From Central to Local: the transformation in educating Nepal

-This article has been originally published by Ashesh Shrestha and Jai Venaik in The Himalayan Times on October 29, 2017.

A key parameter which gains prominence while diagnosing the health of a country’s future rests within the area of education. It is not merely indicative of the country’s literacy but directly feeds into the overall economic growth by injecting a fresh demand in a service sector country. Without a doubt, given estimates from multiple domestic and international reportage, Nepal’s service sector would continuously expand given specialisation of sectors within the federal structure. The element which feeds the service sector directly is human resource development and the extension to a long-term vision policy needs a detailed analysis of the school education.

Modern education does not have a long history in Nepal. The establishment of Durbar High School in 1854 by the then Prime Minister Jung Bahadur Rana marks the beginning of the modern education in Nepal. By the end of the Rana regime in 1950 a few number of other schools and colleges had also been established. However, the education was more of prerogative of the elite class and was less accessible to the general public. In 1956, the educational planning body of government, National Education Planning Commission was formed which made the country’s first education plan. Then, in 1960, following the King’s coup, Comprehensive Education Committee was formed under the king, which formulated the first Education Act. Again in 1971, New Education System Plan was designed under the new Education Act, which nationalized all the private schools in Nepal. However, the plan could not sustain for more than a decade due to the financial constraints and hence the Education Act was amended to provide the room for the private schools as well.

Looking back at the history of education system in Nepal, what we can observe is that the education system including the enactment of education laws, recruitment of the teachers, financing of the education, among others have been handled by the central authority. Even in the current scenario, where the federal system of governance has not been implemented in a full scale, the education system, especially the financing of the public education is controlled by the Ministry of Education and Department of Education, which are the central government bodies. The budged allocation under various headings is determined by the DoE by considering the reference on the details about the schools given by the District Education Offices of all districts. Then, the Budget gets channelized to the District Education Offices which is responsible for distribution of the fund to the schools in the district.

Basic education which largely subsume a large part of schooling regulation is directly in the hands of local elected bodies. Although the fiscal commission is yet to be formed which will further comment on the overall budget of the jurisdictions, it can be estimated that the local bodies would adapt to different financing models to improve the quality of outcomes generated from the expenditure. The nuances of the same will differ from municipality to municipality, given the demographics, access to infrastructure and investment. It will also greatly depend on the priorities of the local place thus avoiding an overarching central policy to control education. The biggest advantage of a federal system is to empower the local units to take decisions on the provision and delivery of goods and services according to the local needs and demands. This will ensure entrepreneurial growth in the education sector with private entrepreneurs with a zeal and passion for education to contribute to the society bringing together an upgraded curriculum, teaching methodology as well as incentives to boost learning outcomes.

Under the current model of financing public education, the government has been spending significant portion of its budget in education. The educational expenditure of the government has been increasing at an annual rate of 8-9 percent in the past 10 years, adjusted for inflation. However, the educational outcomes do not seem to align with the increasing expenditure. The educational expenditure does not correlate with any of these variables- enrolment, pass rate and retention rate. On the other hand, if we look at the private schools, the enrolment has risen by 57 percent in last five years; retention and pass rates are also very high. These facts depict the problem in the public education system and current method of financing public education.

Given a systemic change in governance, a large portion of the responsibility would lie on the local governments to improve performance. This evades the problem of transferring responsibility on the central or state governments, gives a full access to local units to implement what they feel is right and creates a testing lab to figure out the best policies from the world to be implemented in full scale for the country. This though comes with a strong word of caution. It is all possible, only and if only, we strive to maintain our commitment to the values of the federal principle.