Closure of schools Making public life troublesome

Mana Prasad Wagley

Instead of targeting schools, why can’t the parties and student bodies come out with a new protest tool?

Everyone says that the quality of education is deteriorating in Nepal these days. There are several reasons behind this. In some cases the teachers do not spend enough time in the classrooms and in others, the management of the institutions run by the Ministry of Education is simply too weak. There are still other reasons behind why Nepali children are deprived of education in general and quality education in particular. After the restoration of multi-party democracy in Nepal in 1990 the political parties played a double standard. When they were in power they hailed their efforts as enhancing quality education and when they were outside the power equation they went against their own version by closing the schools as a cheap means to oppose the government. During the 14 years, the schools remained closed nearly for 300 days. It does not take a mathematician to calculate that these 300 days translate to roughly three years of school workdays since classrooms in remote areas hardly have 100 workdays per year.

What was the result? Every time the movement was on, student leaders and their affiliate political parties claimed that they were fighting for democracy. Would closing of schools help bring democracy? What kind of democracy were they after by debarring children from getting education? Weren’t they talking about their own rights by hindering to exercise the right to education of every child in Nepal? The irony is that when the Maoists close the schools the parties protest it but when the latter close them they try to justify their stand. The student bodies affiliated with five major political parties have forcefully closed all educational institutions in the far-western region.

People now need to understand why political parties encourage their sister organisations to close schools. Everybody knows the country is at crossroads after the King’s February 1 move. Isn’t it unfortunate that student bodies affiliated to major political parties are closing the schools for an indefinite period in far-western region simply because they want some of the students freed from custody? If the past 15 years is any guide, we still resort to the same old ammunition of targeting the education sector, the foundation of all developments, to make a point. The closure of schools did not promote democracy; rather it weakened its virtue. Instead of targeting schools, why can’t the parties and affiliate organisations learn this lesson and come out with a new protesting tool? If their wits fail them in finding new ways of protests, they can look in developed countries where protesting and teaching-learning go hand in hand.

There is a big reason why everyone wants to close the schools to fulfil their demands. There are 26,000 schools and around a 1,000 colleges where 7 million students study. And there are no other places where a mass this size can be affected by a single stroke. Political parties go by the belief that affecting so many students would be a big bargaining chip to meet their demands. This shows an ill intention of the parties and their affiliate student bodies. The question is about the role of student bodies and their code of conduct. No one believes that the code of conduct permits students to make their own friends disadvantaged. When will this bullying by a handful of people come to an end? The general public is sick of school closures. That’s why additional two lakh students went to other countries this year alone for studies. The number of students going abroad for school education is increasing in geometric

progression. If this is the result the political parties want then there is nothing to be said. If not, why don’t they be sensible?

The responsible political parties should seriously think about the impact of their activities on the people. If their indifference continues the question of acquiring public support will remain a dream for them. Unless parties discipline themselves they cannot expect discipline from their sister organisations. The case of indefinite closure of schools in the far-west is an example of this. Recently when private schools were closed people protested and the rebels lifted the closure. First ones to participate in these protests were the student bodies and their leaders. Institution building should be the motto of each political party, not destruction. The move to close school will, therefore, prove antithetical to institution building. It rather irks the people for depriving their children of education. The coercive measures never win people’s confidence. It is only through responsible activities the parties and their affiliate bodies gain public support. So let us hope that politicians take wise steps in coming days and think twice before closing schools or making similar other moves. The only way to solve this problem is to declare educational institutions as ‘zone of peace’. For this each political party including the one engaged in conflict should join hands in preparing a code of conduct and safeguarding the interest of children to strengthen their right to education.

Dr Wagley is professor of education, TU