Community schools in Pyuthan Municipality blame downgrades and mergers for low enrolmentSchool administrations are pulling out all stops to bring their former students back and to encourage new students to join.
Hari Prasad Thapaliya left no stone unturned to try and convince the Pyuthan-4 locals to admit their children to his school. The principal of Saraswati Basic School went door to door requesting the villagers to admit their children at his school. He even asked the seniors in the village to accompany him as he tried his best to convince the villagers.
The Thapadanda-based school recorded no new admissions this academic session and is on the verge of closure due to a lack of students. The new academic session started on April 16 this year.
Established in 2012, Saraswati Basic School has been facing a drop in student enrollment numbers for the past several years.
Given the low enrollment rate, the Pyuthan Municipality downgraded the school that ran classes up to the fifth grade, to run classes up to the third grade only effective this academic session. Thapathaliya believes this could be one of the reasons why guardians have not sent their wards to his school.
“Until last year, we used to run classes up to the fifth grade,” Thapaliya said. “This year, the municipality has allowed us to run classes only till the third grade.”
Thapaliya claims that the municipality’s move to downgrade the school is the reason behind the lack of new enrollments this year.
“We have been discussing merging with another school for a long time,” he said. “The guardians have failed to understand the reason behind the downgrade and they have been misinformed that the move was the result of poor quality of education at the school.”
He shares that such misinformation has discouraged guardians from admitting their children to his school, and are instead opting for a different institute, mostly private schools.
The school administration has taken multiple decisions on what the next move should be since there is not a single student enrolled this year. The administration is pulling out all stops to bring its former students back and to encourage new students to join the school. They have also announced that they will reimburse all the expenses guardians had to incur while enrolling their wards in other schools. “We will bear all the expenses if the students who have joined private institutes return to our school,” Thapaliya told the Post. “The admission fees paid to other schools, a year’s worth of books and stationeries and school uniform will be provided by the school.”
Thapaliya shares that although the parents verbally agreed to send their children to his school, none have transferred their children from private to government schools yet. “Downgrading community schools and promoting private schools have posed a threat to community schools,” said Thapaliya.
Bal Mandir Basic School, located in Ratamata of the Pyuthan Municipality-3, has also been downgraded from this academic session. The school had previously been running classes up to the fifth grade but now it runs classes only up to grade 3.
“The educational landscape is the same. The number of schools, both government and private, increased but the number of students did not,” said Lok Bahadur Bista, the principal of the Pyuthan-3-based school. “Now they are harming community schools more by downgrading them.”
In the previous academic session, the school had enrolled 45 new students in various grades. The number has plummeted to 14 this year. “We have five students at the child development centre [kindergarten], while we have nine students enrolled from grade 1 to 3,” Bista added.
There are five community schools within a 2km radius in the area. Only one of the five schools in Pyuthan Municipality has an adequate number of students—Mukti Secondary School in Ratamata in Ward 3 has more than 600 students enrolled for this academic session.
“The number of students in all community schools has been declining,” Bista said. “We cannot tell what the situation will be if this continues.”
More than half-a-dozen schools in the Jhimruk Rural Municipality are also facing a decline in student numbers, shares the rural municipality vice-chair Pramod Pokharel.
“We have been discussing school mergers,” Pokharel said. “In some schools, the number of teachers is more than that of the students. While in other schools, there is a lack of teachers. This has created a huge problem.”
Even schools that were once performing well are on the verge of closure, he further added. “People have migrated from the villages. People are moving out of the villages with the purpose of educating their children in city schools,” said Pokharel.
According to him, the women in the village migrate to the cities with their children as soon as their husbands travel abroad for work, causing a considerable decline in the number of students in the rural areas.
To witness the closure of community schools is hard, says shares Pyuthan Ward -4 Chairman Resham Bahadur Karki. “Even the schools in urban areas of the municipality are facing such problems. It’s worse in the rural areas,” he said.
The municipality’s education department head Basudev Bhattarai says they decided to downgrade some community schools so that the schools can improve the quality of education they can provide. “The local body has already instructed the community schools to improve their teaching standard,” said Bhattarai. “In the first phase, we have limited the number of classes they can run. We may have to merge some schools later.”
As per a municipal education department’s report, increasing migration and a slowdown in the number of births, among others, are the main reasons for the problem.
Pyuthan Municipality in coordination with the municipality's vice chair formed an education improvement committee and examined the schools. The number of students in privately-owned institutes in urban areas has been increasing while the opposite is true for community schools in rural areas, Bhattarai said.
The students have increasingly been attracted towards private institutes due to the inability of the community schools to fulfil demands as per their needs, says Head of Education Development and Coordination Unit’s Pyuthan chapter Shiva Pandit. There are five private schools in Pyuthan Municipality.
“There are no other options than to improve the standards of the community schools. Else, more schools will have to close their doors,” Pandit added.
The closure of community schools in Thapadanda has become a major challenge for the school authorities while also acting as an example for institutes in other areas. The lack of a concrete academic plan in secondary-level schools also invited trouble, Pandit further says.
In 2015, 10 community schools in Pyuthan were merged following a decline in student enrollment numbers. Millions of rupees worth of investments, that went into building the school infrastructure, went down the drain after closures, Pandit said.
Currently, there are a total of 397 community schools in the district.
“It is justified to merge those schools that face financial crunch or lack enough students,” he added “That responsibility has been handed to the local bodies now. Apart from closure and mergers, there are no other solutions to this problem.”