Community Schools: Awaiting Effective Reforms

Chintamani Rijal

According to the Economic Survey 2076/077, out of the total 35,520 schools in Nepal, the number of community schools is 27,407. Of them, the number of model schools is 422, schools with computer facilities are 8,366 and schools using information technology is 3,676. Out of 8,127,263 students studying at the school level, 5,583,000, or 69% students are studying in community schools.
The above statistics show that of all community schools, 8,366 have access to computer facilities so far and only 3,676 are connected to information technology.

The world has made great strides in the development of information and technology, but we are still living in the mediaeval world. Analysing this statistics, we do not see the possibility of radical change in education even if we want to. Unless we can connect every school with information technology facilities, there will be no change in the education sector.

The results regarding student performance in community schools, which occupy the largest share in the education sector compared to private schools, are not satisfactory. Even the model schools declared by the state are not in a position to be imitated by others. According to the latest statistics of the Educational Quality Testing Centre (2076/077), only 0.05 per cent of the schools declared as a model by the state are eligible for sampling. Eighty-five per cent of community schools are ineligible for the study.

If this is the condition of community schools declared as a model by the government, the condition of community schools as a whole can be easily guessed. What could be the reasons behind the declining quality of education in community schools even with 100% state investment and skilled and trained teachers? Why not look for those reasons and take the necessary steps for improvement? Why not make it a topic of debate and discussion?

Most schools lack level and subject-specific teachers. Some schools have more teachers than required while some schools have no teachers at all. The state should pay serious attention to this. Even now, in many schools, lower level teachers are taking the leading role in the secondary level.

About 99 per cent of the community schools are run by the acting headmaster. Rule 93 (2) of the Education Rules 2059 provides for the appointment of the headmaster but has not been implemented. Except for a few community schools, the educational conditions of most community schools are extremely fragile. Physical infrastructure is also not suitable from the point of view of teaching and learning operations. Classrooms are not suitable from the point of view of conducting group activities.

Even though we envisioned an egalitarian society, the state still does not seem to be paying attention to the construction of disability-friendly classrooms for students with physical disabilities. The issues of children with different abilities and interests have not found a place. Most community schools do not have adequate furniture. Appropriate whiteboard or blackboard does not seem to have been provided.

The state has not yet paid attention to the construction of separate toilets for male and female students, drinking water, electricity supply, the establishment of library and science laboratory, entertainment for young children and management of sports materials. Due to the lack of proper management of physical and educational infrastructure, most of the community schools are not suitable from the point of view of teaching.

After the implementation of the federal system of government in the country, the right to take care of education up to the school level has come to the local level. The local level has not been able to formulate an effective plan for the improvement of community schools under it. Most of the local level education departments do not seem to have put forward any programme to improve the quality of education except for the distribution of teachers’ salaries and the transfer of teachers close to them to their favourite schools.

More questions are being raised everywhere about the educational quality of community schools. Stakeholders are silent on this issue. Also, the responsible state bodies in charge of education do not seem to be serious in this regard. In such a situation, there is enough room for doubt that community schools will improve.
The local government does not appear to have done such work as on-site study and research of the school, identification of needs, determination of priorities, formulation of plans and formulation of necessary strategies to complete the plan. In the absence of effective planning, investment in the education sector has been like pouring water on sand.

The local government seems to be confused about the exercise of the right to education guaranteed in the constitution. It is the misfortune of the education sector that most of the local governments have not been able to pay attention to uplift the community schools under their jurisdiction despite widespread criticism of the declining quality. Unless community schools are reformed, access to education will not reach the poor, disadvantaged and marginalised. A prosperous nation cannot be imagined without access to education for the poor, destitute and marginalised people.

Free Education
According to the federal constitution, the right to look after education up to the school level has come under the purview of the local government but it has not been used properly. There is still no sign of improvement as the local government has not been able to come up with an effective plan for the wider development of the community schools under it.

For this, every local government needs to conduct a meticulous on-site study and research to know the real situation of all the community schools under its jurisdiction. On-site study and research can provide important information needed for effective planning for school development which in turn helps identify which schools need what and what needs to be improved and act accordingly.
Positive results can be obtained only if the plan is selected and constructed based on the report obtained from on-site study and research of the school. In doing this, the investment in the school does not get wasted. On the other hand, every school will go on the path of improvement with the encouragement of need-based investment.

Although the concept of pre-primary education has been introduced for the preparation of school education, the state has not been able to pay attention to its institutional development. Kindergartens set up without planning and infrastructure are like prisons for children. Kindergartens established to build good habits and character are not suitable for keeping children. The state has not been able to provide sports and entertainment materials for the children who enjoy sports and entertainment.

The state does not seem to have any interest in children of the age group 4/5 years who are considered to be very sensitive to the future of the nation. Children are more interested in playing than reading. Children learn easily through play. The kindergartens we operate today are more repelling than attracting children to school. These kindergartens should be turned into sports-friendly parks. The state needs to pay attention to this.
It is generally believed that only the children of parents whose economic condition is weak and who are living below the poverty line come to study in community schools. Due to the financial situation of their families, the children do not attend school regularly and are forced to drop out of school. It has become a challenge for schools to stop the tendency of dropping out.

Through the Parent Education Programme, the problem of irregular school attendance and dropping out can be eliminated. Because of poverty, they often drop their children out of school and put them to work. To prevent this, parents should be encouraged to work for income. It is important to develop curricula that combine the work done by children with skills and technology to sustain learning.

A proportional budget distribution system should be developed for the balanced development of all schools. Only budget allocation based on need is fair. Only through an equitable budget distribution system can all schools be improved. Budget allocation and distribution based on a personal access, influence and contacts should be stopped immediately. Budget allocation based on power and access cannot lead to the overall development of the education sector.

Even though there is no area to spend money, crores of rupees are allocated to model schools. No budget is allocated to schools that lack physical infrastructures like classrooms and furniture. How can school upgrades and educational quality be improved without a balanced and proportional budget distribution system?

Quality Education
Quality education is the basis of equality and an egalitarian society. But education is beyond the reach of the common man. Not all children are entitled to equal opportunities and privileges. On the other hand, the state seems to have discriminated against teachers who promote quality education. There are widespread complaints from teachers about this.

Teachers have been agitating for their professional development for a long time with various demands before the government. Schools and teachers themselves have become victims of the state’s discriminatory behaviour. In such a situation, isn’t it a matter of shame for the state to raise the slogan of quality education and say that it will strengthen community schools? The state needs to focus on uplifting community education by improving every aspect associated with quality education. Let the state think seriously about this.

( Rijal is associated with Janata Model Secondary School, Biratnagar)

The Rising Nepal

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