Teachers working at community schools under government relief quota and at early childhood development centers (ECDCs) have been staging protests in Maitighar Mandala for the last few days. On Tuesday, they enforced closure of community schools across the country, affecting regular studies of over six million students who attend those schools. Their demand is that Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) should scrap the provision from Federal Education Bill that allocates 20 percent seats to relief quota and ECD teachers for internal competition for permanency. They cite the past precedent of the government allocating 70 percent seats to temporary teachers to promote them to permanent status through internal competition. Both this demand and their protests are misguided. They should immediately withdraw the protest and get back to the classrooms where they are needed at the moment.
First because we need to recruit teachers in public schools only through open competition as far as possible if we want to bring the best minds into teaching profession. And second, the way ECD and relief quota teachers have been appointed is far from competitive and transparent. In nearly all of the cases, teachers of these two categories happen to be the political appointees and their appointment is basically determined by which party the potential candidates are affiliated with rather than merits. This process that started around one and half decades ago has done more harm than good to public schools. Giving them special preference for promotion in permanent status will basically legitimatize the uncompetitive appointment process. Essentially, agitating teachers are seeking easy route to permanent posting. Governments of the past have already set the wrong precedent by declaring temporary teachers permanent after a few days of protests and agitation or promoting them through internal competition, while vast majority of education graduates have been deprived of open competition opportunities. The country must set a new precedent by selecting public school teachers through open competition process.
Our public schools have already suffered from extreme politicization. There are reports of local governments coming up with their own laws that allow ward chairpersons to become chairpersons of school management committees (SMCs) as well instead of choosing them from among the guardians who have their children in those schools. Such politicization is bound to worsen the quality of teaching in already poorly equipped schools. Nepal’s teacher appointment process has witnessed a set flawed pattern in the past several years: School management committees (which are already politicized) appoint teachers under ECD and relief quota through rather opaque system. The persons to be appointed happen to be political cadres most of the time. A few years in service, these teachers organize and hit the streets demanding automatic permanency or easy route to it. The government capitulates and a good number of them are promoted either through internal competition or blanket promotion. As a result, close to 30,000 public schools never get teachers of merits. This series of faulty appointment process must come to an end. Ministry of Education, Science and Technology (MoEST) should show some spine this time around to set the new practice. A lot needs to be done to enhance quality of teaching in public schools. And it won’t be possible unless we start the process of recruiting the best minds in public schools through open competition.