The dismal SLC results have baffled academicians, education experts and policy makers alike. This gloom and despair will subside in a few days as plus two institutions and their efforts to lure students begin to take center stage in the national and media discourse. But the frustration over the ‘tragic’ SLC results is genuine and hard hitting, especially since the degree serves as a gateway to careers and jobs in Nepal’s bureaucracy (note that the minimum requirement for kharidar in Nepal’s bureaucracy is still an SLC degree).
So when 53 percent of the examinees fall off the success ladder, there is every reason to rue. But given the mess that has long afflicted Nepal’s public school education sector, this was only predictable, except for the suicides that followed. For one, schools could function for only 160 days last year. There are about 25000 teacher’s positions yet to be filled. And as if there were not enough disruptions anyway, teachers across the nation took to protests and forced schools to shut down in March and threatened to disrupt SLC exams, thus playing with the young minds and belittling the importance of exams.
The above mentioned instances notwithstanding, a 53 percent failure rate is not the failure of the entire education system. It is the failure of the public education system because results of the state’s community schools constitute a predominant percentage of the overall results. Thus, to know the reason behind this outcome, it is necessary to explore and understand the reasons behind the declining state of community schools.
In Kathmandu, we are quick to point toward outdated curriculum, unscientific evaluation system, teacher’s salary, and sometimes even the education policy as chief reasons for the poor state of government schools. They, however, are just the auxiliary causes, if at all. The real rot lies in teachers—the way they are appointed and the way they conduct themselves in community schools. Since 1995, there have been no new recruits in community schools through open competition. That is to say, for about 18 years, teachers are appointed on relief grant quotas and temporary status by school management committees. In principle, every aspiring teacher has to undergo written tests followed by interviews but the unstated conditions for which the candidate should prepare himself are something one may find hard to believe.
The management committee chairman and the principal, who are often from the same ideological and political background, will seek candidates who believe in their political line first. A prospective candidate is required to first prove his political jhukab (inclination). Having met this preliminary requirement, the candidate will be made to sit for written exams, for which the questions are set by ‘experts’ from the nearest resource center who are often trusted men of the principal. In some cases, the question papers could be surreptitiously passed to the candidate beforehand so that his journey to job is smooth.
Once appointed, the new recruit is expected to ‘treat’ his/her fellow teachers. This does not only help to keep his job secure but also allows him to take the liberty of skipping classes and attending party meetings. As the flag bearer of a certain party, he begins to attend programs of teachers’ unions and organizations more than attending classes. And thus, he begins to grow as a trusted party activist in time. Teaching becomes his second priority. Since 1995, save for in 2006 when the Teacher Service Commission (Nepal’s teachers recruiting body) conducted internal exams for temporary teachers to promote them to permanent status, teachers across the country have been appointed through such faulty ways.
Thus, this is the area that needs sweeping reforms if we want to see community schools succeed and fulfill their mandate. This is possible, if some steps are taken. First, we should begin by ‘de-politicizing the teachers recruitment process by assigning this responsibility to Public Service Commission. PSC has long been trusted in Nepal for conducting fair exams. So assigning it one more task shouldn’t be a hassle for the government. The PSC should conduct exams for prospective teachers every six months or every year and keep the successful candidates in the reserved pool. It can recommend them for recruitment when demanded by the concerned schools. With this arrangement in place, we can dissolve the deeply politicized Teacher Service Commission. At best, TSC could be assigned the responsibility of conducting teaching license exams, which is anyway the only thing it has been doing.
The rot in our community school system lies in teachers—the way they are appointed and the way they conduct themselves in schools.
Second, policy makers, community school teachers, ministers and lawmakers should be made to place their children in community schools. This will force the stakeholders to execute effective policies and implement them for in failing to do so, their own children’s future will be at stake. So far the trend has been that only the poor and often, voiceless admit their children to community schools. Taking advantage of the situation, teachers evade classes. With this new arrangement in place, teachers will start acting more responsibly. Out attempt should be directed at making teachers accountable to parents and students, just like in private schools.
Third, policy makers and experts should reach out to the grassroots to understand the real factors behind the dismal SLC results. It is easy to blame parents’ over-expectations for their children’s suicides. But often, policy making workshops and interactions conducted in Kathmandu miss out on those people who are real victims of the tragedy.
It may take time to clean up the rot. Surely, it won’t be possible to correct all the wrongs overnight, but if there is will and timely initiative, this won’t be an impossible task. However, if we continue to neglect the woes of community schools, they will continue to fail our students in exams and worse still, other aspects with far more long term adverse consequences; and remain institutions that impart what can only be called ‘education for unemployment.’