Public schools warrant more than cosmetic changesPrivate schools can't bear the burden of overhauling Nepal's public education system.
Finance Minister Yubaraj Khatiwada in his budget speech for the fiscal year 2020-21 accentuated the stigma attached to Nepal's public education system when, in point number 166, he said private secondary schools would be required, as part of social responsibility, to support public schools by providing them with educational infrastructure materials and uplifting their educational quality. However, Minister for Education, Science, and Technology Giriraj Mani Pokharel was quick to issue a rejoinder that the particular point of the budget speech had eluded prior consultation with his ministry.
If the education minister is to be believed, the finance minister plans to overhaul the public education system without taking on board the institution whose primary responsibility is to implement the plan. If implemented in toto, Khatiwada’s plan omits the possibility of creating a level playing field between the private and the public education system, thereby exacerbating the ills of public education rather than solving them for a myriad of reasons.
First, it goes against Article 51 (h) (2) of the Constitution, which provisions to ‘make private sector investment made in education service-oriented by regulating and managing such investment while enhancing the State's investment in the education sector’. Regulating private school investment does in no way mean burdening them with the additional task of uplifting the physical and educational qualities of public schools.
Second, the mushrooming of private schools in the country is thanks to the failure of the public school system to provide quality education to a significant section of the population. The primary interest of private schools is capital accumulation even though they may strive to provide quality education in exchange. They can't thus be expected to be in a symbiotic relationship with public schools when the imperatives of the free market compel them to eliminate competition.
Third, private schools are not always the epitome of excellence. Despite their apparent successes at achieving a higher pass percentage, they face multiple problems themselves, including having to rely upon low-skilled, pitifully paid teachers who work under less than favourable conditions. Moreover, no second private school in the country has the same wherewithal, financial or otherwise, to support another public school.
Fourth, private schools cater to a relatively smaller section of the population as compared with public ones. Of the total 35,520 schools across the country, only 6,687 are private ones. The one-on-one plan falls flat owing to the sheer numerical difference—3,745 private secondary schools against 7,105 public secondary ones. Moreover, private schools are concentrated in urban centres while public schools that need support are scattered across the country, making it practically difficult for private schools to engage with public ones in a meaningful way.
The finance minister's plan to entrust private schools with the responsibility of uplifting public schools, is, therefore, ill-thought-out as well as impractical. The sooner it is retracted, the better.