School Education Getting Really Expensive : Narayan Upadhyay

School education in Nepal is getting more and more expensive with each passing year. It is mostly the privately-owned schools, where a large number of students are enrolled for their supposedly quality education in comparison to the government schools, that frequently hike tuition, admission and other fees with the onset of the new academic calendar. The ever-increasing school fee has indeed become a cause of major concern for almost all Nepalese who desire a good education for their wards in a good school.

Recently, the District School Fee Fixation Committee brought smiles on the faces of the private school operators. It allowed all private schools to hike their fees anywhere between 22 and 50 per cent from this academic session. The decision has allowed a C grade school to hike fees by up to 22 per cent, a B grade school by up to 25 and an A grade school by 50 per cent.

Criticism

Soon after the fee-hike decision, the committee came under fire from different quarters. The guardians and student unions criticised it for coming under the influence of the private school operators in taking a decision that has overlooked the urges and grudges of the guardians and students.

The student unions affiliated to different political parties even started padlocking the accounts and administration offices of different private schools over the fee hike decision. After they threatened to shut down the schools for an indefinite time, the government has asked the schools to roll back the recent fee hike or face government action, which includes scrapping the registration of the schools. However, the school owners are in no mood to comply with the government instruction, saying that they could not sustain the increasing inflation without double-digit increment in the fees from this year.

In the past, schools used to increase fees at their will. They would have certainly done the same this year also, had the committee failed to take the decision. All this even though the Supreme Court, through its verdict, had put a three-year moratorium on fee hikes some three years ago. But the schools have not bothered about the court verdict that has only created obstacles for them in increasing the fees.

All schools have the tendency to toss various reasons towards the guardians and students for increasing the fees. Sometimes, they raise the issue of rising inflation and pressure from the teaching staff to raise fees. Sometimes, they even say they have not raised the fees for the past several years, so they are in need of increasing it owing to the ever increasing expenses.

Several private schools in the nation claim that they only increase the fees whenever they are compelled to do so. But any guardian who sends his/her wards to a private school will tell you that schools often charge them extra amounts under different headings. They include fees for computer education, extracurricular activities as well as school development, extra classes and excursions.

Actually, the school operators are ready to impose new charges, most of them quite exorbitant for the Nepali guardians, whenever they find an occasion to do so.

Although during every new academic session the media carries different news stories on the monopoly exercised by the schools in increasing the fees, no one seems quite concerned about them, aggravating the plight of the guardians and students.

Why has such a situation lingered in the nation?  Simple: The government authority is not strong enough to rein in the private schools. The two umbrella associations of the private schools - PABSON and N-PABSON, over the years, have attained such clout that they always have the upper hand whenever there is a tiff with the government’s education authorities over the fee hike and other issues.

They often threaten to close down all schools when the government sounds its dissatisfaction over any attempt to increase the fees. As there are more than two million students currently studying in more than 14,000 privately-owned schools across the nation, a warning from the two umbrella organisations of the private schools is enough to cause a major heartburn for the government authority. The threat from the private school organsiations often sees the government authority surrendering meekly to the private schools.

Our government authority lacks a strong voice largely because it has not been able to upgrade the standard of education in the government (also known as community schools) schools for years. Such a situation has allowed the private schools to attract massive numbers of students. The children belonging to the Nepali middle and lower middle class are enrolled in the private schools. As the number of students studying in these schools has swollen, they have started calling the shots whenever they are locked in any dispute with the government authority.

As government schools cannot provide quality education, the middle and lower middle class people have no option but to send their children to private schools in the hope that their wards would receive an education that would make them competitive in college or university. The private schools in our nation have been successful in luring the guardians and students because they tell them that English is the medium of instruction.

However, most of the private schools that boast of giving education in the English medium lack quality teaching staff and provide education in the English language which can only be termed as improper and faulty. Sadly, even after paying exorbitant fees and footing the bill for other expenses, most parents find that the education is not of a very high quality.

Vision lacking

It appears that the government has now outsourced its school education to private hands, just like many of its other responsibilities. Apart from education, the government has allowed private hands to take over the nation’s health, transport and other services. The government authority seems to lack vision when it comes to providing quality education to the children in its own schools. It is now dependent on the private institutions, and this undesirable situation is likely to persist as long as there is no plan to upgrade the quality of the community schools, and to introduce a strong and effective regulation to curb the monopoly and arbitrariness of the private schools.

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