Challenges For Private Schools

Mukti Rijal


The private schools are under closer scrutiny these days. The suggestions put forth in the report of the Education Commission submitted to the government during the previous months have brewed some confusions and uncertainty about the prospect of the private schools in the country. Of the several recommendations of the commission, the point related with the change in the structure and ownership of the private schools has compelled the education institution operators and entrepreneurs to ponder over their scope of operation in future.
That the private schools should be restructured from for-profit-entity to not-for-profit organisations (trust) within seven years has worried the school entrepreneurs. They have made fortune using schools as profit generating venture and enterprise. But it is unlikely as the commission’s suggestion mentioned above holds the recommendatory value and effect which can be enforced only when it is implanted into the statutory provision coupled with procedure for its implementation.
Furthermore, since many of the lawmakers and policy planners have their heavy stakes and pecuniary interests in the continuity of the existing provision, there will be heavy resistance, if not rejection in case initiatives are undertaken to change the existing legal provision to turn the private schools into the trust led proposition. Another aspect that has presented challenge to the operation of the private schools in the existing ways has been the new constitutional provision that entrusts local governments – Gaupalikas and Nagarpalikas – the mandate to govern the school education at the local level. Pursuant to the constitutional authority some local governments have started to regulate and monitor the management system of the private schools including the fee structure and academic amenities as per the standards.
It is a fact that private schools have been inclined to fleece the guardians. Though resentment on the profit seeking disposition of the private schools has been expressed time and again, their tendencies to accrue profit from school operation have gone 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 the private education is also inadequate and ineffective.
The government has, of course, promulgated a range of directives and instruments with a view to regulate the private schools and bring them under the purview of the regulatory ramework, Mention can be made of the directives issued in regard to vernacularisation (Nepalikaran) of the names of the private schools. Needless to say, 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 medium schools. They have taken recourse to this way allegedly to hoodwink and entice the parents.
The government directives require that the private schools uncover the masks and vernacularise their names to reflect the Nepali culture and heritage. But this has not been adhered. However, the government has failed to enforce rules and regulations to ensure that the private schools follow and act accordingly. It has been argued in different forums that the private schools have given rise to dual education dilemma to the detriment of the poor and underprivileged groups in the society. The upper echelon of the society has been able to monopolise state power and usurp resources as they are made capable and capricious allegedly by the elitist modern education imparted in private schools. But the poor and underprivileged groups are barred and deprived from this access to state power and other entitlements due to the poor standard of education.
However, no one 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 strong and powerful lobby to influence and meddle into the politics and administration of the country. They have been able to resist and foil any attempts that hit the interests of the school owners and operators. As mentioned above, even powerful politicians and party functionaries are found involved in running the private school. As a result they can advance their interests and strengthen their levers in the exercise of state authority.
It is said that the owner-operator of the most of the private schools have been the loyalists to the party in power and hold immense clout in manipulating the levers of state authority. Moreover, it can be said that opposition to the private schools stems from ideological orientation 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 fairism too have not allowed an unhindered space to private investment and participation in the mainstream core social sectors like education and health. But in a poor country like Nepal where public funding is scarcer to adequately expand access of the citizens to education, private sector has been allowed to occupy the major space. As there is a need for regulating and disciplining the private schools, the local government should take effective steps to fulfill the constitutional mandates to govern the education sector to deliver quality and equity based education to the people at the local level.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues) 

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