School education is free but public schools are forced to raise feePoliticians themselves admit party leaders are unwilling to give due attention to public schools because many leaders have invested in private academic institutions.
Shree Public School in Dharan has 151 teachers and staff to cater to over 3,200 students. The school that runs classes up to grade 12, however, has just 40 teacher positions allocated by the government.
It is one of the model public schools in the country and pays the additional 111 teachers and staff through its own resources. The money comes from the fees and donations raised from guardians.
“Yes, the constitution ensures free and compulsory school education. However, the government doesn’t allocate needed funds even for hiring teachers,” said Indra Mohan Jha, principal at the school at an interaction in the Capital. “We have two options: either to stop student enrollment or raise funds from the guardians.”
Article 31 (2) of the constitution says every citizen shall have the right to get compulsory and free education up to the basic level and free education up to the secondary level from the state. However, successive governments haven’t allocated the needed budget to implement the constitutional provisions compelling public schools to cover the shortfall from the students’ guardians and others.
Nepal, on several occasions in international forums, has committed to allocate 20 percent of the national budget to the education sector. However, none of the governments have acted as per the commitments. The education sector has got less than 11 percent of the total budget of R1.793 trillion in the current fiscal year.
As a majority of the budget is spent on salary followed by infrastructure, the schools get very less money to enhance the learning achievements of the children. For instance, the Shree Public School gets Rs30,000 monthly to cover miscellaneous expenses, however, the school’s electricity bill alone rises up to Rs44,000 per month.
Education experts say promoting public education hasn’t been the priority of any governments.
Bidya Nath Koirala, a professor at the Tribhuvan University, said the CPN (Maoist Centre), for instance, joined mainstream politics with an agenda of transforming the education sector. Of the six education ministers the country had since the promulgation of the constitution in 2017, four including the current one are from the Maoist Centre.
“However, they took no steps towards changing the education rather co-opted with the existing system,” he said. “The education sector is not going to improve unless there is a willingness and determination at the political level and the teachers for a transformation.”
According to the government's Economic Survey for the fiscal year 2021-22, the number of total schools stands at 34,368 including 26,454 public schools and 1,154 religious schools. The number of private schools is 6,760. The survey report says 1,306 schools, most of which were public schools, were either closed or merged with others in the previous fiscal year.
Some politicians admit that the current politicians across the parties are not willing to give due attention to public school education because a majority of party leaders have invested in private academic institutions.
“Who do you blame when your party leaders themselves are shareholders and investors in many schools and work for the welfare of private institutions ignoring the public schools,” said Lekhnath Neupane, a politburo member of the Maoist Centre. “We cannot expect anything better as long as there is a moral deficit in the political leadership.”
Education experts say it is the government’s responsibility to allocate the needed funds to make the school education free in line with the constitution. Binay Kusiyait, a professor at the Tribhuvan University, said parties that were progressive in drafting the constitution have taken regressive steps when it comes to ensuring the fundamental right to education.
In his study in 2018, Kusiyait had noted that Rs197.84 billion, which was less than 20 percent of Rs 1.31 trillion for the fiscal year 2018-19, would be needed that year to ensure free school education. “I have never found any governments serious about implementing free education,” he told the Post. “What is the point of writing beautiful words in the constitution when it cannot be implemented?”
Nepal’s constitution has set a goal towards socialism, which according to experts, cannot be attained without making quality education accessible to every child. Koirala says it is a paradox that capitalist countries like Norway, Luxembourg or Denmark, among others, have made education free while Nepal, which aims to tread the path of socialism, is promoting the private sector.
Addressing a function organised by the All Nepal National Independent Students Union (Revolutionary), Minister for Education Devendra Poudel said a massive transformation in education was not possible although his party had advocated for it. “We can bring change gradually, and are working accordingly,” he said. “Our first priority is to have federal laws which will shape the country’s education in the future.”