Oli administration taking decisions keeping respective ministries in the darkAnnouncement in budget to assign private high schools to look after a public school leads to severe criticism.
Three days after Yubraj Khatiwada presented the budget for the upcoming fiscal year, Minister for Education Giriraj Mani Pokharel on Sunday said the announcement of authorising private schools to improve public schools was not his plan.
Issuing a statement, he said his ministry never proposed assigning private schools to improve government schools. Point 166 of the national budget that is under discussion in the federal parliament envisions authorising all private secondary schools to take the responsibility of improving at least one public school.
Aides to Pokharel said they were surprised to find the provision in the budget. While the Education Ministry is seeking the support from better performing private schools and even non-government agencies to improve public education, it is totally against allowing the private sector to intervene in the management of community schools.
“I think this provision was included by the Finance Ministry with the prime minister in the know,” said an aide to Pokharel on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media. The idea was criticised from different quarters including lawmakers from even the ruling party.
Now Khatiwada also has changed his tone. Answering to lawmakers’ queries in the House of Representatives on Monday, he said private schools were ready to support public schools as part of their corporate social responsibility.
“The government cannot think of handing over the management [of public schools] to private schools. It’s just a support under their corporate social responsibility. Should we have told no when they [private schools] are ready to support?” he questioned. He, however, didn’t respond to the concerns of lawmakers regarding the education minister’s statement.
Officials at the Education Ministry said this is not the first time the decisions about education were made without the ministry knowing about it. They said the announcement of Prime Minister KP Sharma Oli on May 25 that there was no possibility of holding the Secondary Education Examination came without their knowledge.
Addressing the nation, Oli had said the delay in holding the tests had put hundreds of thousands of students in a dilemma. The Ministry of Education, Science and Technology would make necessary arrangements so that the SEE students don’t lose their entire academic year.
“The ministry started looking for an alternative only after Oli’s address,” a senior official at the ministry told the Post on condition of anonymity. The prime minister’s office has neglected the education ministry on several occasions.
The High Level National Education Commission, in January last year, presented Oli with the recommendations on reforming the education sector in the changed context. The 500-page report has made several recommendations that include turning private schools into nonprofits by gradually converting them into trusts. However, Oli hasn’t made the report public yet, nor has he authorised the education ministry to implement it.
“There is no doubt that the influence from private schools is responsible for keeping the report secret so far,” Shyam Shrestha, a member of the commission and former lawmaker, told the Post. “The budget wouldn’t have come up with a provision to authorise private schools to manage public schools had the report been implemented.”
Shrestha, who also follows the left politics closely, says as many private school owners come from the former UML camp, they can influence policy-making. He says Oli has a tendency to work on his own, which might have worked in the provision being made in the budget.
Education isn’t the only ministry to have been kept in the dark. A few months ago, Public Procurement Regulations were directly presented by the Prime Minister’s Office in the Cabinet without involving the Law Ministry. A senior official at the ministry said the eight amendment to the regulation never came to them, in violation of the requirement for any law to be approved by the Law Ministry.
The amendment in December last year was to address the demands of contractors. “This is a wrong practice from the prime minister’s office to bulldoze the system,” said the official on condition of anonymity because he was not allowed to talk to the media.