Not so fastThe Education Ministry's directive on fee ceilings and basic standards has upset private schools
The Ministry of Education has issued a directive fixing fee ceilings and minimum educational standards for the 6,000 private schools in the country. The Private and Boarding Schools' Organisation, Nepal (Pabson) and the National Private and Boarding Schools' Association (N-Pabson) have opposed the directives and want the fee ceiling to be raised and the three-year time limit for upgradation to be extended. Private schools are generally allowed to review their fee structure as per their quality rating. B grade schools can charge 25 percent more than C grade schools while the fees of A grade schools can be 50 percent higher. They have not formally increased their fees since 2012 when the Supreme Court ordered them not to do so for three years. However, they plan to hike the fees from this academic session.
As per the directives issued by the Ministry of Education, any increase in fees has to be approved by two-thirds of the guardians and teachers. Also, a proposal to increase the rates should be submitted to the District Fee Determining Committee. However, private schools have failed to submit their fee proposals for this new academic session in full. The fees are fixed under 14 different titles. Schools are not permitted to charge fees under other headings. The Guardians’ Association and Students’ Union are encouraged to monitor the process of fee determination and other academic activities. Each private school should publicise its annual programme and budget every year. And doing a social audit is compulsory. Private school teachers are expected to be paid the same salary as paid to teachers in government schools. Schools are required to place a flex print at the entrance highlighting the final fee structure of the year.
The directive has listed 32 things that schools must do within three years to maintain their minimum standard. Schools have been told to construct earthquake-resistant buildings, including ramps and dual exits. There should be a counseling class in every school for the psycho-social well-being of the students, and a minor treatment room for teachers and students. The textbooks and reference materials being used in private schools must be issued or approved by the Curriculum Development Centre. The residential and day meal charges also need to be approved by a two-thirds majority of the guardians’ assembly. Private schools will lose their licences or they will be merged if they fail to adhere to these provisions.
Private schools have claimed that they should be allowed to make increments as they have not hiked the fees for the past three years. Promoters of private schools say fee hikes are natural and the only way to adjust for inflation and a rise in teachers' salaries. Meanwhile, the Students’ Unions and Guardians’ Association Nepal have argued strongly in defence of the ministry’s directives.
They have urged schools not to flout the rules and regulations and increase the financial burden for parents. The private schools’ umbrella bodies are asking the ministry how such complex infrastructure and other facilities can be built in such a difficult situation. They have pointed to the quality of education and better results at private schools. They have also stressed the proper practice of autonomy instead of a complete control mechanism to ensure a return on investment in education.
The way ahead
Systems and facilities must be established to enrich the quality of education whether in private schools or public schools. Autonomy and self-discipline are an integral part of an educational system for its quality. An inclusive democracy offers the possibilities of options. It’d better follow the middle path for a hike in school fees by making some amendments to the directives. It is always important to look at the behavioural implementation of any rule and regulation before issuing them. A timely review of the fees is necessary, but it should not be guided by a profit motive. Rather than delivering contrasting views, it is necessary to sit together for a table talk to find a permanent solution to the issues of private schools.
Without addressing the issues of private schools, it is next to impossible to implement the policy of quality education. As per the national standard, the quality of education has been maintained by institutional schools. The newly introduced policy of cooperative management of institutional schools can be a better option.
But at the same time, it cannot replace the current acts and school running processes. Likewise, it is mandatory to determine whether the presence of private schools contributes to fulfilling the target of the right to education in the new Constitution of Nepal. This is a time for collaboration and understanding. There must be respect for each other to bring consensus among educational stakeholders to guarantee the quality of education to every child.
Regmi is associated with the Nepal Youth Foundation