At the time of writing, my neighbour's grandchildren have missed school for the fifth day. Instead of waking up early to pack their bags for school, they have been teasing dogs and encouraging them to battle each other in the alley, disrupting my morning snooze.
They had only been back to school for three days for the new academic session when the All Nepal National Independent Student Union Revolutionary (ANNISU-R) forced all private schools in the country to close. Almost five and a half million students will now remain at home indefinitely as ANNISU-R and the Private and Boarding Schools Organisation of Nepal (PABSON) spar over a 25 per cent increase in fees.
Private schools are registered as companies in Nepal and pay over 25 per cent tax on income, one fifth of which goes towards a fund to support government schools. The Maoist Party seems to recognise them as business entities, too. In 2009, then Finance Minister Baburam Bhattarai proposed taxing private schools an additional five percent so the government could reform the schools in its charge. "It is up to the schools to decide if they want to transfer [the cost] to parents. We don't interfere," he said.
If you recognise private schools as companies, and expect them to make a profit and pay taxes on that profit, why make a fuss when they restructure their service charges?
The Maoist students started their agitation a month after the decision to hike fees was made, without even looking for a negotiation. Were they simply looking to house their cadres in the closed schools before and during the planned May Day rally as Education Minister Sarbendra Nath Shukla alleged? As it turns out, over a dozen schools reported being asked to shelter out-of-town cadre on Wednesday (see picture).
If the private school system were an efficiently working market, then the consumer Ė the students' guardians Ė would have more control over how the schools structure their fees. The catfights between PABSON and ANNISU-R would have to be taken out of the classroom, and not lead to school closures, because the guardians would take their children elsewhere. However, this is not an efficiently working market. Like so many things in Nepal, consumer rights are undermined by political capture.
It is particularly distressing in the case of schooling because guardians deem education of their children so important (rightly) that they are prepared to be ridden over roughshod by both schools that charge them ridiculous fees for non-existent facilities and powerful political unions. In Kathmandu, the cost of educating a primary school student is, on average, Rs 11,844 per year (without the admissions fee) while the average annual income is Rs 45,900. A principal at a well-regarded private school says parents are willing to pay beyond their means to ensure their children get what they consider is a good education.
The problem with the current system is that the guardians have no rights or bargaining power. No political party will come to their aid and risk being vilified as elitist when extra taxes get whacked onto private schools, or when they are fleeced with extra charges. What is needed is to secure consumer rights and improve their bargaining power. Regulation is only the means to the end of helping the real consumers, rather than politically affiliated student unions. Apolitical bargaining needs to be mobilised, too, so politics doesn't hold the future of children hostage.
Ultimately, the debate should shift to whether education should be a profit-making industry. In many countries, educational institutions are given charity status and therefore are tax exempt. You cannot be penalised for seeking an education. It is a need, not a luxury. It should be treated as such.
READ ALSO: They're here - FROM ISSUE #500 (30 APRIL 2010 - 06 MAY 2010)
It's all about extortion. Nothing to do with education or business or whatever.
30 APRIL 2010 | 1:13 PM NST
The Maoist are the worst thing that happened to Nepal.
30 APRIL 2010 | 1:33 PM NST
A good policy of education starts from the right to education of a child which prevail over anything. I don't mean that other things like a well regularised market is not important but first comes the right to education. This is of utmost shame that the so called revolutionaries live on conflict and not present the society a solution to it. Perhpas it is on their interest to go feeding their cracked politics with the conflict of the society. The maoists are simply a feed-forward back kind of ideology. Nothing more than that by the day.
After 1990, it became a dream of the parents to have their children getting better education, which the mushrooming boarding english schools promised to facilitate. Today, not all guardians want their children there because their pockets allow them but simply because they want it for the future of their children who will take care of them in their elder age. The right to education of a child has been subjected to the pockets of the parents(discounting the bloody bastards who, due to their banda and hadtaals, make the children of my home sit idle at home when they should be at their schools learning at this stage).
Solution: Why don't these educational institutes, which are autonomus bodies in democratic societies, chart a course where the right to education of a child and the pockets of their parents are taken into great consideration?
