Regulating Private Schools
These days private schools are under harsher scrutiny. The students unions have padlocked the offices of the organisations of the private schools accusing that they have escalated the fee arbitrarily and exorbitantly to the detriment of the ordinary populace and guardians. This time the student unions have orchestrated with a common voice their opposition against the crass commercial motives and interests of the private schools which should definitely turn enough heat on the school entrepreneurs to amend their ways. In fact, at a time when the government has cracked down on the transport entrepreneurs running their syndicates for decades, the private schools may also face some form of government indictment and instructions to introduce corrections in their arbitrary decisions. The resentment in the manner with which private schools have been inclined to fleece the guardians has been expressed time and again but their tendencies to accrue profit from school operation have gone on unabated.
Moreover, voices have been raised time and again that the privatisation of social sector has exacerbated a big divide in the society. The regulatory framework to monitor privatised social sector is also inadequate and ineffective. The enforcement capacity of the government agencies is also too weak and poor. The government has indeed promulgated a range of directives and instruments with a view to regulating the private schools and bringing them under the purview of the rule of law. The directives and guidelines seek not only to streamline the arbitrariness seen in the field of prescribing text books but also regulating the chaos and anomalies observed in the registration of the schools. Should education be corporatised and registered as a profit making enterprise is also the question raised time and again.
Mention should also be made of the directives issued by the Department of Education in regard to vernacularisation (Nepalikaran) of the names of the private schools. Needless to mention, naming of the private schools has been carried out in an outlandish manner through counterfeiting of the brands of the alien and non-Nepalese overseas institutes. Many of the Nepalese private schools have donned the garb of the English schools. They have done allegedly to hoodwink the guardians and camouflage the parents. They have been able to lure and deceive the guardians by charging exorbitant fees.
The government directives require that the private schools charge the students in a rational way and uncover the masks, and reverse their names to reflect the Nepalese culture and heritage. This initiative on the part of the government had come after some radical student organisations threatened the schools to reverse their alien mask in nomenclatures. This attempt of the government to make the private schools abide by the provisions of the education rules and regulations should be commended.
However, needless to repeat, many a times in the past the government has failed to enforce rules and regulations to ensure that the private schools follow the rules. In this regard, reference should be made to the ’outright opposition of radical leftist parties especially the then Maoists almost a decade ago to the establishment and operation of the private owned education institutions. They had argued that these institutions have given rise to dual education system to the detriment of the poor and underprivileged groups of the people. The “haves”, according to them, have been able to monopolise the power and resources as they are enabled for this by the elite-oriented education imparted in private schools whereas the poor and underprivileged groups are barred and deprived from this access to state power and other entitlements. There was a time when the Maoists had forced the private schools to shut down completely to press this demand. They used to proclaim that they would nationalise the private schools when they won power to rule the country. However, the Maoist opposition to private schools and colleges had got subdued and silenced after they came to power. The Maoist ministers and ruling apparatchik did choose not to provoke hostile confrontation and bring jeopardy to the private schools.
None can dispute the fact that the private sector’s share in the education sector has increased exponentially over the years. The private schools have organised and consolidated themselves into a strong and powerful lobby to influence the politics and administration of the country. The private schools have been able to resist and foil any attempts that hit the interests of the school owners and operators. Even powerful politicians and party functionaries are found involved in running the school enhancing and strengthening their levers in the corridors of Singha Durbar. It is said that the owner-operator of the most of the private schools have been the UML loyalists and hold immense clout in manipulating the levers of power.
Indeed, opposition to the private schools stems from the basis of ideology that basically forbids the role of private sector in such crucial social sectors as education and health. Even the liberal democratic countries that are guided by the principle of laissez-faire have not allowed an unhindered space in the mainstream public sectors like education and health. But in a poor country like Nepal where public funding is vital to expand citizens’ access to education, private sector has occupied the major space making education expensive and inaccessible to the poor segment of the society. The growing consumerism among the party leaders even belonging to the radical and leftist parties has churned profit from the private schools. In fact, the leftist leaders and ministers educate their children in the posh private schools. Any way, there is a need for regulating and disciplining the private schools for this the incumbent government should take effective steps to meet the pledges made to the people with regard to quality and equity based education.