There were two potentially landmark developments on Friday that could shape the country’s education sector for years to come. The first was the unveiling of the Private and Boarding Schools Guideline 2012 by the Ministry of Education (MoE). At the same event, Minister for Education Dina Nath Sharma also announced a no-advertisements policy for the entire academic sector. The second development was the announcement of the CPN-Maoist affiliated student body, ANNISU-R, that it would curb privatization of education sector, while introducing radical measures to improve the quality of government-run education establishments. One of the ways it seeks to do so is by preventing children of civil servants and government teachers from attending private schools, which, it hopes, will make them enroll their wards in government institutions.
While we wholeheartedly welcome the first development, we have deep reservations about the second. Control of rampant commercialization of the education sector was long overdue. Private schools and colleges have been free to set admission and monthly fees arbitrarily, putting private education beyond the reach of many families. Hopefully the new guidelines will help reduce the disparity in the quality of education between children from poor and rich backgrounds. The government is also right to restrict advertisements of private institutions, which invariably pushed the fees up. Through their glitzy ads, they lulled students into believing they were providing quality education. What these institutions might have lacked in substance, they tried to make up in sex appeal. It was important to curb such practices in what should be a service-oriented sector.
Measures like fixing admission and monthly fees of private schools, limiting the weight of school bags children carry to school, provision of open land for school assembly and playground activities, all envisioned in the new school guideline, if implemented, will contribute to healthy competition among schools as well as to sound physical and psychological upbringing of children. Likewise, the provision of a toilet for every 50 students and girl-friendly toilets are equally laudatory. Though late, the government deserves credit for these long-overdue measures.
But we are afraid the ANNISU-R’s initiative, while it might appear progressive, could degenerate into out and out authoritarianism, with the focus not on improvement of quality of government-run education institutions but collecting hefty donations from private school operators. Even if the heart of the young revolutionaries in ANNISU-R is in the right place, it is hard to see how they can make well-earning civil servants and government employees send their children to government-run establishments. If they are barred from sending their wards to private schools, most of these families have the wherewithal to educate their children in places like Kurseong and Darjeeling in India, which have long been popular destinations for the children of well-off families from Nepal. Pretty much the same could happen in case of private college-going students.
Again, there is no doubt that unhealthy commercialization in the education sector must be curtailed. But not if the price is an exodus of thousands of Nepali students at steep cost to the government exchequer and creation of an added impediment for development of quality academic institutions inside the country. The government measures, in contrast, are more pragmatic and hence more likely to produce the desired results. For once, it is the government showing the ‘revolutionaries’ the way