Private Schools Regulatory Framework Ineffective: Mukti Rijal
At a conference on participatory democracy held the other day in the capital, a presentation especially focused on how privatisation of the social sector has created a big divide in the society. The regulatory framework to monitor the privatised social sector is deficient. The enforcement capacity is also weak and poor. DirectivesTake the case of education. 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 books but also regulating the chaos and anomalies observed in the registration of the schools as a corporate entity. Should education be corporatised and registered as a profit-making enterprise is a question raised time and again. In this context, mention should be made of the directives issued by the Department of Education with regard to the vernacularisation (Nepalikaran) of the names of private schools.
Needless to mention, the naming of private schools has been carried out in an outlandish manner through counterfeiting of the brands of alien and non-Nepalese overseas institutes. Many of the Nepalese private schools have donned the garb of English schools. They have done this especially to hoodwink the guardians and parents. And they have been charging exorbitant fees by luring and deceiving the guardians. The government directives require that 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 into reversing their alien mask in the nomenclature. This attempt of the government to make the private schools abide by the provisions of the education rules and regulations should be commended. However, many a times in the past, the government has failed to enforce the rules and regulations to ensure that the private schools follow them. In this regard, reference should be made to the outright opposition by the radical leftist parties, especially the Maoists, to the establishment and operation of privately-owned educational institutions in the past. They argued that these institutions gave rise to a 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 the 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 private schools were forced to shut down completely because of this demand. The radical parties used to proclaim that they would nationalise the private schools when they won power to rule the country. However, the Maoist opposition to the private schools and colleges got subdued and silenced after they entered the peace process. The Maoist ministers and ruling apparatchik chose 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 go against the interests of the school owners and operators. Even powerful politicians and party functionaries are found involved in running schools, enhancing and strengthening their levers in the corridors of Singha Durbar. It is said that ten members of the Legislature Parliament (then Constituent Assembly) come from private school lobby and hold immense clout in blocking any move that are perceived to be detrimental to the interests of the private school.
When the UCPN-Maoist held the rein of the government following the elections to the Constituent Assembly almost six years ago, Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai, who was then the finance minister, had introduced the provision of an education tax for the private schools to generate and mobilise resources to fund the public schools in the country. However, the measure was not allowed to succeed fully due to the strong opposition mounted by the private schools. Though some provision of the education tax exists in a modified version, it has not been able to achieve the intended results due to the reluctance and lack of support from the community of private schools. Indeed, the Maoist opposition to the private schools stems from the spirit of ideology that basically forbids the role of the private sector in such crucial social sectors as education and health. It is not only the Maoists. Even liberal democratic countries that are guided by the principle of laissez fairism too have not allowed unhindered space in mainstream public sectors like education and health. Growing consumerismBut in a poor country like Nepal, where public funding is vital to expand access of the citizens to education, the 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 party has churned a profit from the private schools. In fact, the Maoist leaders educate their children in posh private schools. Anyway there is a need for regulating and disciplining the private schools, for which the government should take effective steps.