We need a strong public sector able to provide quality education, a good environment for personal growth and the positive values that shape a person’s character for the entire life. It is a huge responsibility, if you think about it.
This is a piece about leadership in the public education sector in Nepal and it is about a young promising youth of the country getting more and more frustrated with the system.
Let me explain.
One of our best volunteers at ENGAGE is a young male, himself a good athlete and a great guy.
He is smart and talented and holds multiple part time jobs - teaching at a primary school, giving tuition classes, teaching basketball in addition to serving with us to promote adaptive sports and an inclusive society.
As he completed his 12th years of education, he had decided to attend a public college, choosing business and management as main subjects.
It should not be surprising that he is one of the many students who have been paying the highest consequences because of the pandemic or lack of leadership in dealing with the pandemic.
What do I mean by the lack of leadership in the pandemic?
I refer to the total disorganization in managing online and hybrid classes affecting many public higher education colleges around the country. In short, as I see it, there is a lack of leadership though I must be fair here and avoid generalizations and simplifications.
There is no doubt that there are plenty of leaders in the public education sector in the country. I have been lucky enough to interact and work with some of them. They are passionate, dynamic and love to deal with the challenges head on.
I salute them because they are potentially the enablers of social mobility in a country where if you have resources, if you have status, you can advance more easily.
Certainly this is not just a problem of Nepal but unfortunately a widespread issue all over the world as inequalities and social malaise coming with them are increasing exponentially.
Yet it is undeniable that this overarching issue, if you think about it, is really about social justice and equal opportunity, is getting worse and worse.
Public learning institutions have a huge role to play in changing the status quo. It is certainly a complex issue. It is about resources and it is about governance.
The federal system in place has the good intent of devolving responsibilities in the field of education at the local level but at the same time the tasks for municipalities are daunting and perhaps a more hybrid system or a more gradual transition could have made some sense.
It is also about lack of leadership.
Let’s now go back to our volunteer.
He is struggling because his college is not performing well in this difficult era of pandemic. Until recently, classes were being conducted online and then canceled, exams postponed and so on.
His frustration is growing day by day and he starts fearing losing his precious time. It has been almost two years of mismanaged education. I am not in a position to blame anyone nor is this the intent of this column.
It is undeniable that the issues at stake are complex and it is not just about a single college lacking leadership. It is more broadly a system issue that also includes the fact that the federal government has been preoccupied with many issues that are not really focused on the welfare and wellbeing of the people.
Yet, recently, a 55-point plan has been announced, a new attempt at improving the education landscape of the country.
I wish the Minister for Education, Science, and Technology Devendra Poudel and whoever might come after him all the best to truly bring the country to the highest levels of learning. After all, it is also indisputable that there has been a lot of progress in making the system more equitable, especially in terms of inclusion and access to learning.
Still there is so much that can be done. I do not want now to enter the details of the newly-introduced reform plan but instead I want to focus on a fundamental determinant to its success: leadership.
There is only so much that additional resources, a leaner governance system, a stronger performance matrix can make to turn around the educational system in the country. We also need more and stronger personal leadership at all levels. Making the public education system better is one of the most compelling challenges the country is facing.
The odds of successfully implementing the new educational plan will not just depend on who is in Singha Durbar or how much money the international community will donate. Instead, a lot will rest on the responsibilities of each single administrator and teacher, from primary to higher education. They are truly the masters of the country’s future. They deserve respect and acknowledgement for what they have been doing despite the challenging circumstances.
On the other hand, for those who stepped back instead of stepping up, these folks need to know that the country expects more of them. For them this could be framed as an endurance challenge, proving that they can be excellent teachers and excellent administrators no matter the situation, the lack of support and the lack of a dignified salary and so on.
In short they can seize the chance and prove that their students will have a fond memory of them because they made a difference in their lives. Education is a precious public good.
We need a strong public sector able to provide quality content, a good environment for personal growth and the positive values that shape a person’s character for the entire life. It is a huge responsibility if you think about it.
Our volunteer will survive and thrive because he is smart and has a lot of resilience and he knows how to navigate his path to personal and professional happiness.
Like him, so many others will find their ways to move ahead and do good. But we also need to be cognizant that an equal number of their peers will give up and lose any hope for a better future.
That would be a real leadership failure and the country will pay a heavy price for it.
(Galimberti is the Co-Founder of ENGAGE, an NGO partnering with youths living with disabilities. Opinions expressed are personal.)