Monday, 6 December, 2021

Education Sector Stuck In Limbo After Pandemic

Bharat Chand


The decision to stop the online classes beginning from Shrawan 1 by the Private and Boarding School’s Organisation (PABSON) and National Private and Boarding Schools Organisation (N-PABSON) alleging the government for not addressing the demands has created chaos among more than 200,000 teachers teaching at private schools throughout the nation. The decision taken by these two organisations unilaterally further breaches the rights of education of children trying to engage to learn through online mode of teaching. No one by now is sure about the re-opening of educational institutions and running the classes physically. The government’s unclear policy towards private schools has not only created chaos in education sector but has put the fate of millions of children in uncertainty.
One of my good acquaintances teaching mathematics at secondary level in one of the reputed private schools in Kathmandu was successful in passing the exam conducted by the Teachers Service Commission at Secondary level last year. His willingness to be employed remained incomplete when he could not get an appointment in the school that ran classes on morning shift and finally left the offer. He is now repenting realising the present condition of private schools. The offer that he missed does not come back as his age is crossing 40 by this year, as he would not be able to take exam after he crosses 40 as per provision of Public Service Commission of Nepal.
The imposition of lockdown that started from March 24 ceased the economic activities to a complete halt. The budget of this year mainly focuses on the containment of virus and has made provisions to provide incentives to the health workers working at the frontline. It is a welcome gesture.
Small and medium-scale industries on the verge of collapse due to lockdown were given assurance by the government, announcing that they would be supported by concessional loans. The announcement brought respite to educational institutions running privately as they were raising their concerns of disbursing salary to their staffs through raising the minimal fees from the parents. Till now, neither the government has allowed private schools to take the fees from the parents nor has it provided loans at reduced interest rates.
Now, the ongoing situation demands government to address two issues. First, the government, as the guardian of citizens, must give directives to the private schools to pay the salaries of the teachers. At the same time, the private schools urging the government to allow them to take fees from the parents must be duly addressed, giving parents less burden. As the news on private schools asking for fees ran in different media recently without realising the critical situation should be condemned.
The lockdown measures throughout the world have severely ravaged various sectors, including the economy, making millions of people unemployed. Around 40 per cent Americans have registered their names in the list of unemployment as the case of COVID-19 surged dramatically. Educational institutions quite reputed at international level too have severely been affected with the increase of virus cases and have changed their calendars to go on online mode. Cambridge University has already made its decision to run its classes on online mode, realising the far-reaching effects that COVID-19 would have on the educational calendar. The decisions taken by these institutions have certainly impacted the educational institutions around the world as well. Private schools and colleges in Nepal started online classes without realising the fissures it would create between haves and haves not. Many children even in the USA are bereft of smartphone or laptop, an urgent gadget to get oriented through online mode despite being one of the developed countries of the world. We can understand how severe the condition of the children in the family where four or five children need to take online classes followed by the unstable internet connection. In one of the recent webinars, a principal of a government run school shared with us that most of the students when told to join the online mode of class, asked, “how do we join the class as we have neither smartphone nor laptop to take the classes? On top of that, we don’t have food to eat, how do we manage taking online mode of class?”
The investment by nations or universities on research activities solidifies the innovation sector of the nation, making pupils ready for the future and further helps create avenues to lead their career paths. The government of UK before the pandemic, had ambitiously thought of doubling its budget on research activities, keeping in mind that the students with background of research would lead the nation into the pinnacle of success. What makes these students learn these skills to build up? How does the country gear up? The answer to these questions is obviously the teachers working selflessly to disseminate knowledge. And the scenario we are creating could affect the fate of the nation on the long run. Private school operator’s decision to stop the online mode of teaching might be too terrible for the children locked inside homes for more than three months. Isn’t it the responsibility of school owners to think about the children and their study? Are we running schools just for the sake of making money? The government should take a firm decision on the nationalisation of private schools, shutting all the doors of the education mafia.
Building the rapport with the parents, school owners and the government of Nepal can help sort out this problem. As the Chinese proverb goes, “a single flower does not make spring, but a hundred flowers in full bloom bring spring to the garden.” Journey toward building a nation with highly capable experts requires strong foundation to be laid in the education sector.

(The author is an independent researcher and a teaching faculty in a college affiliated with Tribhuvan University.)