The eighth amendment of the Education Act (1972), which was approved by the parliament on Saturday, could prove to be a watershed moment in the field of education in Nepal. First of all, it does away with the system of holding School Leaving Certificate (SLC) examinations at the end of grade 10; now the examinations will be held only at the end of grade 12. This makes sense. This reform will considerably reduce the undue pressure put on students to clear the traditional 'iron gate' of Nepali education. The exams at the end of grade 12, as those who have appeared in them will readily attest, are a piece of cake compared to the pressure-cooker stress of SLC exams. It will also bring Nepal's school system in line with the growing global trend that recognizes grade 12 as the end of schooling. Another salient feature of the eighth amendment is that it forbids public school teachers from being members of political parties. This had become important as many public school teachers were found to be shunning their classes in order to attend various political programs. Their political cover also gave them immunity against any kind of prosecution.
The eighth amendment offers many other goodies. The around 17,000 temporary teachers working in various public schools have been given a choice between competing for the 40 percent vacant (public school teacher) seats that have been reserved for temporary teachers, and a golden handshake. The temporary teachers have long been protesting that they should be either made permanent or made liable to the same pay and perks that were being provided to permanent teachers. Most temporary teachers, it appears, will opt for the golden handshake as they are already involved in other works and businesses. If so, a long festering dispute that had badly affected the education of public school students will be resolved. In another major reform, all investment in school education, in both private and public schools, will henceforth have to be channeled through public trusts. This is expected to help with rampant commercialization of school education, which has led to private schools always looking to maximize profits even by compromising on the quality of education and infrastructure. So then what is there not to like about the eighth amendment, which looks like a panacea that promises to cure all ills in our school education system?
First, it is by no means certain that the private schools will suddenly agree to operate under public trusts. In fact, in a sop to the private school operators, the government has promised a separate commission to study public ownership of all schools. This commission is sure to have representation from private schools. These private schools will surely try to create loopholes that allow them to continue to operate under complete private ownership. Another hurdle could be getting the teachers and students to adapt to the new school structure. Moreover, even if the amended act bars public school teachers from holding formal positions in political parties, they could still be involved in political activities at school time. These are all important concerns. But on the balance of things, do we still approve of the act? Absolutely. Even if it's not foolproof, we would like to believe it's a big milestone towards the development of a vibrant school education, most importantly by reducing the yawning gap between public and private schools.