Striving for quality-Public schools

The weakening of a public institution like education, and the rise of private sector as an assertive alternative, especially in a poor country like Nepal, will have serious consequences in terms of reproducing the social and historical inequities and further perpetuating prevalent injustices, thereby indicating yet another conflict and civil unrest in future.

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SHANKAR BIR SINGH
Despite the fact that the country has undergone tremendous political transformation in recent years, public institutions including schools continue to struggle to embrace the much needed change. It is evident from failures of tens of thousands of young students every year, not only in SLC exam, but throughout their schooling experiences right from grade one through grade ten, and beyond. The annual SLC exam merely brings the total failure of schooling experiences to the forefront for broader public scrutiny. For instance, more than 50 percent students fail in SLC every year. According to Graner (2006), this is further worrisome when only 10 percent of class one students reach class ten, and less than 50 percent reach class five. In other words, public schools have been plagued by persistent poor performance, and lack of academic achievement among its students has become almost an epidemic in recent years.

Over the years, education reforms in Nepal have remained focused on increasing access by expanding educational opportunities across the country. This has led to a growing number of schools and colleges in the country, leading to education growth and diversification. In about six decades, quantitative growth has been significant. Despite this, the quality of the education is highly debated. The rapid expansion of education sector has met with serious challenges, mainly the absence of quality. Most importantly, this has seriously distorted public confidence in recent years. It can be seen from the declining number of students in public schools and even closure of some schools in recent times due to lack of students. Parents and student no longer seem to believe that public schools are capable of delivering quality education. Public schools have become mere ‘refuge’ for underprivileged and downtrodden children.

Inadequate funding
Public schools lack adequate funding. A number of studies have indicated that they are deprived of necessary resources that continue to prevent them from engaging in meaningful teaching and learning. Although the education sector is highly prioritised, receiving the highest share of national budget along with significant international assistance, the funding is barely enough to meet the teachers’ salary. According to the Ministry of Education (2008), most of the funds in community schools are spent on teachers’ salaries, which is higher than in private schools. Government funds barely cover the cost of other educational activities such as library, education materials, training, extracurricular activities, etc. The same study by MOE found that this was just the opposite in private schools where expenses for non-educational categories were higher than in community schools. Hence, they had better teaching and learning materials. The study has recommended the government to increase funding and make necessary resources available for existing community schools in order to enable them to reduce the ever widening gap between public and private schools.

Furthermore, the average annual cost per student at institutional schools is Rs. 14,739.41 more than double than in community schools where it costs only Rs. 4,674.89 per child. The question here is how these impoverished public schools can help students from already impoverished family backgrounds succeed. Rather than transforming society, these schools are simply perpetuating the deeply entrenched social inequities. It’s important that the government provide necessary support and adequate funding to the existing schools rather than focusing on continuous school expansion projects.

Striving for quality-Public schools

Degrading public school performance has been mostly attributed to teachers’ inability to perform well. Although there are some cases where teachers have failed to be professional, it would be wrong to assume that the widespread failure of public school education is solely due to teachers’ inaction. This assumption may have arisen from the fact that public school teachers are better paid and trained, but perform worse, in comparison to private school teachers. This may lead one to conclude that lack of quality in public schools is due to teachers’ inaction, but this is far from true.

What have we done to make teachers and principals resourceful and effective? Do they have enough expertise, skills and resources necessary to perform their job? Or are we simply expecting something that is beyond their capacity within the existing situation? Is merely paying teachers’ salaries enough to produce quality? Criticising teachers alone will do more harm than good in improving public schools. It will simply aggravate the situation by further decreasing teachers’ morale and motivation. The need of the time, therefore, is to empower teachers by placing increased emphasis on their professional development suitable with changing times, and help them perform their best by providing necessary skills and resources.

This would also mean setting a culture where we learn to appreciate those teachers, of whom there are many, who perform well despite constraints. It’s important that we celebrate their success stories by highlighting, recognizing and sharing with others. There are a whole lot of teachers and schools that have made a significant difference, but sadly they are lost in the face of failure stories that have been dictating the present discourse in education in Nepal.

Our culture highlights weaknesses through criticism and punishment rather than celebrating and highlighting strengths and success stories. We tend to favor criticism over appreciation, which has eroded creativity, motivation, collaboration, cooperation, and mutual respect. Thus, instead of looking for solutions elsewhere, if only we could share our success stories and learn from them instead, the failures will slowly become insignificant over time.

The weakening of a public institution like education, and the rise of private sector as an assertive alternative, especially in a poor country like Nepal, will have serious consequences in terms of reproducing the social and historical inequities and further perpetuating prevalent injustices, thereby indicating yet another conflict and civil unrest in future. The presence of two types of schools within the country has further intensified the already highly stratified Nepali society, as the ‘gap’ seems to be widening between students who go to two different types of schools. This will not only affect the realization of goals of societal transformation including modernization and development of the country, but also affect the safeguarding and institutionalizing of Nepal’s recent changes and political achievements.

source: SINGH,SHANKAR BIR SINGH (2013),"Striving for quality-Public schools",republica,4 July 2013
photo courtesy: roomtoread.org
The author is graduate student in Education at University of Western Ontario

2013-07-04 | EducateNepal

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