Thursday, March 23, 2017

Politicised School

Political parties compete for top school posts so that they get to use school budgets as they like

During a recent visit to my home district of Udayapur, Shree Janata Higher Secondary School of Jahada was in process of forming a new School Management Committee (SMC), as per newly introduced Education Act. But the school had failed to find a consensus candidate as the committee chairperson.

Both the candidates who claimed the coveted post were from CPN-UML. But they belong to different factions in the party: one to KP Sharma Oli, the other to Madhav Kumar Nepal camp. Both factions have strong influence at the local level—Oli as party chief and Nepal as someone who led the party for 15 years. Both have become prime ministers after the 2007 political change.

The election of SMC was disrupted as there was no Congress representative, even though the organizer claimed that its area chairperson had been invited. The next day, this Congress leader chided the school principal for letting UML dominate the program.

When I asked when they would resolve the dispute, one candidate said “high command” (of the party) was working on it. The one the ‘high command’ approves will become the SMC head.

A political party interferes not because it is serious about the future of students or wants to improve school education system. Parties wrestle to have their men in SMC so that they can use school budget as they like. So every party tries to ensure their representation in School Management Committee. Udayapur is no exception.

We get to hear, watch and read news about disputes in formation of SMC across the country. In some cases, one group assaults the other with guns and sharp weapons.

More common is the practice of distribution of money to voters to influence outcomes.

Political meddling is a disease that has clogged our education system. And since this rot runs deep, it will be difficult to cure.

It is argued that greater involvement of political leaders in schools can help improve education quality and bring more funds and opportunities. This is not true.

Hardly any student has passed SLC from Shree Janata Higher Secondary School in regular. Those who do pass get third division.

Not a single student passed all subjects in grade eight final exams, which means they would not qualify for grade nine. The school had to request the district education office to clear students if they fail in no more than two subjects, a request the DEO granted.

Friday, November 25, 2016

The capital chokes

Combating air pollution has never been a priority of the Nepali political class or of our government

We had just entered the doctor’s room when he asked, “What happened to him again?” “Cough and fever,” I said. “He coughs like hell. Cannot sleep the whole night.”

The doctor examined the patient, prescribed new medicines and handed us the slip while informing all this was happening because of dust and air pollution. Hundreds of such cases are reported every day. 

My child, Aarav, was ill and this was the third time in a month that I was visiting hospital for the same illness. Every time, I found more children with similar problems. Even I have gone to hospital for the same illness. The doctor suggested that I use a mask. It hasn’t helped. Masks, it seems, have lost the power to prevent you from Kathmandu’s dust.

According to a physician at Alka Hospital, “Apart from dusty roads, mechanical pollution is destroying our lungs.” He believes outdated and pollution-friendly vehicles are plying the streets. It reminded me of one of my investigative stories that revealed how vehicles were getting ‘green sticker’ by paying anywhere between Rs 100 and Rs 500 in place of the official rate of Rs 35 a vehicle. Many public vehicles in Kathmandu have never passed a green test. It was surprising to see officials of different vehicle committees visiting ‘green sticker providing office’ with bag full of ‘blue books’ and, of course, wads of money.

Motorbikes don’t even have to bother getting a sticker, as there are no such rules for two-wheelers.

Thursday, October 20, 2016

Scribe Stories

A young journalist was forced to leave his job after he wasn’t paid for 10 months. He then went to Malaysia for manual labor

Hundreds of journalists from around the globe gathered in Kathmandu a few weeks ago and shared their experiences of how their stories had helped ordinary people and even forced top-level bureaucrats and politicians to resign, including the president of the Philippines.

They were all investigative journalists. I didn’t take part in the conference but was following twitter feeds of many friends and former colleagues who were participating. While reading their tweets, I was thinking of my friends whom I regard as fine journalists in Nepal.

And I remembered how they were victimized by the management or even senior staffs in the organizations where they worked. Let me give you a few examples, although I will withhold the name of the organizations and colleagues for their safety.  

A woman journalist had been with a news organization for eight years. She gave it her all, never complaining about the long hours. One day she was ill and had to be admitted to a hospital. Her line manager bluntly informed her, over the phone, that either she had to immediately report for duty or she would be fired. She resigned from her hospital bed. The story doesn’t end here.

When she joined a new office, she was offered a better salary. But after she actually started her new work, she was asked to sign a contract which said that she would get half the amount that was initially promised to her. It was for tax reasons, she was told.
She can't fight against the organizaiton because there was no paperwork to validate her claims.  
She was promised that the rest of her salary would be deposited in her personal bank account.