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Sunday, February 13, 2011

Fee-fixation of private schools

Recently, the government has formed a taskforce to determine the fee ceiling of private schools, a controversial issue in the Nepali education system for more than three decades. One can see the kind of taskforces formed by the government every year after 2055 BS. However, nothing has come up as a concrete decision regarding the tuition fees.

When private schools were categorized into A, B and C, after the seventh amendment of the Education Act, the Ministry of Education (MoE) was able to issue directives regarding the fee structure, based on the recommendations of a taskforce a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, that also came up with several problems. The major factor regarding the fee issue is the attitude of the people involved in it. People who are running the private schools want more than 40 per cent profit, whereas people protesting it want to make it as minimal as possible. The so-called big private schools of the urban areas make more than 60 per cent profit, but they always present their loss while their expenses are audited. This indicates that the individual owners of the private schools make a huge amount of profit, whereas, the teachers do not even get the minimum subsistence salaries for their work. That is the reason why the teachers’ unions raise their voices to make private school teachers’ salary at par with their government school counterparts. On the other hand, the private schools always hesitate to provide appointment letters to the teachers, so that they would be able to throw them in the waste paper basket whenever they want. This has made the teachers very insecure, with a great degree of exploitation by the owners. A teacher working for more than 10 years is sacked easily without any benefits from the schools. Several such cases have been reported in the past. The government does not want to take the responsibility, because it is afraid of investing in the private schools. The students’ and teachers’ unions do not want the tuition fees raised but demand teachers’ pay raise. So, who is to blame here?

The recently formed taskforce should look into the matter seriously from different angles. Once the MoE commits to implement the recommendations, the taskforce should plan their activities based on the issues of fee fixation, and its implications on various aspects of school education and outside. How can the taskforce fix the fees when all private schools are not of the same size or kind? So, the taskforce should devise different strategies of fee structure, depending on the size of the school. For example, there should be different treatments for schools of different size, like schools having less than 100 students, schools having 100 to 200 students, 200 to 500 students and 500 and more, etc.

The other issue related with the fee structure is student-teacher ratio. The government says it is 40:1. Should it be different for private schools? This will greatly influence how much to charge for a child? This will also help the taskforce to determine the number of teachers to be employed in a school. Then only they can recommend a teacher’s salary based on the fees raised by private schools.

The other issue is rent-a crucial issue for private schools when more than 90 per cent of them are running their classes in rented premises. How much rent is much? Should it be fixed in per square meter area? Unless a scientific procedure is adopted to come up with the rent cost, there will always be chaos in fee fixation. Another major issue is the teachers’ salary. Teachers’ salary always has a positive correlation with the students’ fees. If the fee is raised, the salary should be raised automatically. Unfortunately, this is not working in Nepal. So, the taskforce should calculate the teachers’ salary in detail before they come up with the fee decision.

There are various other issues like the principal’s salary, non-teaching staff cost, utility and maintenance cost, teaching materials and teacher development cost, substitute teachers’ cost in the absence of a regular teacher, inflation impact cost, security cost, transportation cost etc. etc. For each of these costs, the taskforce should be able to come up with a scientific measure so that the adjustment in fees can be a smooth-flow process for the coming years. The MoE also should take it seriously and support the taskforce with facilities so that they could form sub-committees to work for various issues separately in a focussed manner.

Let us hope this taskforce will be the last one to resolve all the issues related with fees regarding the private schools since all the stakeholders are involved in it. Let us all assist this taskforce from the way we can so that both the knowledge seekers and the knowledge providers can work in a genuine environment. While exercising about the fee, if the taskforce comes up with a huge fee structure which the parents can not afford then they should not hesitate to recommend the government to invest for at least the teachers’ salary based on the student-teacher ratio. Otherwise, this taskforce will only government’s deception.