Sir, not againPrivate schools have been hiking the fees annually giving all sorts of lame reasons
Every year, parents with children in private schools receive a New Year gift in the form of an increase in the fees. And like an annual customary event, public grievances against private educational institutions are currently making the headlines as the new academic session gets underway. Arguments between schools, parents, student unions and guardians’ associations start with the beginning of every new school year. How can the education sector in Nepal move ahead when schools become regular battlegrounds? A discussion begins regarding how the academic session should be started and the reasons behind hiking the fees. This year too, private schools have decided to jack up the fees in clear contravention of the Supreme Court’s verdict and a new set of directives on school fees prepared by the Department of Education in 2013.
Some private schools have been criticised for charging exorbitant fees, selling stationery and collecting fees in the name of extracurricular activities and uniforms and not providing adequate infrastructure and a proper academic atmosphere. Student union leaders say that an excessive financial burden has been put on parents and padlock the office as a protest. Likewise, guardians complain that private schools have been cheating parents in the name of modernisation and updating the curriculum, and that there is no government mechanism to monitor them. Unions and guardians’ associations both accuse private schools of doing business in the name of service and complain about unnecessary charges for different sections and extra activities. They criticise the government for its weakness. Meanwhile, private school organisations support the hike in fees citing increased salaries and facilities for teachers. They say that if their demands are not met, they could shut down schools and go on strike as they have done in the past.
They also say that they are forced to donate a lot of money to political parties to hold their conventions and meetings. Another reason they provide for supporting a hike in fees is that they have to fulfil the demands of students and provide them a good physical environment. They also claim that increased charges have resulted in a higher quality of education and that it has reached international standards. Teachers cannot teach on a hungry stomach so hiking the fees is not an issue that should be debated. Despite spending more than Rs62 billion annually and surviving on government handouts, community schools have failed to provide quality education. This is another key reason for increasing the fees in private schools as their quality is much higher than that of public schools.
However, the actual situation in private schools and the reasons given for justifying higher fees do not match. Guardians say that increasing the fees is not the solution to the problems of schools, and hiking the fees in the name of increasing the salaries is a fake reason. Teachers complain that they are not being paid regularly every month and as per government standards. So the explanation for increasing the fees is unreasonable.
School officials who are trying to impose unjustifiable fees must be punished for violating the court verdict and refusing to abide by government regulations. But that is unlikely to happen. Almost all the private school officials are linked with political parties who have been protecting them. The practice of increasing the school fees and paying a huge amount of money to political parties to become a member of the Constituent Assembly is an open secret. They are quite adept at pulling the right strings. That is why they are able to get away with this daylight robbery. The money collected by increasing the school fees is used by private school owners to keep government officials quiet.
There is an urgent need to have coordination between public and private schools. The model of public-private partnership could be very effective in this respect. Private schools should hold discussions on increasing the fees and other academic issues. They should also carry out their social responsibility instead of doing academic business and provide scholarships to students from poor and marginalised communities. Also, the government should focus on increasing the education tax for rich people and invest the money to help the poor. A secure environment should be ensured so that private schools can provide quality education. The government should also control the mushrooming growth of private schools. Private and boarding schools are being seen as milk cows. Political parties should focus on their own earnings instead of asking for donations from schools.
The contribution of private schools to the country’s educational development is praiseworthy. If we compare the quality and results, private schools are far better than public schools. Also, they are providing jobs to many educated people in the country. But this does not mean they can do whatever they wish; they cannot violate the rules, laws and regulations. The demands of private schools and the national educational system should match national needs. So the participation of representatives from private schools at policy level meetings is mandatory. Urban-centric private schools should help students in rural areas. Finally, a proper regulatory framework should be established to monitor activities and implement policy in the educational sector.
Devkota and Bagale are associated with Sustainable Development and Empowerment Forum, Kathmandu