This blog is written by Tejendra Pherali, UCL Institute of Education, the author of a case study on accountability and education in Nepal commissioned for the 2017/8 GEM Report. The blog coincides with the national launch of the report taking place in Kathmandu today and is part of a series showing that accountability in education is shaped by a country’s history and political, social, and cultural context.
A country’s social, political and economic conditions determine how the state perceives its responsibility towards its people and whether the people are empowered to sanction states that are not responsive. In post-conflict societies, such as Nepal, traditional structures have been ruptured and new mechanisms are fragile or yet to be institutionalised.
Historically, the Nepali state has been exclusionary, centralized and unaccountable to its people. There was lack of public awareness about rights and weak enforceability of those rights for the majority of the population. And agencies, organisations and individuals who, responsible for service delivery of often poor quality were not being called upon to account.
Social accountability was also constrained by the traditional culture of unconditional submission to power holders. Traditionally, wealthier, high caste individuals have monopolized power in Nepalese society, which is reproduced through their capture of state resources. Patrons often use state resources to ensure the loyalty of clients in the population, which reproduces a culture of informal governance and often undercuts accountability towards the public. Corruption, nepotism and the network of elitism further consolidate their power in the environment which suffers from state fragility and frail economic conditions.
Conflict and education in Nepal
These were among the conditions that contributed to the civil war (1996-2006). In its aftermath, the successful election of local bodies that now are responsible for public services, such as health and education, provides some hope for improvement in public accountability.
Yet, weak governance and corruption risks continuing unless clear legislative and regulatory frameworks are implemented for local management of education. Numerous complex challenges also hamper the effective implementation of accountability. These include the legacy of state failure to protect schools during conflict, the absence of local governments for almost two decades, and the reproduction and increase of inequalities through private and public provisions.
Don’t blame teachers, blame the politicisation of education
In the protracted post-conflict transition, most public-school teachers work in demanding conditions, e.g. lack of resources, extremely poor background of children, parental indifference to education, overcrowded classes, student absenteeism etc.). In this context, they are expected to produce results such as progression, improved success rates in the national level exams and competitive performance against private schools in their neighbourhood. Yet blaming teachers for not delivering these results is unhelpful as often these accusations are decontextualized from the context within which they work, and the history of Nepal’s political crisis.
For example, the policy framework in education since the accord in 2006 does not sufficiently acknowledge the impact of attacks on schools during the conflict. Teachers continue to suffer from declining motivation and post-traumatic anxiety, which manifests in their professional disengagement and increased loyalty to political parties rather than to the state.
Historically, Nepal’s political parties have welcomed teachers as political activists rather than holding them accountable for their professional duties. During conflict, both the state and rebel groups either perpetrated violence against teachers or exploited teachers ruthlessly, e.g. intruding school premises, recruiting children, enforcing mandatory donations and involving teachers and children in political demonstrations.
Ensuring marginalised and low socioeconomic groups have a voice
Meanwhile, information on the education system is neither easily accessible nor user friendly for the socially and politically marginalised. This undermines the potential for disadvantaged groups to be involved in educational decision-making.
Additionally, school funds are inequitably distributed, involving high levels of corruption in teacher recruitment and per child grants. The provision of private education reduces engagement in problems in public education that largely serves children from poor communities. Teachers use their political affiliations to avoid sanctions on absenteeism, and nepotism, and favouritism is rife at a systemic level.
However, hope is found in the new constitution, which has guaranteed political ‘representation’ of historically marginalised communities such as Dalits, women, indigenous nationalities and Madhesis. It recognised their identities; and paved ways for redistribution of resources to promote social justice. This opportunity should be harnessed to embed bottom-up social accountability through political activism, social movements, and civil society activities to equip parents with relevant information about rights and responsibilities. This approach can serve as an enabler of accountability of educational institutions and authorities.
Policy recommendations to improve accountability in education in Nepal
- Develop a clear legislative framework for roles and responsibilities of local bodies and relevant training about local governance to enhance social accountability.
- Improve the inclusivity of school management committees, and build capacity of those participating. Civil society organisations should campaign for the public right to access information on education systems.
- Avoid punitive accountability mechanisms, including blaming teachers. The problem of failing education must be tackled at a systemic level.
- Increase school-based teacher training to address needs-based professional development and improve teaching and learning in the class.
- Conduct critical evaluation of the impact of the protracted conflict on education in order to develop concrete steps to address them. A ‘business as usual’ approach does not suffice for a post-conflict education scenario.