(Re)Constructing a ‘Good’ School: Perspectives on Educational Transformation in Post-earthquake Nepal
This paper explores a case of reconstruction of school infrastructure after the 2015 earthquake in Nepal, and offers a critical frame to understand the tenuous nature of state-building project and the everyday experience of existing social inequalities in education. This draws on ethnographic fieldwork in Sunaulo School, one government school in Nepal that was severely damaged by a massive earthquake that hit Nepal on April 25, 2015. After 4 years, new school buildings were inaugurated by Nepal’s Prime Minister. These new buildings were part of the government’s long-term ‘build back better’ plan to transform 1000 government schools into ‘model schools’ – Sunaulo School was one such ‘model schools’. The next-day local newspapers commended these shiny new palace-like buildings expressing a hope that this infrastructure would translate into quality education. The new school buildings, in this context, offer a critical frame to understand infrastructural-driven development as it relates to the tenuous nature of state-building project amidst existing social inequalities in education. The literature on infrastructure points out that material infrastructure is closely linked with the lived experience of unequal provisioning and differentiated social membership. These practices are not necessarily the enactments of vain affective attachment to material things. But rather, they reveal all manner of possibilities for exercising claims through material practices of negotiation. In the context of Nepal, where the education quality in government schools has remained an enduring challenge, new school infrastructure was utilised to shift the narrative from difficult issues of social inequality in education to more visible proofs of physical reconstruction. This paper, thus, draws attention to the relationship between the reconstruction of school infrastructure and the project of state-building, both materially and discursively. thereby help push anthropological knowledge production on education.