The Department of Education (DoE) yesterday sent five teams of monitors to see if the private schools are following the law, rules and regulations. The teams are to inspect 60 schools within a week in Kathmandu, Bhaktapur and Lalitpur and submit their reports to the DoE, which, it is said, will take action against the offending schools. There are 2,200 private shools affiliated to two umbrella organisations of private school owners. The government has the power to cancel the registration of any school if it is found guilty of violating the law. According to DoE officials, inspection of the schools in the Valley, which houses the majority of schools in the country, will also provide a fairly clear picture of the state of private schools in other districts. Two years ago, too, the DoE coordinated the monitoring effort in which 139 private schools in the Valley were covered.

The question is, what has been the outcome of all these efforts? This time around, the teams are reported to focus on such areas as whether the schools are following the education law’s provision of providing scholarships to ten per cent of the students belonging to the underprivileged, poor and marginalised categories of people, and whether the schools have registered their fee structures with the DoE. An inspector of schools is quoted as saying that the teams will also find out whether the students are forced to buy too many books, and to buy them from certain bookstores — the most frequent complaint against the schools, according to DoE officials. There is also a district education office (DEO) in every district, and it is supposed to implement the education law and rules and take action against the guilty or recommend action. The performance of the DEOs in regulating the private schools has been disappointing.

That the teams are yet to find out the truth about the complaints that the students are not given any option on buying books and that too many books are prescribed in themselves give a fair idea of what these teams may achieve in the light of this common practice that has existed for years. This applies to other areas such as school uniforms and the pay and perks of teachers and other staff. The load of books varies from school to school, but most schools have too many of them, even for pre-primary and primary levels. It is for the government to set fair norms for school operation, and once it does, to enforce them rigorously. A debate is also going on whether school education should be nationalised. But unless someone comes up with a better alternative, it will be unwise to tamper with the private schools. At the same time, there is an urgent need to take effective steps to improve the quality of education in public schools financed by the taxpayers. But regulation cannot be effective with mere sporadic bursts of enthusiasm of the government agencies. Monitoring should be a continuing process and action against the offenders should be swift and tough. The school owners too should do some sober thinking about whether what they are giving justifies what they are charging.