SZOP And School Shutdown
About 8 million students, particularly the school students, got a wasted day the other day (March 4) because of the ‘general strike on academic institutions’ imposed by the All Nepal National Independent Students’ Union (Revolutionary), a student wing affiliated to Communist Party of Nepal led by Netra Bikram Chand ‘Biplov’. According to the statement issued by the student organisation, the strike was in protest against the arrest of its leaders, including general secretary Deependra Chalaune. Neither the government nor the other non-government organisations that are working for child rights came forward to settle the issue and ensure school opening. Loss of a day’s education especially at this time when the annual exam is around the corner is a big loss for school students. Furthermore, human rights activists in Nepal who have been recently protesting the ongoing war and killing of children in Syria did as well keep mum over ‘targeting’ of children for political causes at their home. The nationwide school closure went by as a usual event. Such a situation is shameful: the protestors target students to have their demands met, the government takes the school shut down as normal and does not take any appropriate step to avoid it, the child rights as well as human rights activists stay silent over all these things.The children, future pillar of the nation, bear the brunt.
Use of children
To shut down schools for getting one’s political or other demands fulfilled is also the use of children in politics. School closure is like mobilisation of children in agitation. When a political party or any organisation affiliated to it imposes school shut down, it is use of children for political causes. When such a situation arises, the government is no less responsible to avoid such a situation as the concerned agitating party is. The child rights or human rights activists are expected to mediate talks between the government and the agitating party in such a situation to prevent at least school closure and ensure smooth school operation. But this has hardly taken place in the country although the government declared schools as zones of peace some seven years ago, on May 25, 2011.
Coincidently, school as a zone of peace (SZOP)declaration was made when the CPN-UML was leading the government and at present the chairman of the same party, KP Sharma Oli, is the Prime Minister. According to the SZOP National Framework and Implementing Guideline issued a few months after the SZOP declaration by the Education Ministry, the main objectives of the SZOP include ensuring smooth operation of the schools by avoiding obstacles that lead to school closure and severely affect children’s education. Political interference in school, corporal punishment, use of school for socio-cultural practices or political events, use of schools by armed groups including the government security agencies, discriminations in schools, have been identified as possible obstacles, among others, to smooth school operation. But, despite the government declaration and establishment of mechanisms from centre to the school level to ensure SZOP implementation, victimisation of the children in the name of school shut down by different groups, political and others have not significantly come down. There is awareness among all, including the political parties, that school shut down is the worst option for any protest, but the awareness is not put into practice.
Take the present example. After the ANNFSU-R, the student wing of Biplov-led CPN, announced shut down of the academic institutions to protest arrest of its leaders, the government could have clarified to the people about the necessity of the arrest. This could have made people know about the reality. The police may have arrested the ANNFSU-R leaders on different charges. But the people know nothing about it. What most people know is the information provided by the agitating parties. On the other hand, was it necessary on the part of ANNFSU-R to affect the education of about 8 million students just to put pressure on the government to release less than a dozen student leaders? It is easy to show one’s strength through wrong practices. The ANNFSU-R showed its strength as almost all educational institutions including schools across the nation have been shut down today, but it has not got the appreciation for this activity.
Different reports show that incidents of school shut down by political parties or student organisations occur during the period of new school academic year. The new school session is just one-and-a-half months away, and as in the past, there is high possibility that there will be more school strike around this time. In some cases, in urban areas schools, particularly private or institutional schools are shut down as they hike the fees. Almost all student organisations protest fees hike every year. They also impose school shut down as protest. Fortunately, in recent years, they have started to padlock the account office of the private schools increasing the fees illogically. But the increased amount of the fee is never reduced although the schools open after some days of the protest. No doubt, the agitating student unions and association of private schools in presence, mediation or coordination of education ministry do reach an agreement to reduce the increased fee. In the lack of ‘quality education’ in public schools, parents are forced to send their kids to private schools no matter how ruthlessly the private schools suck the helpless parents. Commercialisation of education has its nasty face and students unions seem to be using the nasty face for their advantages only.
It is obligation of the government to implement its decision or declaration. SZOP was declared by the government. In this sense, the government should be responsible in cases of SZOP violation or school closure. Blaming the agitators or those who opt for as ugly form of protest as school closure is one thing, it is quite another thing to prevent such shut down. At this time when schools are likely to be shut down by different groups putting forth different demands, the government is expected to take preemptive measures to ensure smooth school operation.