At the crossroads: Community schools in Nepal
Atma Ram Bhattarai & Praveen Kumar Yadav
At a time when community schools across the country are facing a lot of challenges in terms of ensuring access, enhancing quality and educational governance, they are struggling to attract students as increasing number of children are enrolled in private schools, dropping the public schools, to receive education in English medium. Hence, the community schools took a step to compete with private schools rather than closing themselves in the lack of students. Better late than never, they have started teaching in English medium. We can see the trend of such shift at community schools in Nepal proliferating by leaps and bounds.
It is seen that the community schools which have started teaching in English medium are able to attract more students than before. Even, they reject the admission for the current academic session due to lack of infrastructures available for more students. They have chosen this move to save their fate ensuring their survival among the private schools. But such a move at community schools for English medium instruction without adequate preparations and proper plan has brought them at crossroads, where they meet with different consequences than it was expected.
We could draw the above situations reflected during an interaction with the teachers from different thirteen-community schools in Sindhuli district of Nepal held to find out common educational issues focusing on their roles for girls’ education. The interaction was a part of celebration of the first international day of the girl organized by ‘Janta Higher Secondary School’ a community school located at Ratanchura VDC in the district with support of Plan Nepal, Sindhuli Programme Unit. Another significant event to mark the day was the essay writing competition among 26 girl students from 13 different schools on theme ‘Because I Am A Girl.’ ‘Because I Am A Girl’ (BIAAG, in short) is a five-year global campaign officially launched by Plan International, global child-centered development organization with an aim to help 4 million girls to get the quality education, skills and support they need to transform their lives.
Please take a glance on a brief account of the International Day of the Girl Child before we come to the consequences that shifting from Nepali medium to English at community schools has brought in terms of access, quality and educational governance.
International Day of the Girl Child
Last month, October 11, 2012 as the first ever International Day of the Girl Child, which was unanimously adopted by the United Nations General Assembly, was celebrated by the governments, international development agencies and people around the world. Following are the facts behind the special day;
-Majority of the 75 million girls out of school in the world by the daily realities of poverty, violence, discrimination, and child and forced marriages.
-One in three girls are globally is denied a secondary education.
-Less attention to the difficulties and specific problems faced by girls, especially girls born in developing countries
-One in seven girls in the developing world married before they are 15, some as young as five years old.
-150 million girls under 18 have experienced rape or other forms of sexual violence.
-Pregnancy and child birth are the leading causes of death for girls aged 15-19 in the world’s poorest country.
This is all happening because girls are not being seen as priority at home, community and even schools. The distressing thing is that girls are not even allowed to be born. No one can deny the fact that an educated girl is less vulnerable to violence. We, the people involved in the academia are key stakeholders of the community and hence, we need to be accountable to pay attention on the importance of girls’ rights, particularly the right of girls to access to quality education.
Consequences of Shifting from Nepali to English medium
The shifting from Nepali to English medium is deemed as the matter of great achievement in community schools. However, there are many other issues mounting. It is matter of worries to note that there is a great malady of English language teaching.
Based on the interaction with the participant teachers and our observations of schools in Sindhuli, I have made following analysis in terms of access, quality and governance.
No doubt, parents in Nepal having even low-income send their children to private schools but the number is very less since all of them cannot afford the high charge of those schools. The community schools charge minimum fees from the students, therefore they are easily accessible to all the parents even the poorer. Besides, textbooks prescribed and prepared based on the curriculum are also provided to them freely in some schools. Once the community schools have started teaching in English medium, they assign English medium textbooks, which are high in price. Some of them have not even been prepared as per the educational goals mentioned in the curriculum of different levels.
The percentage of students from community schools failed in SLC Exam in English subject only indicates poor English language proficiency. Community schools which teach all the subjects except English in Nepali language lack English language proficiency greater in comparison to private ones where all the subjects except Nepali are taught in English.
When the teachers who have been teaching all the subjects except English in Nepali medium for years start teaching in English, they face challenges on language issues. They cannot communicate with the students in English and comprehend the subjects since they have a very poor command of the English language.
The relation between parents and schools is being improved. The parents started regular visit to schools for knowing the learning achievement and behavior of their children. They are in the practice for improving the sanitation of the children at home as well.
The School Management Committee (SMC) is being responsible for improving the quality in education by the trend in teaching in English medium. The SMCs are always worried on managing quality resources as well.
It is not surprising that English was the medium of school education in Nepal until the 1950s. Following the facts that there was political move of the educational system from English influence, formulation of the first Nepali language policy and adopting the educational practices from the Indian education system, the National Education Planning Commission recommended to remove English from the medium of instruction through its report in 1956. The New Education System Plan-1971 devised during the Panchayat system under the regime of King Mahendra was also in favour of Nepali language as the medium of instruction. There were not English medium schools except few missionaries in Nepal, which had been operating since the early 1950s. But during the regime of King Birendra the education ideology got change and private schools were encouraged to apply.
The Education Act in Nepal allows schools to adopt Nepali or English or both languages as the medium of instruction without any legal restriction. The Interim Constitution of Nepal has focused on the free and compulsory education of all children. Similarly, the Government of Nepal has initiated different interventions for improving on quality in school education and increasing access of girls of basic education. At last but not least, reward and punish is one of means for improving the above issues which lacks in this period.
(Besides being the members of NELTA, the authors are working for Plan Nepal, Sindhuli Program Unit)