Is it ethical for teachers to take to politics?

Published On: June 21, 2017 05:00 AM NPT By: Bishnu Prasad Aryal

Some 1,000 teachers quit their jobs to contest local polls
KATHMANDU, June 21: As many as 1,000 teachers across the country resigned from their posts to contest the local body elections, indicating how far school teachers are active in politics.

The local body polls in provinces 3, 4 and 6 were held on May 14 while the elections in provinces 1, 5 and 7 will be held on June 14. Elections in Province 2 will be held in September.

More than 1,000 teachers belonging to different political parties resigned from their posts to contest the local elections, according to teachers' organizations. There are nearly 300,000 teachers in the country, including about 107,000 permanent teachers, some 40,000 teachers under relief quota in  government schools, some 36,000 teachers at early childhood development centers, and approximately 100,000 in private schools.

Among the teachers, 72,000  including 10,000 from private schools are  members of the Nepal National Teachers Association (NNTA), which is affiliated to the CPN-UML.

Similarly, 85,000 teachers at government schools belong to  the Nepali Congress-affiliated Nepal Teachers Union (NTU), and 45,000 are affiliated to the Unified All Nepal Teachers Association (UANTA) of Communist Party of Nepal (Maoist Center). Hundreds of other teachers are affiliated to various smaller political parties.

More than 500 teachers affiliated to NNTA resigned from their posts to contest the polls for  local bodies, claimed Babu Ram Thapa, president of  NNTA. "About 100 teachers were elected in the first phase  polls while some 100 faced defeat," he said.

Similarly, nearly 250 teachers affiliated to NTU resigned to contest the local polls, said Keshav Niraula, president of  NTU. "Among some 100 teachers contesting the first phase, 63 were elected," he added.

Likewise, nearly 40 teachers from  UANTA quit their jobs to contest the local polls, said Ratna Oli, president of  UNTA. "Ten teachers won in the first phase polls and 11 others are contesting the second phase," he said adding that the teachers were not actively involved in politics.

Teachers can contest polls after quitting their teaching posts but a huge majority of working teachers are actively involved in  politics and this runs counter to the spirit of their calling, said Suprabhat Bhandari, former president of the Guardians' Association Nepal. "It is their right to vote in  elections but it's against the ethics and regulations for teachers to involve themselves actively in politics," he added.

The eighth amendment to the Education Act 2016 has restricted  teachers from holding executive posts in  political parties but the law is  silent about other kinds of involvement.

Teachers are being criticized for getting involved in active politics and the teachers' organizations have taken this as a positive thing for  social change.

 "Teachers are an educated lot who can change  the society. So it is their right to get involved in politics for  a good cause," said Thapa. "However, they are not allowed to engage in politics during  school hours when they should be  fulfilling their teaching responsibilities," he said. Involvement of teachers in  politics affects the teaching-learning process, he admitted adding that this results in bad performance by the schools. 

Education expert Prof  Bidhya Nath Koirala said, "Political parties are involved in politicizing the education sector and  it is they that allowed political involvement by teachers. The teachers are always  political party cadres and they have shown this by quitting their posts to openly contest polls," he said. "They have not been able to  translate the ideologies  of their mother parties into practice but they have used the parties  as a ladder to get what  they wanted," he added.

However, the teachers elected to the local bodies  might give priority to the education sector, said Koirala. "If they can help improve the education sector, it will be a positive  thing," he said.

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