Saturday, April 30, 2011

Has education become an industry?

"The sector has become a hotbed of differing schools of conflicting thoughts "

KATHMANDU: With the new academic session around the corner, schools are once again the battle ground with stakeholders like the private schools, teachers, unions, students unions and the guardians association all fired up with conflicting stands on how the education sector in Nepal should move forward.

Every year, during the new academic session, the education sector of Nepal is engulfed in a plethora of problems. This year is no exception; in fact the stakes are even higher with a group of human rights activists even seeking the Supreme Court’s intervention in controlling the fees charged by private schools and regulating the public and government run schools.

The government of Nepal has fixed fees for ordinary schools at Rs 1,350 and 50 per cent more for ‘A’ grade schools, plus charges for the extracurricular activities being provided. However, the guardian’s association says this is being widely disregarded and the financial burden on parents is cumbersome.
According to Suprabhat Bhandari, president of Guardian’s Association of Nepal (GAN), parents enrol their children in private schools because they feel that private school products are better equipped to compete in every sector and stand out in the crowd as the government schools are in a terrible state. But left with no option they feel cornered and cheated by the hike in tuition fees and other
related activities. He says, “In the name of modernisation and updating curriculum, most private schools are cheating parents and there is no mechanism to monitor them.”
During its fourth general assembly meeting, GAN had made four prominent demands — that government officials should compulsorily enrol at least one of their children in public schools, that fees of the private sector should be monitored and that a system for reward and punishment of private schools should be maintained to ensure transparency. The fact that this has not been possible raises the question of how feasible, realistic and justified are these demands. Can private schools be held responsible for providing quality education on par with international practices as well as forced to make it affordable for all? What is the responsibility of the government-run institutions and when the government has failed to deliver on this count should the private schools be burdened with such responsibilities?
Geeta Rana, principal of Galaxy Public School claims that though Galaxy has hiked tuition by Rs 100, their monthly fees does not exceed
Rs 2,900, whereas their annual fee is Rs 5,800. “We always hold discussions with teachers and parents before the fees are increased to make sure there are no hang-ups later on.”
Speaking on this issue, Rana says, “Government should provide subsidies and come up with flexible packages for those who cannot afford higher fees in private schools. They should also make provisions for imparting free education for such children.” She also points out that there are numerous government schools in existence and questions their contribution to education in Nepal. “Why does the government not improve the quality of education in these public schools?” asks Rana, “It is just not possible for private educational
institutions to provide free education.”
One reason private schools feel pressured to hike tuition fees is due to demands to increase salary and facilities of teachers through their unions who have shutdown schools and opted for strikes in the past.
Hom Kumar Thapa, president of Institutional School Teachers’ Union (ISTU) says, “Private schools are doing business in the name of service, and claiming unnecessary charges for different sections and extra activities.” According to him, in the name of increasing

teachers’ salary, private schools are hiking tuition fees annually, but it is surprising that, teachers are not paid even the minimum salary as directed by the government. He also says to make education accessible for all they are demanding that the  government scrap the company act through which the private schools are mushrooming and making money rampantly.

This year the fee monitoring committee has informed that there will be no increment in fees in Kathmandu valley and the same will be implemented in other districts in the days to come. “District Education Office (DEO) is the body responsible to increase fees and not the schools, although the latter can propose the fee structure,” says Bhandari, adding that schools are increasing fee indiscriminately against the Education Rule, 2059.

Following complaints from parents, DEO has been monitoring two schools — Pathshala Nepal and Chelsea International — for unjustly increasing their fees. The committee has demanded clarifications from the said schools, which they are yet to receive.

Private institutions, nonetheless, stand their ground and claim education in Nepal cannot be deemed expensive. “You see, any ordinary school in India would charge IRs 3,000 as its monthly fee. So, how can people say that our education is expensive?” questions Shiva Raj Pant, founder trustee of LRI School. Explaining the increase in fees, he says it is in line with the facilities provided to students, teachers and staffs.
Echoing Rana’s statement, Pant says, “It is impossible for private institutions to provide free education to students.” Since the government made provisions for private schools to operate as a company and be taxed, education has flourished as a business. While some schools are truly of international standard and have even attracted students from other countries, there are others that have failed to deliver on the quality education that they charge for. While the minimum standard of education imparted should be enforced market forces cannot be ignored. The dismal performance of government schools has created a huge demand for private school education. The question that also arises is how to improve the quality of government schools and make them competitive as well as offer affordable and even free education where required.

Mahashram Sharma, joint secretary of Ministry of Education says, “Government is monitoring government schools but has not been effective as it is not only the sole responsibility of the government. Other bodies like government school managements, parents and DEO are also accountable. Due to increase in number of government schools and in the absence of school invigilators, it is impossible to monitor it.”

According to Department of Education, there are around 33,160 schools in Nepal, out of which 5,103 are private. Sharma feels that parents are more inclined to private schools and their involvement is greater as they pay higher fees. While in government schools, parents are less bothered about the responsibility towards the children.
Clarifying about the quality in government schools, he reveals, “I disagree with the exaggerated self-praise of private schools as they equate educational excellence of their pupils to quality. However, government schools are equally capable and have given 100 per cent results.” He adds, “Both my children are enrolled at the university level. They both went to government schools and later into private not because of a problem in the quality but due to other

source: The himalayan Times,23 April 2011