Schools as an Arena of Struggle: Reexamining the Panchayat Era Politics of Education
Nepal does not have a very long history of “modern” formal education; the Ranas who ruled the country for over a century (1846-1951) were, barring a few exceptions, against public having access to education. When the Rana rule ended, the literacy rate of the country was less than two percent. In the democratic decade (1951-1960) after the downfall of the regime, the number of educational institutions (and concomitantly the number of students/teachers) grew enormously in many parts of the country even though the political situation during that decade remained chaotic.
In 1960 the then “constitutional” monarch staged a coup and disbanded the first ever people elected parliament, outlawed political parties and severely curtailed civil liberties. Development of education had been one of the mantras that the post 1960 royal government chanted; however, this paper argues that education was not the priority of the post 1960 government. After the royal takeover, school managing committees became an arena where the state and the “activists” contested. The state tried and to a large extent became successful in taking control of the school managing committees—an analysis of the educational policies of the first decade of Panchayat shows the gradual concentration of powers in the hands of the State agents.
The royal government of Nepal introduced the NESP (often called New Education Plan or naya shiksha), after years of secret planning, aimed at complete overhauling of the entire education system of the country. The NESP was prepared under the command of King Mahendra, whereas the then Crown Prince Birendra took active part in designing, finalizing, and also in implementing it, when he became the king after his father’s death in 1972 (Mitchell 1976; Hayes 1981). The plan was claimed by the government as an effort to expand the outreach of education and was also often touted as the “effort to modernize rural Nepal.” This paper further argues that while it was true that there was short supply of human resources in the “technical areas” it was not the reason for which the new plan was devised and introduced. “Manpower” was merely a pretext to extend the regime’s grip over public life by taking full control of the educational arena, and weeding the erstwhile political actors out from that arena. This was an effort, this paper also argues, to “craft” the future citizens’ minds so as to make them loyal to the system and monarchy by intervening through the textbooks (see Onta 1996) and examinations.