One of the logics of federalism in Nepal is to provide quality public services closer to the citizens.
As such, the new constitution is the result of the people’s aspiration to quickly obtain basic services through autonomous and self-governing local institutions.
Throughout the ages, the provision of school education has always been at the heart of governance. School education was thus treated as a good and a meritorious service.
Therefore, in line with the spirit of the constitution, the power and function of school education has been devolved to Local Governments (LGs). With this in mind, the government has taken three important decisions: to abolish the concept and practice of resource centers and resource persons; reduces the 29 education training centers to seven provincial education centers; and abolished all 75 district education offices.
A school is a unit located close to a community and the one and only institution directly responsible for providing quality education to its students.
Among the many factors responsible for quality, the teacher is an important and primary factor.
Teachers are a dynamic factor, whose professional commitment supported by action has a direct impact on the quality of school education. Therefore, the professional development and technical expertise of teachers is of paramount importance.
However, teachers and school leaders are of the equivocal opinion that with the introduction of federalism, they have become orphans of the state, with no one to provide them with technical support. Local authorities, responsible for steering school education, have few education officers, who mainly deal with administrative work and find little time to visit schools. Although some LGs have hired resource people themselves, this is not considered a sustainable solution.
The absence of resource centers and resource persons has created a vacuum where technical support is not available for teachers in schools. In addition, the provision of only seven provincial training centers, instead of 29, has also added another obstacle to the professional development of teachers.
All of these provide few opportunities for teachers’ professional development and much-needed technical support, impacting the quality of education.
A notable point is that the constitution made education the right of every child, contrary to the welfare approach of the old constitutions. This means that it is the obligation of the state to provide educational services to students, but the three decisions mentioned above have taken away services from the population.
It is also evident that the percentage of fully trained teachers in community schools has reached over 98.2% at the primary level and over 95% at the secondary level. However, research backed by experience reveals that these training efforts have failed to achieve the desired goal, as teachers continue to employ rote method and teacher-centered classroom activities.
Amid these challenges, there is a glimmer of hope. For example, the School Sector Development Plan (SSDP) and the Draft School Education Sector Plan (SESP) have specifically mentioned the provision of teacher mentoring as an intervention in schools. This will be a school-based initiative where a more experienced person, or one with specific expertise, will help and guide a less experienced person. It should be a more efficient, effective and sustainable mechanism, in line with the mandate of LGs, as well as strong international evidence on improving teacher effectiveness.
School management has always been at the heart of every education strategic plan, whether it is the School Sector Reform Plan (SSRP) or the SSDP and the next ten-year SESP.
Keeping all of this in perspective, the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology has launched teacher mentoring in subjects such as math, science and English from grades six to eight. Two rural municipalities and two urban municipalities from the provinces of Lumbini and Bagmati were selected, targeting 20 schools from each of the municipalities for the initial phase. The ultimate goal is to extend the system to all LGs.
The main challenge in sustaining the system is to help beginning teachers acquire the required pedagogical skills and knowledge, both in content and process. Mentoring, quite simply, aims to help attract, motivate and develop novice teachers to perform better in schools and transform them into learning and high performing institutions.
Mentoring for new teachers will also serve as an initiation activity so that they can acclimatize to the new environment.
The responsibility therefore lies with the LGs once the pilot project is successful. A desirable step towards this end could be to inspire LGs to adopt the system and to incentivize and empower mentors with a pecuniary arrangement and an orientation workshop, respectively.
Mentor orientation is of great importance to develop a common understanding of the nature, process and methods of mentoring aimed at developing a cordial relationship between mentor and mentee(s).
The mentor should also be supported financially so that they can provide regular support to mentees through in-person or virtual meetings. Since potential mentors will also represent practicing teachers, extra care is needed when selecting reputable teachers so that mentees feel professionally comfortable with them.
The mentoring system allows mentors to experience the inner satisfaction of having shared their skills and also to be recognized for growing personally and professionally.
The mentoring system should help experienced teachers emerge as educational leaders and novice teachers as successors, with the effect of increasing student learning outcomes.
Thapa is the former education secretary
A version of this article appears in the April 22, 2022 printing of The Himalayan Times.