Stillings Cohen, a VSO volunteer, explained how “classrooms should be rich and interesting places to study in: bright, attractive, full of information and resources”. The more interactive, practical and hands on the classrooms are, the more probable the students will become active learners, developing new knowledge skills relevant to them and to the society they live.

Then Hira Bahadur Thapa raised the issue of accountability. The local stakeholders, primarily parents and guardian have to stand up and ensure a higher level of accountability. Interesting the author, a former advisor to then Prime Minister Dahal, is actively involved as a volunteer in a local school and this leaves room for reflections at later stage.

Here my bottom line. Let’s recognize the fact that the educational system is highly decentralized. There are different actors directly involved in the delivery of public education, all, at least theoretically, contributing towards the national learning achievements.

Community managed schools, private Ltd schools and religious schools should all be integral part of a revamped national education system not in the paper but also the practice. An enabling environment should harness the best out of them. Now this is not simply happening. Private Ltd schools, religious schools like madrasas should be better engaged and mainstreamed in the system. In this vision, compliance mechanisms are paramount and we all know how much work has to be done here.

NGOs should also be allowed to run schools. Why not? Some pilots should be allowed to see the effect of having NGOs running the schools. Similarly, NGOs with proven expertise in education should enter in a contractual partnership with the District Education Offices creating new synergies and collaborative efforts. Through these contracts, NGOs will support local Resource Centers to assess school performances and lay the foundations for a strengthened accountability framework with the guardians in the driving seat.

Leveraging non state actors’ capabilities makes perfect business sense for the District Education Offices. It is not about outsourcing core public functions but rather establishing new forms of delivery mechanisms that recognize the current diverse and fragmented educational landscape.

Key to this “design thinking” of a new educational system is the definition of some sort of common denominators able to glue together the different actors involved.

The recent decision to merge D level private schools (the worst performing ones) is not enough. The same should apply for community schools too. Moreover bolder actions should be taken: for example shutting down underperforming private Ltd and community schools or allowing a community “takeover” of those private schools which are permanently underperforming and most importantly lack the resolve to achieve excellence ( making money is not  a good enough reason to keep a school open!!!).

Are the District Education Offices really empowered to keep schools, all kind of schools, accountable? It is hard to answer but no doubts that many good rules already exist. If this is the case, the Department of Education should punish those District Education Officers who are not showing the resolve to bring results. District Education Officers should think more as local CEOs. More autonomy, more power to take decisions, more incentives to achieve the fixed goals should be the rules of the game in the District Education Offices all over the country.

The Resource Centers should be completely revamped. It is ironic that in, my experience, the School Supervisor, a key role in the organizational chart of any District Education Office, actually spends most of the time in the District Headquarter. I guess there is something wrong in its Job Description or in the name of the position itself.

Moreover, two key instruments like School Grading Assessment and School Improvement Plan should be made the key cornerstones of the educational system. A new contractual partnership forged with local communities and citizens will reset the current governance patterns and will be instrumental to better oversee the key functions of public education system, like supervision and oversight of all schools including private Ldt. ones. School Audits have to be performed as per given national guidelines and not as a tokenism.

Only ambitious and strong resolve can help steer the nation’s school towards new achievements. All this is possible.

The next piece of the series will be published on 8th of March. Stay tuned.


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

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