This year’s new academic session for school level has just started in Nepal. Parents are worried about the cost of admission of their children. Schools have determined admission and monthly tuition fees. Such fees are expected to be fixed with the consent of parents after letting them know about the services that the schools provide to their students. However, the private schools often ignore such practices and set fee structures on their own. After 1990, privatisation has become a component of neoliberal economy. Since then, private schools marked their presence in the country. However, there were only few such schools in existence in the country. Though Kedar Bhakta Mathema’s and Mahendra Bahadur Bista’s study (2006) suggested the two types of schoolings as a practice of discrimination and a source of social inequality, the institutional schools have become major parts of national education now.
Soon after the 10th Plan (National Planning Commission, 2002) presumed that a competitive environment in educational service would be developed through the encouragement to the private sector for quality education, investors had a fertile ground for running private schools in Nepal. Even the government, led by the then CPN-Maoist that vented its ire against the private schools during the insurgency, fostered private-sector-friendly national education policy. It legalised the discriminatory educational practice and commercialisation in school education by raising taxes from the institutional schools. This opened the door for private school owners to charge expensive tuition fees. The government issues a notice every year, asking private schools not to increase fees without guardians’ consent. This year, too, it has released a press note warning private schools against exorbitant fees.
Shuprabhat Bhandari, former president of the Guardians Association Nepal (GAN), says it has failed to regulate the private schools to operate rationally. He even accuses that the private schools have not paid the education taxes. In the absence of agencies to supervise them, the private schools are collecting self-determined fees from their students. The government rules allow schools to collect annual fee that is not more than the two months’ tuition fees. However, private schools charge far expensive than that. The regulation says that the student admitted in one level need not readmit in the next class in the same school. But institutional schools collect admission fees from the students in each grade.
Bijay Sambahamphe, the former PABSON chair, also admits that schools have charged the annual fee even though the rule does not allow them to do so for readmission. He remarks, "The rule allows us to charge fees up to a total of two months' tuition fee as annual charges. Private schools cannot run without students’ fees, but such fees must be rational.” Regarding the textbooks, the concerned District Education Offices should approve the book list of schools. However, the schools tend to change textbooks every year in collaboration with the publication houses. This deprives children of using the textbooks of their senior brothers or sisters. And the number of books prescribed for pre-primary kids is not rational. It is not reasonable to force students to buy about a dozen textbooks that they can't carry while going to schools.
Private schools claim that they have stopped capital flight from the country by providing quality education at home. But Block, Gray and Holborow (2012) claim how the global dominance of neoliberal political conditions shape educational ideologies, policies and practices as enacted in different conditions and spaces. They opine that the educational institutions are guided by profit orientations only. Heller (2003) and Harvey (2005) point out that with economic profit as driving force, the neoliberal market operates without state intervention and is guided by the assumption that privatisation of public services and institutions best serve economic growth. The neoliberal market sees education as commodity. This trend has made “education for all” programme a failure.
Except students’ unions that raise voices against hiking fee structures of private schools, all agencies often remain silent. The guardians who have to pay fee for their children are not united. Private schools have taken advantage of this situation and added extra fees every year. Newly-elected student leaders should now take the initiative to monitor educational activities and fee structures of private schools. As the student leaders are the psychological motivators for many other students, educational reforms can be expected from them. The rise of new leadership from students both strengthens teachers’ delivery in the academia, on the one hand, and it supplies the nation with visionary future leaders to work in the national politics, economy, education sector, administration and so on, on the other.
As institutional schools are profit-making organisations, they cannot contribute to reducing social hierarchy though there is little difference in socio-economic profiles between private and public schools in some countries. But the students who attend private schools have more advantaged socio-economic position than those who attend public schools. Private schools have extended the social gap instead if narrowing it. If the public schools run by the government are supervised and efforts are made to improve the educational standard, parents will not be forced to pay expensive fees to the private schools for their children’s education. The public schools must revive slowly.
The state cannot escape from the responsibility of strengthening public educational institutions. This is definitely difficult but not undoable. The state must launch effective programmes and equip them with sufficient budget and skilled human resources. It must make commitment to keep educational institutions away from political interference to improve their quality. As long as these institutions are the victims of political interference or negligence, the private schools will go on adding economic burden to parents. The government must strictly monitor whether private schools have obeyed the government rules. Political parties and their leadership must rise above ideologies and think broadly of bridging the socio-economic divide between publicly and privately managed schools. Only then can the public schools be stronger than the private schools, commercialisation of education will wane.
(The author is an Assistant Professor at the Institute of Engineering (IoE), Pulchowk Campus, under Tribhuvan University.)