The school education bill was presented to Parliament on September 13 after 52 years to replace the Education Act, 1971. With the promulgation of the constitution in 2015, many laws, including the education act, are to be enacted by Parliament so as to fully implement the federal constitution. It has been eight years since the promulgation of the national statute. Successive governments had said that enacting the education act was their priority. The constitution stipulates that the management of community schools lies with the local levels. In fact, the management of education has been divided among local, provincial and federal governments.
Accordingly, the education bill has the provision of giving authority to the local levels to recruit, transfer, promote, demote or take action against the teachers of community schools. The teachers are demanding that the authority to take action against and dismiss teachers should lie with the Provincial Regional Directorate. The local levels will also be authorised to evaluate the teachers. The teachers fear that the security of their jobs will be at stake. This is one of the sticking points with which the community school teachers are not happy.
Likewise, the local levels will have full authority to establish and run schools but they will have to manage the required resources themselves. They will have authority to run early childhood development (ECD) centres. They will also have authority to merge community schools. The teachers are not happy with several other provisions included in the bill. It is argued that empowering the local levels in the management of community schools will invite political prejudice. As most of the local levels consist of people’s representatives belonging to one political party or the other, giving full authority to the local levels to manage the community schools may politicise the education sector.
Although the bill has the provision of prohibiting the teachers from indulging in political activities, the said provision may indirectly encourage the teachers to indulge in politics for their personal interests. It was mentioned in the previous bill that ward chairs or the persons nominated by them would be the chairs of the school management committees of the community schools under their jurisdiction but the provision had to be withdrawn amid vigorous protests. There was also a provision for private schools to convert into trusts within five years. The High Level Education Commission made a recommendation in 2013 that private schools be converted into trusts within ten years.
The bill now stipulates that it is up to private schools to convert into trusts. In fact, converting private schools into trusts is a breach of the property rights of the investors concerned. However, the bill proposes that if a new school is to be established, it must first be registered as a trust. Educationists are of the view that this provision will discourage new schools from coming up. As per the bill, private schools will be allowed to charge prescribed fees for schooling, which is against the constitutional spirit of free and compulsory education for children. As per the constitution, every child has the right to free and compulsory education, a reflection of socialism as adopted by the constitution.
As provided for in the bill, the Department of Education – renamed the Centre for Education and Human Resources Development (CEHRD) five years ago – will be revived. Education offices have been reduced to education units with the scrapping of districts as administrative units. The bill proposes the restoration of the previous provision. The bill proposes changing the levels of education. Accordingly, classes up to eight will be categorised as basic level, whereas classes from nine to 12 will be secondary level. Now, there are three levels: primary, lower secondary and secondary. The bill proposes a minimum Bachelor’s degree for teaching at the basic level and a Master’s degree for the secondary level. English will be prescribed as a medium of teaching Mathematics, Science and Computer Science, whereas Social Studies and other arts and culture subjects will be taught in Nepali.
The bill states that the national-level board examination will be conducted at the end of grade 12. The National Examination Board will conduct the grade 12 test throughout the country. But it is not mentioned in the bill what the fate of the school secondary examination (SEE) will be. Likewise, the local levels will conduct the grade 8 test. Education offices in respective districts will set question papers for compulsory subjects. The previous bill allowed provincial boards to conduct the grade 10 test. The bill does not assign any role to provinces in examination management.
The teachers are not satisfied with several provisions in the bill. The bill prohibits the teachers from applying for a DV. Those who do so will be disqualified as teachers. The teachers also think that their rights to trade unionism will be curtailed. They are also demanding that the salary structure of private schools be on a par with that of community schools. On the other hand, the government has said that the bill has just entered Parliament. There is room for discussion and amendments can be made to the bill to promote the rights of and benefits for the teachers. The teachers resorted to protests for three days from September 20 to 22 exerting pressure on the government to meet their 19-point demands.
On September 22, the government made a six-point agreement with the teachers, assuring that the demands of the latter will be addressed. With this, the teachers have called off all their protest programmes. The education sector is a sensitive sector. It is associated with the future of tens of thousands of students. It is not propitious for the education sector to run riot. As both the government and the teachers have shown restraint and inked an agreement, both sides should show their sincerity. And the government should take the initiative, as per the letter and spirit of the agreement, in amending the sticking points in the bill as demanded by the teachers as far as practicable.
(Maharjan has been regularly writing on contemporary issues for this daily since 2000.)