Having spent more than three decades in education sector, Dr. BABURAM POKHAREL, founder of VS Niketan Higher Secondary School, has been recently elected the president of Private and Boarding Schools Organizations of Nepal (PABSON). At a time when private and boarding schools in Nepal have been facing several problems, Pokharel spoke to NEW SPOTLIGHT on various issues. Excerpts:
Despite their contributions to provide education to a large number of students, private and boarding schools have been living in constant physical threat and extortion from various groups and threat of the government. How do you explain the present state?
Private and boarding schools have been providing education to one third of the total students. It is very sad to say that private and boarding schools continue to live under the cloud of uncertainty. For instance, a bomb was planted in front of a boarding school in Balaju for declining to pay ransom. Similarly, an unknown group lit a fire in a private school in Baglung recently. Private and Boarding schools are under constant threat.
Do you mean private and boarding schools continue to live in fear?
Yes. Private and boarding schools seem to be the milking cows for everyone. We are tired of dealing with student unions of various political parties, their sister organizations, employees’ unions and underground outfits. Everyone comes with a letter for donations. If we decline donations, they can physically harm the schools and even founder.
What about the government. Does it not protect you?
Don’t talk about protections. The government is there as a more sinister factor. Other groups do things in an illegal way, but the government destabilizes us through a legal way. The work of every education minister seems to destabilize the institution of education. Whenever a new minister takes charge of the Ministry of Education, he starts his work issuing a threat to private schools over different issues, including fee structures, physical infrastructure and employee salary etc. Now the Ministry of Education is asking us to change the name of schools which are in English. This is another sheer nonsense. Instead of talking about the quality of education offered by private and boarding schools, the ministry is concerned about foreign names. If the minister wants Nepalisation of the name, he must start by changing the name of his own party.
As the government has recently announced that it is going to formulate the new education policy, have the private and boarding schools been invited in the discussions?
It is unfortunate that the government has never recognized our contribution. Had they recognized it, our situation would not have been like what it is in the present. The government changes policy and laws as per its whims. Despite our opposition, the government asked us to register as a private company a few years ago. Now the government is saying that schools cannot be like companies and they must register as service oriented institutions. Similarly, the government registered +2 education institutions, but now they are saying that the government will make the high school education up to +2. They have rarely considered what will be the state of hundreds of private +2 colleges. Recently, the government even signed an agreement with the teachers association to increase the salary of the teachers without consulting us. Who will pay the increment in salaries for the teachers in private schools. When we tried to raise the fees to meet the requirements, the government opposed it.
What are the implications of the destabilization of private and boarding schools?
The first impact is in the quality of education. After the opening of private boarding schools, Nepalese parents virtually stopped sending their children to neighboring schools and parents were satisfied sending their children in private boarding schools here. It saved billions of rupees going out of the country. As education system is destabilized and uncertainty will prevail. Parents are beginning to send their children to the neighboring countries again. Various schools from our neighboring countries are organizing marketing campaign every week in star hotels. You can see the advertisements from schools of various cities of India and abroad. If the process of destabilization continues, more students will leave Nepal and Nepal will be seeing the flight of billions of rupees for education.
How do you compare private boarding schools and government community schools?
Despite spending over 62 billion rupees annually and feeding on the government coffers, community schools have failed to provide quality education.Their pass percentage in SLC is just over 16 percent. So far private boarding schools are concerned, their results is almost over 90 percent.
What is the state of private boarding school in the country?
There are 9,000 private boarding schools with 1.5 million children’s enrolment as against 29000 public schools with 6.6 million students. The private sector is annually saving over 16 billion rupees of government coffer by providing employment to tens of thousands of people.
What plans do you have to increase the share of private boarding schools in policy level?
We want our share in all policy level bodies, including education reforms task force. Now, we cannot remain silent as in the past. We want recognition of our contribution from the government. We want our representation in all policy level committees. Our demand is a separate education policy and act for private and boarding schools. We want strong regulatory mechanism, but the government also needs to recognize our contribution. The government rarely consulted us on +2 education, university umbrella act. The government is taking all decisions unilaterally. This is the reason there is always confusion in education policies. We are opposing all unilateral matters. As stakeholders, we want our representation in all policy level issues. We are talking about public private partnership. We also want to support the schools in remote parts of Nepal. Unfortunately, the government is yet to listen to us on this. We want our voices to be recorded in the new constitution, new act and new regulations.