To what extent do electoral manifestos of political parties inform their policies and laws when they come in power is debatable. And whether electoral manifestos influence how citizens cast their vote is equally questionable. Despite their ambiguous utility and varying contextual significance, the electoral manifestos provide some meaningful insights into how political parties compete to set themselves apart through their visions, aspirations and promises. They can also serve as an important textual evidence in demanding accountability from political parties. In this think-piece, I have reviewed the electoral manifestos published by various political parties in Nepal for the local, provincial and parliamentary elections in 2017 to understand their visions, proposed policies and promises in relation to education.
Although a total of 55 political parties had registered for the parliamentary elections, I have focused on some of the major political parties that are currently represented in the federal parliament. They are as follows: Communist Party of Nepal (CPN), Nepali Congress (NC), Federal Socialist Forum (FSF), Rashtriya Janata Party (RJP), Rashtriya Prajatantra Party (RPP) and Naya Shakti. I will first outline some of the shared visions of education that emerge across these different political parties, including some of the common policy proposals in their 2017 electoral manifestos. Then, I will highlight some of the specific policies or proposals that appear to set them apart. Overall, there seems to be much greater ideological similarities and policy consensus among political parties in relation to how education is envisioned, and in the kinds of educational reforms and changes that have been promised.
Shared vision(s) of education
There is a unanimous acknowledgement of education as a fundamental right of citizens enshrined in the constitution, and the central role of the state in upholding those rights. The existing education system in Nepal is considered to be ‘lagging behind for a long time’, and in need of ‘reform’, ‘change’ and ‘transformation’. The system currently produces ‘educated unemployed’, which is identified as the key indicator of its systemic failure. There is a strong emphasis that education should be connected to employability — it is about production of skilled workforce, and in particular technical and vocational professionals in the fields of science, technology and commerce. There is also focus on how teaching curriculum should be aligned to local context considering local production, labour, employment and job creation issues, which appears rather contradictory as political parties also argue for ‘uniformity in curriculum’ taught across the country.
Education is understood as instrumental to the larger project of state-building and economic development. The ‘production of skilled workforce’ for ‘national economy building’, ‘state functioning’ and ‘according to the needs of country’ are commonly used phrases in the manifestos. Further, there is emphasis on producing ‘skilled’, ‘entrepreneurial’, ‘self-dependent’ and ‘productive’ citizens through education. Some of the commonly used terms to describe the kind of education that is needed are – ‘technical’, ‘scientific’, ‘quality’, ‘research-based’, ‘practical’ and ‘modern’.
All political parties outline the differences between the private schools and the public/community schools and the resulting social disparity, which they argue must be mitigated through increased investment in the public education. However, some political parties tend to have different take on the role of private sector in education, which will be discussed later. There is a unanimous consensus across political parties that education up until secondary level should be compulsory and free, and that the education sector should be safeguarded from party politics and political interference.
Common policy proposals
Improving the quality of education in the public and community schools appears to be high on the agenda for all political parties. As part of this, developing ‘model schools’ or ‘residential model schools’ in each municipality or rural municipality is a common strategy. Attracting exemplary students to teaching profession, and ensuring that primary education is provided in mother language are other common proposals. All political parties appear to emphasise the adoption of information technology in education, including measures such as setting up e-libraries, free Wi-Fi zones, laptops for students, and usage of ‘modern technology’ in teaching. The focus on improving physical infrastructures in the public schools is also common across the board. Physical infrastructures include safe buildings, sufficient furniture, libraries, educational materials, laboratories, drinking water, gender-segregated toilets, sports facilities and clean environment.
Literacy rate and school enrolment rate are chosen as key indicators and targets, although different timeframes have been proposed. For example, NC states that all Nepali citizens between the ages of 15 and 24 will be made 100 percent literate within the next five years. CPN claims all the children of schooling age will be enrolled in schools in the next two years, and all the citizens will be made literate within the same time period. FSF commits to eradicating illiteracy within the next three years. RPP asserts that 100 percent literacy rate will be achieved within the next 10 years. Creating alternative pathways to education through ‘open schools, colleges and universities’ for those who have dropped out of schools or have been prevented from undertaking compulsory education for various reasons is also mentioned by CPN, RPP and FSF.
