Accountability in education in post-conflict Nepal

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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

nepalMeanwhile, 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.

nepal 2However, 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

  1. Develop a clear legislative framework for roles and responsibilities of local bodies and relevant training about local governance to enhance social accountability.
  2. 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.
  3. Avoid punitive accountability mechanisms, including blaming teachers. The problem of failing education must be tackled at a systemic level.
  4. Increase school-based teacher training to address needs-based professional development and improve teaching and learning in the class.
  5. 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.
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3 Responses to Accountability in education in post-conflict Nepal

  1. Sushan Acharya says:

    The blog is interesting but needs some reflections upon the blogger’s generalized view about teachers. We, who are in Nepal, are also closely watching and in contact with schools and teachers directly or indirectly. It was true that teachers were targeted as were other members of the public public for presumably taking the side of either the Maoists or the Army. Yes, there are teachers who did suffer and were victimized during the conflict. But the situation has changed a lot and many decisions in favor of teachers have been made during these past 10 years irrespective of their competence and political affiliation. One group is stronger as the other due to their affiliation with political parties. All the teacher unions/organizations are visibly sister organizations of political parties. I wonder how the writer could be so deterministic when he said “Don’t blame teachers, blame the politicisation of education”. Yes it is politicization – but who is politicizing? And politicization just doesn’t happen. People are involved in this act.

    Therefore let’s not be abstract here. The writer has very carefully omitted the role of political parties, who are mobilizing teachers and most teachers are loyal (accountable) to them. If the politicization was for education it would do good. But the politicization is done for personal and party benefits. In other words utter ‘balkanization’. Nevertheless, the Teacher Federation has been talking about quality education. It has been organizing training for teachers, organizing interaction programs, etc. But we have not seen satisfactory results from all these initiatives in terms of the learning achievement of community school children.

    Right now, the ninth amendment of the Education Act is an example of keeping all the incompetent teachers in the system. The amendment has proposed internal examination of 75% of the temporary teachers. And only 25% of seats are allocated for free competition. This clearly restricts good people to enter the system and give continuity to the same burnt out and incompetent teachers. It is crystal clear. The 8th amendment was not even implemented before they brought the 9th amendment. It was done in agreement with all the major parties. After only a few days of the formation of the High Level Education Commission this decision was made. The Commission had not even started its work the amendment came. Two of the renowned educationists immediately resigned from the Commission. Now our education students are in protest against the amendment. But the teachers unions are very happy. Despite the debate, protest which was in the newspapers every day, teachers lobbied and got the President to endorse the Act. The teachers’ leaders were requested not to do it and rather to ask the President to have the 8th amendment (in which there was a clause for the Teacher Commission to announce vacancy periodically so that many young people who possess teaching license could get opportunity to compete for teaching jobs). They didn’t listen. Then a group of lawyers filed a writ against the amendment, which they claim is against the Constitution. The Supreme Court has not yet made any decision.

    Therefore it is not a straight game BUT what is true is that there are community schools that are doing really well, despite the teachers’ political affiliation and political parties’ pressure. How is this possible? Again all because of committed head teachers and management committees and also committed teachers. How is it possible? Why were these few not influenced or affected by ‘politicization’?

    So, as the writer also hints, the issue and situation need to be viewed and analyzed in context, and should not be generalized as the writer himself has done. Please see- http://www.edukhabar.com/ , tcmd.org (teachers can make a difference) for how and why a good community school could be good, and how and why another school with same resources and under the same legal provisions couldn’t do well. But these websites are in Nepali language – sorry about that!

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  2. Hari Lamsal says:

    The writing is quite comprehensive and useful to capture the essence of the political economy of Nepal in the context of education, especially school education. Of course these are the views of the writer and I do not think so we all can agree on these ideas. The same events can be explained different ways through different perspectives. Only what I can say that the past event in the should be explained in the time of that period. Of course we can learn from the past.
    For me in the past we have conflict, its very difficult for me to name it as a civil war. It gives me different meaning, this may be because of my limited understanding. Again it could be the perspectives what we are using to explain the event.
    If we see the education development of the country in the past 15 years, we have achieved the remarkable gain the areas of expansion of schooling facilities, participation, increasing females and other disadvantaged groups in teaching positions. We should keep this in mind. But the gray area is in efficiency and quality of education. It was a right time to invest in quality and efficiency improvement but we were/are compelled to invest scarce resources on the development and maintenance of infrastructure which were damaged by the devastating earthquake.
    Teaching forces in Nepal are highly influential in terms of political affiliation towards the political parties. I agree with the writer that if we blame only teacher for the low quality and efficiency it will be unfair to them. We all are responsible for this. There is a vicious circle of the graduates who are in teaching profession, the journey starts from school, then university, then job market, then profession, then work culture, then monitoring and accountability. In order to improve the quality of the graduates and make them accountable, we should consider all these aspects, not only those teachers who are in teaching profession.
    There are some schools who produces good results and highly attractive for many people. They are under the same policies, curriculum and monitoring system. So for me the most important thing is about the work culture. And politics is the overall for developing such culture. Let us hope that the forthcoming election will bring leaders with new visions and work culture who can guide us in the future where our children will have high quality education.

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  3. Amazing one the views and opinions expressed in this blog. The transformative role education can play in post-conflict recovery.

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