Minister for Education, Science and Technology Giriraj Mani Pokharel defended the role of private sector in education in an interview given to a weekly magazine last week. The Minister even mentioned that the credibility and legitimacy of private sector involvement in education and institutions run under private management has been on the rise whereas same has been woefully diminished in case of public schools. This articulation of the minister in charge of and responsible for reforming and restoring the credibility of public schools indicates the paradox of the public education system and consequent decline in the integrity of education institutions in the country. However, the high level education commission report prepared under the leadership of the education minister himself elucidates the relevance and significance of the public education system in Nepal and makes a pitch on the need to discipline and regulate the private education sector. The federal constitution of Nepal commits to the egalitarian education system in which the role of public sector in imparting education needs to be made more credible. But as outlined by the education minister the private sector dominates the education landscape in Nepal. Even as the public education sector absorbs the larger chunk of the national budget it has not been able to achieve any outcomes worth to note. The sizeable portion of the national resources is spent in the development of public education system. But the resources poured in financing public education have not yielded effective outcomes. Despite the government campaigning and mobilisation, dwindling enrolment and attendance in the public education is a pointer to the fact that the people are no longer taking the public education institutions seriously. Only those who cannot afford and do belong to the marginalised segment of the society are compelled to send their children to the community schools. The education system, instead of equalising and narrowing the divides, has acted as the vector of division and disparity. The elites and have groups are privileged to access to best available quality education imparted by the private or the missionary schools both within and outside the country whereas the poor and have-nots are forced to reconcile to the community schools where logistics and facilities are not available or not designed properly to suit to the decent learning environment . The regulatory framework to monitor private school is also very poor and ineffective. The government has promulgated a range of directives and instruments with a view to regulating the private schools and bringing them under the purview of the rules. In this context, mention should be made of the directives issued by the Department of Education in regard to vernacularisation (Nepalikaran) long back to the names of the private schools. Needless to mention, naming of the private schools has been carried out in an outlandish and brazen manner through counterfeiting the brands of the alien and non-Nepalese overseas institutes, schools and universities. Many of the Nepali private schools have donned the garb of the English schools in nomenclatures but not in substance. They have done this especially to hoodwink the guardians. However, many a times government has failed to enforce the provision to ensure that the private schools abide by and follow the rules and regulations. Why the rules and regulations are not enforced but flouted with impunity is a question raised time and again. This is the issue that could be answered only when we look at the state of political dynamics, tendencies and behaviour of political actors. In fact, state policy has been more or less influenced if not captured by the political elites representing different occupational and business interests. The private school lobby is strong both at the upper echelon of political parties and national legislatures that holds the clout to deter any moves that go to discipline them to better serve the larger public interests. Private schools are said to have acted as financier of the political activities and electoral campaigning. Today political party functionaries are using private schools in different roles oles and capacities as founders, operators, collaborators and colluders to extract resources to serve their own benefits and interests. Almost ten members of the incumbent national legislature (parliament) come from private school lobby and hold immense clout to block any move that are perceived to be detrimental to the interests of the private school. Nepal has allowed the private sector to capture the very hard-core of the national education where the public sector plays the second fiddle. Needless to say, even the liberal democratic countries like the US, Canada that are guided by the principle of liberal capitalism too have not allowed an unhindered space to the private sector in the core public sectors like education and health. But in a poor country like Nepal where public funding is vital to expand access of the citizens to education, private sector has occupied the major space making education expensive and inaccessible to the poor segment of the society. The pronouncement of the education minister in highlighting the role and contribution of the private sector in assuring quality education clearly shows that the government is in no position nor has the capacity or interest to regulate and scale down the growing clout of the private school operators. This raises doubt on the government commitment and willingness to implement the recommendation of the commission to strengthen public education sector in Nepal to pursue the egalitarian model of education as spelt out in the constitution of Nepal.
(Rijal, PhD, contributes regularly to TRN and writes on contemporary political, economic and governance issues. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)