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.

Access:
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.

Quality:
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.

Governance:
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.

Conclusion:
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)

5 comments

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  • Dinesh Koirala

    Dear Atma and Praveen, you did the great job by linking access and quality issues of education to English Language Teaching in Nepal. You presented global scenario of the girls and it is well known that Nepali girls’ condition is miserable than the boys. However, we have progressed in education sector in terms of gender equality. For example, Gender Parity Index (GPI) in primary, lower secondary and basic level is 1.02 in terms of enrollment, GPI is also achieved for dalit and janajati (but we have 0.98 for dalit girls at lower secondary level). It means fee free basic education is accessible to Nepali children regardless of sex though we do not have exact figure of around 5% of out of school children.
    You presented your analysis based on a program held at Sindhuli. Shift to English as medium of instruction from Nepali might have increased access of certain social groups to English medium education as the expenses at community schools are less than that of private schools. However, this trend obviously questions the access of the poorest of poor to basic education as the textbooks prescribed for English medium education are expensive. Regarding quality, I do not see any rationale on delimiting quality education to English language despite the fact that most of the community schools’ students fail in English subject. I think quality needs to be perceived from broader perspective though there is no clear single sentence meaning of quality education. I think under governance you intend to discuss management issues. Why parents became more active than before? English medium community schools have even attracted the students of private schools and the parents of such children are literate and pay proper attention to their children’s education. But change in the medium of instruction does not necessarily guarantee the active involvement of the parents and research has already proved the active involvement of parents in school management and day to day activities mostly in community managed schools. Overall, I just shared my opinions with your opinion and hope to read more articles from you in coming days.

    • Atma Ram Bhattarai and Praveen Kumar Yadav

      We would like to thank you Dinesh Jee for your nice comment/opinion. You have raised appropriate concerns. The community schools have started teaching English as medium of instructions because of the two reasons. The first one is what you have raised “Most of the community schools’ students fail in English subject” and another is ‘decrease in the number of the students for enrolling in private schools in the name of quality education. The schools have just started teaching English Medium and the expected results are still awaiting fulfillment.

      On the other hand, by the use of English medium in community schools, the participation of the parents has increased, no matter they belong to poor or wealthy family. They are providing attention for sanitation, homework and tiffin/snacks for the children. Even there are some cases of returning children from private schools to the community schools after they have started teaching in English.

      You have rightly pointed out the issues that needed to include in the article particularly in quality and governance section. Besides, we do acknowledge that we missed many more points at the cost of focusing on the key notes of discussion among the teachers in Sindhuli. We appreciate your eye-opening inputs and we would certainly include such issues in other articles we co-write. It is the subject to research on the recent transition still occurring at the community schools in Nepal.

      Thank you once again for expecting the articles from us in coming days. We’d definitely write on similar or certain issues of our interest if our time and effort allow.
      Atma Ram and Praveen

  • Madhav Dhungel

    Dear Atmaram and Praveen Sir
    First of all thanks for article of emerging issue of Nepal. During my review of the article, as I think heading and contains does not match. There is not much more related data and informations of Nepali context. I think it is particular school’s problems. Article expressed some difficulties during the sifting process of community school, but very few schools are in this process as my observations and visits. How you presented particular to general? On the other hand quality of community schools has been decreasing day by day and recognizing in urban areas as pro-poor school in Nepal due to English boarding schools which leading polluation social harmonies. In addition to that, community schools are a playground of politicians, grazing areas of livestock, and places of celebrations of personal religions. As references, we never heard that politician’s program organized in private schools, students presented with flower from private schools during the program and raising issues by those students in street like price hike , other several demands. Therefore, I would like to request you to consider such real issue in your nice article too.
    Anyway, you people try to link a schools experiences as wider Nepali context so thanks again.

  • Hi Madhav Sir,
    I am glad to see that you have read our blog entry. A bouquet of thanks to you ! I am equally pleased to read your comments wherein you have reviewed the article rigorously. We have dragged out the general scenario from the particular sharing we had at the premises of one higher secondary school in Sindhuli district. There were teachers from thirteen different schools in the district, which have started following English as the medium of instruction. The only differences among those schools were – some schools have been teaching in English medium till grade 8, some till grade 5 and some at different levels and some have just started the pre-primary level.

    Regarding the query about relevant data, we have mentioned in the previous comment before, we the stakeholders need to wait for some while to study the impact level outcome at the community schools with English medium shifted recently. We have reiterated the facts that we have focused on another issue (shifting English medium) in addition to others prevalent at the schools including political interference or misuse of school children for their vested interests disturbing the school as zone of peace, violation of child rights and tussle among school management committee, teachers and students.

    As the blog ‘NeltaChoutari’ is a professional forum to discuss educational or pedagogical issues among scholars/readers/authors/stakeholders, the purpose of the publication of our write-up on such an emerging issue at community schools of Nepal is also to let our readers/stakeholders share their views on the issue raised so that we can come up with more substantial points included with another blog entry or publication in another media. We have also agreed to have rapid assessment and survey of some schools at different districts of Nepal to give the article a new direction.

    Once again, thank you Dinesh ji and Madhav ji for your comments and we’d like to request all the readers to participate in the discussion.

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