This article was originally published by South China Morning Post.
By Bibek Bhandari
Nepal has chosen its first Integrity Idol.
Gyan Mani Nepal, an education officer in the eastern district of Panchthar, won the title for his commitment towards educational reforms in the region.
In a country where government officials are often associated with corruption and incompetence, this contest aims to shine a spotlight on honest and industrious civil servants.
Of the 303 nominations from 33 of the 75 districts, the five finalists included a health worker, two teachers, an education officer and two workers devoted to fight maternal and child mortality in remote villages.
Their profiles were aired on national TV and posted on social media for people to vote via text message and over the internet. “We want to introduce these honest civil servants to public,” said Narayan Adhikari, South Asia representative of the non-profit Accountability Lab, which organised the contest. “This is an effort to acknowledge their work so others are inspired, too.”
Nepal has been instrumental in elevating the education standards in his district.
Public schools in the country suffer from poor supervision and high rates of teacher absenteeism, leaving students in peril. Almost 72 per cent of students from government schools failed last year’s School Leaving Certificate examination.
Nepal’s decade-long civil war, which ended in 2006, dented the country’s education sector. Despite the Ministry of Education declaring schools as “zones of peace” in 2011, political strikes and outside interference still affect their operations.
“How will the students pass when the teachers don’t come to teach?” said Nepal, a 49-year-old former teacher. “Also, the political interference in the school system has to stop.”
He said he was determined to curb the problems with innovative approaches and plans to raise his district’s literacy rate to 100 per cent this year.
When he was appointed to his current position in mid-2013, Nepal investigated school operations in disguise and videotaped the irregularities he saw.
He also introduced a log system – every class now has a student who submits a daily timesheet for the teachers. Nepal has also publicised his phone number so students and parents can directly file complaints.
About 200 teachers have been warned about their performance since then.
“I joined the civil service to make a difference in the community,” said Nepal. “It’s important for me to show results.”
Kedar Bhakta Mathema, an education expert and independent observer in the contest’s voting process, said Nepal had ignited positive change.
“His action-oriented approach sets him apart from other nominees,” Mathema said. “He is doing more than his job to raise the quality of education, which makes him a winner.”