KATHMANDU, Feb 25: While political interference and the partisan interests of teachers and school management officials are widely blamed for the poor performance of public schools across the country, many local bodies have introduced the practice of appointing elected ward chairpersons as the heads of school management committees within their jurisdictions.
Government officials said the formulation of rules by local authorities allowing elected representatives to serve as chairpersons of school management committee is against the existing laws on education .
According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST), there are 7.39 million students from Grades 1 to 12 studying in 35,601 schools, including 27,833 community and 6,566 private schools, across the country. The government spends over Rs 130 billion annually on public schools. However, the success rate of government schools, which comprise 80 percent of all schools, is only around 20 percent. By contrast, some 80 percent of students at private schools pass their examinations.
The Constitution of Nepal 2015 has empowered the local bodies to manage the quality of education in public schools. These local units are authorized to operate the schools and appoint temporary teachers .
However, the provisions of the existing Education Act allows the appointment of school management committee chairpersons only from among the guardians. Officials concerned said the introduction of rules to appoint ward chairpersons as heads of such committees and bringing in manuals or regulations to that end are against the law.
Laitpur Metropolitan City and Suryabinayak Municipality have already brought their education manuals into use, with provisions to appoint elected ward chairpersons as management committee chairs of government schools. A similar trend is found outside Kathmandu Valley , according to officials.
A ministry official cited an example of a single ward chairperson heading the management committees of 32 different schools.
Their working procedures include a provision for appointing either ward chairpersons or persons nominated by them as school management committee heads.
“We appointed the respective ward chairs as the school management committee chairpersons in our municipality,” said Juna Basnet, deputy mayor of Suryabinayak Municipality . There are 40 government schools in the municipality. “After we were elected we found that the situation at government schools was dire. Bhairavi Basic School for instance had only five students. This has now increased to 95 students,” Basnet said.
She claimed that they had intervened in school matters as this was necessary to improve the physical infrastructure and management of public schools. “If this approach fails, we can always change tack,” she said.
Lalitpur Metropolitan City is also following the same practice. “We opted for such rules because the majority of people send their children to private schools and are unavailable to secure appointment as heads of the the school management committees,” said Dinesh Karki, chief of the Social Development Division at the metropolitan city.
“We also thought of appointing educational experts as school management chairs, but we decided to appoint the ward chairs instead upon the suggestion of teachers and the trade unions ,” Karki added.
These unions are affiliated to different political parties.
Meanwhile, Kathmandu Metropolitan City (KMC) has adopted a slightly different approach . “Ward chairpersons or their nominees will be appointed as members of the school management committees,” said Sita Ram Koirala, chief education officer at KMC.
Baikuntha Aryal, spokesperson for MoEST, said that some local units are working against the existing laws and regulations. “As per the Education Act and Regulations, school management chairs should be elected from among the guardians,” said Aryal. "The ministry is drafting a new Federal Education Act in line with the old laws regarding the formation of the school management committees,” he added. The ministry, however, has not issued any warning to local bodies violating existing education law.
Suprabhat Bhandari, former president of the Guardians Association Nepal, termed such practice among public schools as the height of politicization. “Politicization of public schools has eroded the quality of education. The local bodies are acting unethically," he said.
Education expert Prof Bidya Nath Koirala argued for his part that this is just a minor issue. “If appointing ward chairs as management committee heads produces results, it is the right approach."