Most political parties mention that the private sector’s role in education will be monitored or regulated. But parties like NC and RPP in particular propose to encourage private sector’s role in education, and perhaps, this is one of the very few areas where the ideological differences, if any, among political parties become slightly visible. For instance, NC mentions – ‘Private sector’s management and investment will be encouraged in the public schools with good physical infrastructures but low number of students to develop them as model schools. Private organisations involved in these forms of public-private partnership programmes will receive subsidised financial support.’ Some of these particularities will be discussed further below.
There are some policy proposals that remain specific to each political party. The CPN’s manifesto in particular emphasises provision of special education for people with disabilities. CPN is explicit in the proportion of workforce that needs to be produced – 30% in humanities and non-technical subjects, and 70% in vocational and technical education. The CPN’s manifesto further states that secondary education will be operationalised to produce workforce required at the entry level of civil service, while higher education will be operationalised to produce talented and capable workforce such as medical doctors, engineers, economists, managers as required by the country. CPN also emphasises establishment of research centres, and intellectual property rights to safeguard the ownership of the scientific knowledge produced in such centres.
For NC, gender equality appears to be high on the agenda. NC’s manifesto claims that female students from Madheshi, Dalit, Janajati and other marginalised background who have achieved high grades at higher secondary education level, and who intend to pursue higher education in technical and scientific subjects will be provided with monthly stipends. If they achieve high grades at university level, they will be provided with scholarship to pursue PhD at a university either in the South, East or South East Asia. The NC government will also provide grant to buy cycles for female students who are enrolled in classes 11 and 12 in the southern Tarai-Madhesh region.
NC in particular emphasises encouraging private sector’s involvement in education. NC’s manifesto acknowledges the private sector’s contribution in enhancing the quality of education, and affirms that the investment made by private sector will be guaranteed protection. It further claims that the private sector, through financial subsidies, will be encouraged to open employment-focused technical education centres; develop ‘model’ public schools; and show social responsibility towards poor and marginalised group. NC also commits to establishing childcare centres and grants to help low and middle-income families in providing early education for their children.
FSF primarily focuses on mother tongue education. In its manifesto, FSF argues that ‘to produce capable and educated citizens’, the provincial government will take responsibility in providing education in mother language, publishing relevant books, and multi-language policies will be implemented for government related works. FSF also commits to providing information technology focused classes for adults, and provision of ‘encouragement grants or benefits’ for female students.
RJP focuses on free higher education for female students, as well as provisions of loans for young people interested in pursuing higher education or foreign employment. Interestingly, RJP commits to providing gold during marriage, as its manifesto states – ‘Women of marriageable age and who have completed at least 10+2 level education will be provided with 0.5 tola (5.8 gram approx.) of golden mangalsutra or equivalent money during marriage.’
RPP focuses on increasing economic incentives for teachers such as special pension packages as well as additional benefits for teachers who teach English, Maths and Science. RPP’s manifesto also states that every municipality/ rural municipality will provide scholarships to two good students annually – one scholarship will be to study medicine, and the other will be to study engineering. Those who have received the scholarship will have to return and work in their municipality/ rural municipality for at least five years.
Naya Shakti has special focus on sexual and gender minorities. Its manifesto states that women, Dalit, people with disabilities, sexual and gender minorities, and people living in remote areas will have free access to education until bachelor’s level. It also commits to running ‘teachers’ empowerment programme’ that will offer refresher courses on relevant subjects, and IT and pedagogical trainings. Establishing technological institutes and specialised universities, and developing ‘focal schools’ on subjects related to health sciences, science and technology, management, industrial development, agriculture, animal husbandry, botany etc. are also enlisted under its policy proposals.
Education and nation-building
The purpose of education, across all the electoral manifestos reviewed in this article, is intrinsically connected to the processes of nation-building that is underpinned by visions of development and modernity. To that end, the superiority of technical sciences, and the importance of ‘scientific’, ‘modern’ education in producing skilled technical workforce and entrepreneurs have been repeatedly emphasised. While there are some differences in how political parties have targeted different social groups and/or regions, the policy proposals do not reflect any stark differences. Perhaps, it is only in the case of private sector’s role in education that there seems to be some ideological differences. Political parties like NC and RPP express their commitment to market or private sector led interventions in education, while other political parties have not articulated their position explicitly other than arguing for the regulation and monitoring of private sector. Overall, based on their electoral manifestos, major political parties in Nepal predominantly view education through the utilitarian lens of nation-building, employability and superiority of modern, technical sciences.
Suggested Citation: Sangita Thebe Limbu. 2020. ‘On Manifestos and Promises’, Think Pieces Series No. 4. Education.SouthAsia (https://educationsouthasia.web.ox.ac.uk/).