Teachers in politics: Can Balen Shah’s directive herald a dissociation?

Although several acts prohibit teachers from having political affiliation, a majority of them are openly affiliated with political parties and are campaigning for them.

NL Today

  • Read Time 3 min.

Kathmandu: In what appears like a bold decision, Kathmandu Metropolitan City Mayor Balen Shah has directed teachers of public and community schools under Kathmandu Metropolitan City to renounce political affiliation.

The decision from Mayor Shah comes at a time when a majority of teachers are found to be involved in active politics under the protection of political parties and leaders.

Issuing a statement on Tuesday, Mayor Shah directed teachers and employees–under Kathmandu Metropolis–to renounce their political affiliations at the earliest. 

The Article 45 of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City Employees Service Act (2077 BS), clearly mentions about the provision, said Shah.

Likewise, the Political Parties Act also prohibits political parties from enrolling incumbent teachers, professors, employees of institutions that are under federal, provincial and local governments into the political institutions.

Despite such provisions, teachers are actively engaged in politics, and in the recently conducted local level polls, many teachers even participated in the election campaign. Though several cases were reported to the Election Commission, it went unnoticed, as such teachers, often cadres of political parties, are under the protection of political leaders.

According to Shah, those who do not renounce their political affiliation will  face action as per the regulation of the Kathmandu Metropolitan City.

Nepal has around 3,00,000 government teachers of which over 2,00,000 are involved in different associations affiliated to various political parties. 

According to the data by the respective associations, about 83,000 teachers are associated with Nepal Teachers Association (affiliated to Nepali Congress), 80,000 teachers with Nepal National Teachers Association (CPN-UML) and a total of 40,000 teachers with Unified All Nepal Teachers Association (CPN-Maoist Center).

These associations have their presence from the central to the local level. For a very long time, political parties have been assigning those teachers various political tasks, and they have been easily accepting it. Accepting those political tasks has helped teachers to fulfill their interests and demands.

Experts have long called for dissociation of teachers and professors with the political parties citing that political affiliation encourages them to be loyal more to the political parties than to their sacred duties toward the students, parents and teaching.  But despite such calls,  neither the political parties have stopped bringing teachers into politics nor the teachers have severed ties with the political parties. In this context, can the directive by the Mayor herald a change? 

Samikshya Baskota, a leader of Bibeksheel Sajha Party, explains why teachers, professors and employees have been allowed to form political associations despite laws stating otherwise. “The political parties themselves haven’t enforced the anti-political affiliation laws because political alliances with teachers and professors help their own agendas and growth,” she said. 

Baskota agrees that political affiliation contributes to erosion of education quality. “There are so many political organizations within the education system. Teachers, parents, students, all have their own political unions,” she said. “This creates an environment of self servingness focusing on personal agendas instead of providing quality education.”

Baskota believes that the decision like the one made by Kathmandu’s Mayor should be implemented. “Several times, announcements are made but no follow up is seen. There needs to be practical action to ensure that political motivation and alliance is actually prohibited in educational institutions,” she said.

Milan Pandey, who has been consistently advocating for education reforms, argues that teachers and professors need to be independent. “Students are largely impacted by their teachers and professors, who are among the most trusted professionals,” he said. “Since they are role models to many, they need to be independent and unbiased from political opinions.”

According to Pandey, educators need to serve the best interests of the students. “A teacher’s goal should always be to impart quality education to their students and keep their best interest at heart.”

He argues that to keep educational institutions free from political influence, office bearers in those institutions should be appointed based on merit. “The Prime Minister should appoint vice chancellors of universities not based on political affiliations, but based on merit instead,” he said. 

Political leaders have hardly shown willingness to keep the educational institutions free from politics. Instead, they openly stand in favor of teachers in politics. 

In December last year, Chairman of CPN (Maoist Center) Pushpa Kamal Dahal ‘Prachanda’ clearly mentioned that teachers should be involved in active politics. 

“If teachers do not engage in active party politics then the party structure of entire Nepal will be weakened,” he said. “Teachers should actively engage in politics for political change. They have contributed to every political party of Nepal.” 

This statement by Prachanda received widespread criticism, but no authority questioned him for making such a statement.

Kathmandu Mayor has received praises for his efforts to keep educational institutions in the metropolis away from politics but whether this move will make any difference in the deep rooted teachers-politics association remains yet to be seen.