The madness of teacher recruitment

In many countries, teacher recruitment typically goes like this; you have a vacancy, your advertise the vacancy, candidates apply, you short-list the candidates, invite them for interviews and recruit the best one. Simple.

In Nepal, it’s a little different.

To start with, teacher vacancies are rare, because no one wants to leave a safe government job… unless that is, they have the opportunity of a different safe government job. This is particularly so for primary teachers who are keen to teach at secondary level, and rural government teachers who are desperate to get a job in a Kathmandu government school.

In Nepal, not all teachers are created equally. There are permanent government teachers, temporary government teachers (who are really permanent), top-up government teachers (paid for by donor funds and created to fill teacher shortages, but still effectively permanent) and then there are private teachers (often college students who teach in between their studies).

The appointment of permanent teachers is, in theory, managed by District Education Officers (DEO), who will send potential teachers to schools that have a vacancy. The school is then expected to appoint anyone who is sent to them. In that sense, appoint is the wrong word; ‘accept’ would be more appropriate. In reality, teacher trade unions and politicians may have as much influence in the process, as the DEO.

So here’s a typical way the process might pan out:

Word gets out that there is a vacancy for a teacher in a Kathmandu government school. Pretty soon anyone ‘important’ – a senior politician, police chief etc – begin to exert pressure on members of the school’s management committee (SMC) to appoint their friend / relative / preferred person, to the role. The teacher unions will begin doing the same. The key people on the school’s management committee (who are often local politicians themselves) are quite happy that important people are asking favours from them, because it means that they can build up some credit with that senior politician, and make some money at the same time. It is common practice for teachers seeking appointment (especially to a Kathmandu school) to make a ‘donation’ to the school… or more realistically to the pockets of the local politician or SMC member who is arranging the appointment.

At no stage is the good of the students or the quality of the teacher taken into account. In fact, government teachers resent being asked to do an interview or be observed teaching a lesson – the assumption is that since they have qualified as a government teacher, they are automatically good enough.

The problem at first appears to be simply that the process is overly centralised – but of course it is actually designed (or at least has become) a process that puts power in the hands of a few people, who can use that power for their own political and financial gain.

This just reflects a wider problem, which is that as long as teachers effectively have a job for life, there are two massive disincentives in the system. One, there is no incentive for teachers to improve and develop because there is virtually no danger they will ever lose their job. Two, there is also no incentive for school principals to support and nurture their teachers because there is no risk of them leaving.

It is not an exaggeration to say that reforming teacher recruitment could be the single most significant step to improving teaching quality in Nepal.

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