Free education limited to slogans for students of community schools in BajhangAlthough the constitution guarantees free basic education, most community schools struggle to extend the service to students.
Patki Dhami, a resident of Bamaur, a remote village in Bangul Municipality in Bajhang, struggles to pay her son’s school fees. Her son attends Bhumeshwori Basic School, and his annual school fee is Rs 3,500.
“The school management committee asks for timely payments. But I’m a daily wage worker and can hardly make ends meet for my family. Sometimes I have to take a loan to pay for my son’s education,” she said.
All one hundred and eight families in Bamaur Village struggle to send their children to school. Shelling out Rs 3,500 per year is an additional expense to their already strained financial condition, says Patki.
Article 31 (2) of the constitution states that every citizen has the right to compulsory and free education up to the basic level (Grade 8) and free education up to the secondary level (Grade 12).
However, despite this provision, community schools in Bajhang take fees from students in order to pay salary to their teachers, according to Gopal Dhami, headmaster of Bhumeshwori Basic School.
The school has 188 students, but there are only four posts of government teacher. Since four teachers are not sufficient to cater to almost 200 students, four more teachers have been appointed on a contract basis. “We haven’t received any help from the government. We have to pay a total of Rs 43,000 monthly to the four teachers whom we have hired privately,” said Gopal. “The only way we can raise that amount is by charging tuition fees to the students.”
The school, which was established 30 years ago, was upgraded to a lower secondary school 14 years ago. This meant that the school needed more teachers, but the government has not provided any.
“Although we took this issue to the then District Education Office and also to the municipal office, no solutions were forthcoming,” he said.
Jaimal Dhami, one of the ward chairmen of the municipality, said that he has been raising the issue in every executive meeting of the municipality.
“The constitution has guaranteed free education to all children. But this issue always gets sidelined,” Jaimal said.
Dhan Bahadur Bista, mayor of the municipality, said that there are more than 60 schools in the municipality that take tuition fees from students to pay their teachers.
“We keep these issues on the table in our regular meetings. We have managed to extend grants to some of the schools,” said Bista.
But the grant hasn’t reached Bhumeshwori Basic School in Bamaur and parents like Patki are not sure how long they can afford to send their children to school without support from the authorities.