Reforming Nepal’s Education System
Recent mandates from the UN about Sustainable Development Goals have led to much activity in Nepal, especially meetings to form committees in the field of education. But mostly it’s the same old faces who failed with the previous millennium development goals and the School Sector Reform Plan!
There are few who would argue that Nepal’s education system is in a mess! But there are very few who know what to do about it or who get beyond the rhetoric of statements like “we need to improve the quality of education” (without defining what it even means!) or “we must install interactive white-boards in all our schools” (made by a senior Ministry official after a visit to a European conference). Then there are the major international donors who make huge sums of money available to the government but with no apparent cohesion of effort with other large donors to ensure that holistic development of the overall system occurs. Even worse is the plethora of NGOs and INGOs all doing their own thing in small pockets of villages, towns and cities. And before you ask, yes, we are one of them, but we have ALWAYS sought collaboration with the Ministry, international government agencies such as DFID, and other NGO’s to attempt to get coordination of effort towards a common goal. Everyone seems so hell bent on doing their own thing without a common vision; surely the time has come for this to stop because there are just too many initiatives looking for a problem!
A list of some of the common problems from just the Primary education sector makes for depressing reading:
A teaching workforce which is undertrained and unmotivated
A culture of politicisation and unionisation
Teaching pedagogies which focus more on the teacher than the child
A completely outmoded curriculum with no elements of moral or social education
Assessment strategies based purely on “remembering” at the expense of “understanding and applying”
Physical school environments which are often unsafe, unhygienic and unfriendly for young children
A complete lack of resources for use in the classroom
A closed system of teacher appointments as opposed to one which is open and competitive
Heads and Principals with no training in basic management, governance, staff development or educational leadership
No opportunities for young, motivated, newly trained teachers
The list could be two or three times longer than this, and will continue to grow unless someone takes a stand and pulls the whole SYSTEM together.
The purpose of this section is to offer a unified, holistic, systemic solution to the problems with Nepal’s education system. The key to it is in the words system and systemic, because this is exactly what we are NOT doing in Nepal with the piecemeal approach of initiatives, donations and organisations that are generally uncoordinated and multi-focused.
The Ministry has just appointed some “experts in education” to examine the problem, but with the greatest of respect to these gentleman the government should have first appointed an “expert in organisational change”. An organisational psychologist doesn’t need to know anything about the details of education but they DO need to know about how systems work/don’t work, the typical generic components of an organisational system, and then they can consult with educationalists to identify the specific components which are missing from the system or worse still …….. working against the system.
One of the simplest frameworks used by organisational psychologists that might be applied to an education system is shown:
System Development Change Management
These four components are not only related but completely connected for ANY system, they are regulated too just like a central heating system with its thermostat! Change one element inside one component and you can bet that it will cause a reaction or change somewhere else. The trick (or skill) is to plan the whole change to the whole system and to anticipate and plan for systemic adaption as you proceed.
We realise at this stage it can all sound a bit theoretical, especially with no examples given as to how such an approach would work, or typical examples of educational elements inside the four components. But this is where the educational and organisational experts come together to design a WORKING system which is funded, planned and delivered in a systemic manner.
So, here are a few examples of some elements for each of the four main components which need implementing simultaneously:
Adopt or create a universal model or framework of Quality Education and make it the mission of the system change
Set clear goals against each element of the Quality Education framework
Adopt a coordinated approach aimed at complete transformation with NO piecemeal donors or projects sanctioned
Create a meritocracy with performance management for Principals and Teachers to reward excellence
Depoliticise the teaching profession
Create a culture of continuous development and improvement
Identify the types and numbers of teachers to deliver the new system
Assess and appraise all existing teachers for competence and either retain, retrain, or retire
Recruit/appoint fresh, young, well trained teachers into the gaps
Retrain teachers as necessary via short intensive courses
Implement professional continuous improvement programmes regionally and in-school
Run educational leadership programmes for all Principals and Head Teachers
Create a national structure for policy and strategic development of the Primary Sector
Set up national grades and pay scales to reflect the importance of change and improvement within a performance management system
Introduce a policy of open and competitive appointment of teachers
Assess every primary school against standards of safety, hygiene, space etc.
Completely revamp the primary education curriculum
This is only a sample, an education expert would no doubt fill pages and pages under each heading, but the organisational expert would work to unify the system with elements that compliment each other.
Here is the same framework shown with significant change components for a school, but for a whole system it is more complex:
We can all continue the way we are working in Nepal to develop the education system. We will see small scale improvements and undoubtedly some new schools built regularly, but will the education system actually change and improve? “No, it will not change until WE change”.