Private schools: Public questions

The learning environment in most private schools is lamentable. Congested space and unscientific and jerry-built buildings - unlikely to resist a likely catastrophic situation or predictable pitfalls - are common

Education is the chief defence of a nation. As it heralds prosperity and success, every nation gives utmost priority to it. The developed countries have a sound educational system in place. They have 100 per cent literacy rate. Education’s impact on overall prosperity is evidently wide and without dispute. John Dewey’s book Democracy and Education deems education as the first and foremost priority of democracy. It is not without reason that Japan’s first government after World War II had earmarked 49 per cent of its budget for education. Nepal’s government too has allocated a good percentage of the budget on education, but it needs to go higher.

Realising that education is the cardinal beam and pillar for a nation’s progress, India introduced the student quality circle in education in the 1990s to “improve and enrich quality of education and enhance student life with varied and invigorating experiences.” Concurrently, the quest for quality education popularised the trend of private education in Nepal. Consequently, a large pool of private schools and colleges has mushroomed in the country. Today there are 20,000 plus private schools in the country.

But the new constitution has dragged private schools into controversy. Scholars argue that private schools should be phased out as education is the obligation of the nation. The contribution of private schools in reducing the government’s burden ought to be thanked. The advent of certain changes - especially, raising the efficiency of the English language among the students - should not be undermined. However, some of the concerns being raised are profoundly gruesome.

Fees levied by the private schools numb everyone’s nerves as they exceed more than half of one’s income. Latest reports sordidly graph parents spending Rs 7,000 a month per child, in aggregate, in a normal school. A few schools charge much higher. And then the unjustifiable fees under various headings, such as library, computer, swimming, excursion, music and others only enlarge the hardships. All these necessarily come within the ambit of the perceived ‘quality education’, for which the parents have already paid large sums. Thus, making extra charges is undisputedly illogical.

Moreover, the learning environment in most private schools is lamentable. Congested space, unscientific and jerry-built buildings - unlikely to resist a likely catastrophic situation or predictable pitfalls - are common. An acute shortage of spacious playgrounds, serene and tranquil location, a well-stocked library, plethora of extra-curricular activities and mandatory labs to allow students to explore their talents are evident to all. The quest for private education deepens the grotesque consumerism among the public. Sometimes, it drives people to indulge in unethical and illegal activities for financial management.

Government education is highly appreciated and accredited in many countries, including India. Even in Kathmandu, around two dozen government schools do better than renowned private schools. Private education is not synonymous with quality education, but an ineffective public education system has sent the wrong message to the people.

Private education has brought about serious, sometimes evidently sinful, degradation of our indigenous culture. Unfounded infatuation with western mores, religion and lifestyle has devastated our economy and health. Private schools have nurtured the tendency of promoting multinational products like soft drinks. The passion for junk food is taking a heavy toll on our children’s health. Boarding or residential schools pose a challenge to the values of family harmony.

Annually, about 10 per cent of the schools see changes in their founders, which impact the students’ psychology. Dichotomy between the founder and other members in the board is soaring. Overarching business followed by syndicated sale of all other logistics is converting founders into crony capitalists and corporate leaders. But, most working staff members receive a meagre salary and can’t even maintain the minimal life standards. Besides the poor salary, there is no provision of social security, gratuity, growth and training. Student unions see them as fertile grounds for seeking donations, and political leaders exploit them for providing free education to their offspring. This has allowed them to be unregulated and unmonitored.

On top of this dismay and turmoil, the goal of private schools is most abominable and objectionable. Almost 80 per cent of the students who go abroad for higher education are from private schools. Private education brainwashes pupils to head for a foreign nation. The use of our people as cheap and insensitive machines by the developed countries has aborted our development prospects. This has produced a poor international image, which is humiliating to us.

Besides being poorly managed, private education is damaging a significant quarter of society in many ways. Poor education costs a nation more than lack of education. Thus, it must be efficiently regulated and monitored for meeting the public concern. An encouraging prelude is a must. Any delay on it might trap us into a situation when we may not be in a position even to lament later.

Dahal is associate professor, Kathmandu School of Law