Class struggle

YOUNG MINDS: Students of Betal School in Kailali attend one of 27,000 public schools across Nepal where 80% of children study. Pic: Bikram Rai

Every time any government in Nepal sets up a ‘High-level Commission’ it is either a cover-up, or proof of another populist measure to silence critics.

The latter may be true for the commission which recommended this month that Nepal’s private schools be phased out. Commission members, some of whose children were themselves educated in private schools in Nepal or abroad, argued that the new constitution stipulates all education be free and compulsory at the basic level, and free up to the secondary level.

Inevitably, the High-level Education Commission’s report was roiled in controversy over the provision that all private schools should be turned into non-profit community schools within the next ten years.

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In an ideal state, free and compulsory education would be appropriate and, indeed, necessary. Nepal’s education is over-commercialised: private medical education has become a scam, there is blatant corruption in the university affiliation process, and 10+2 school system is an assembly-line industry.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights 1948 states that free education is a fundamental right, but its Article 26 adds that parents have a prior right to choose the type of education they want for their children.

Educationists say that if the government’s schools were of superior quality, there would no need for private schools, which have reversed the trend of Nepalis going abroad for education.

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“Private schools will automatically shut down if the standard of government schools are as good as private ones,” says Nagendra Aryal of Kathmandu Model School.

Today, 80% of students in the country are enrolled in 27,000 government schools, and even if the remaining 8,000 private schools became non-profit, they could not accommodate children now going to community schools. The line is further blurred with the Commission’s provision that children from high-income families and foreigners will still have to pay fees.

Nepal’s private schools have introduced progressive and innovative curricula absent in most government schools. We have also seen that in areas where government schools have maintained standards, parents prefer them to private schools.

DK Dhungana of the Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation of Nepal (PABSON) says flatly: “The government made schools register as companies, it cannot force them now to be converted into trusts without proper compensation.”

Baikuntha Aryal of the Ministry of Education told Nepali Times that the Commission’s report will be presented to the government in the next few days.

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