30 APRIL 2010 | 1:44 PM NST
4. Dr B
At the root of this particular problem is the universal cause in Nepal of successive weak, uncaring, corrupt governments who do NOTHING to protect the rights of individuals, businesses and institutions from "attack and manipulation" in all their guises. Whether it's businesses being targeted for donations, roads being blocked, parliament being blockaded, schools being closed it is always the citizen whose rights have been violated that suffers.
There is only one solution.
30 APRIL 2010 | 4:19 PM NST
The strike has already been successful and the fee hike withdrawn.
So much for evil Maoists harming innocent students and their guardians!
Will we see an article next week congratulating the ANNISU-R for proving the writer wrong?
The only way most Nepalese could get an education is when government takes responsibility for free, universal and compulsory primary and secondary education as in other countries.That is what the Maoists are fighting for. (Developed countries are now moving towards universal higher education, having achieved free, universal and compulsory primary and secondary education long ago).
This requires a tax system so naturally rich people prefer private schools (and poor people who understand the importance of education have to pay fees too, while the children of other poor people who don't understand or simply cannot afford it miss out and produce another generation of uneducated poor people).
Private schools cannot solve the problem of education in Nepal.
30 APRIL 2010 | 12:30 AM NST
Let me finish Dr B's posting...The only solution is elimination of Maoist leadership.
01 MAY 2010 | 5:45 AM NST
It depends on what success means for you. You guys love conflict and not a durable solution.
01 MAY 2010 | 1:06 PM NST
8. Kamal Kishor
Is there any doubt that Revolutionary's strike was successful as the hike was canceled and a govt body asked to look into it. Yes.
No doubt about it. And this is the crux of the situation. The educational institutions are not run by educationist but by profit mongering. They are now at par with hospitals where profits come first and service comes second. The whole scenario with its outlook and consequences changed.
I believe that education and health are the fundamental rights of a citizen, world around. It is the responsibility of the government to insure that a favorable environment exits for that to be achieved. Political parties are there to insure that the government as well as civil society and concerned institutions are playing constructive roles and monitoring and evaluating properly so that a citizen is not cheated.
Is this hapenning in Nepal? No. The Maoists needed schools during this time and so they closed. What was achieved? Maoist claim success but actually nothing. The fees will be hiked again with their consent as happened before. It all depends upon what is the price tag. Are government, civil society and political parties playing any constructive roles? No. They prefer to remain passive. It is not in their agenda at all. Most of the schools are any way aligned with this or that political parties and leaders and profiting on personal levels.
What is the problem? Criminalization of education system. Common sense does not prevail. Schools have become battleground for profits and business. It is no more service providers.¬† Extortion and threats are the rules of implementing laws. Gang anarchism prevails. We the people, are silently watching our rights taken away by thugs.
01 MAY 2010 | 12:01 AM NST
9. Dr B
Sorry, wrong solution.
02 MAY 2010 | 3:32 PM NST
I did not have much interest in this article until I noticed some very interesting numbers here. I am not even sure you are right, are 5.5 million (that is 19% (18.97) people of the country at 29 Million) children studying in private schools with (I know) extortionate fees? Are you entirely sure that the average is Rs 11844? Because this implies that the numbers above the average are greater than the ones below. Even if we were to actually cut down the fee to Rs 9000 as average, then we are talking about a whopping Rs 49.5 billion in money generated, just to get a sense of how much that money is, I had to look at the numbers twice.
That is also a lot of tax generated, the fact that it then goes to government coffers and then is "utilized" to improve government schools means that there is a lot of wastage. How about letting government schools have that money directly, let's say in remote and less developed districts like Humla. Or, maybe cut the cost of books for children by buying that from publishers and letting children from less privileged areas have it at lower cost. Implementing all of this (and more) will require some innovative thinking which really is not what Nepal is apparently all about.
Secondly, if private schools are treated as businesses, isn't there any regulation about collusion or price fixing? I don't think businesses are allowed to do this kind of collective pricing. Knowing that they are a business, and that there are bound to be some laws against collusion, why is nobody trying to settle that sort of an issue in court?
Thirdly, no market in the world is efficient, (the west and the economics profession just figured that out in the stock markets after losing several billions) and consumers don't make unions (that is why no toothpaste or soft-drinks consumer union), instead there are interest groups which would represent aggrieved parties against what is seen as unfair behavior. No, they are not the mafia syndicate, they are called courts and the agents are lawyers. The guardians could also set up an interest group where they could devote some time to finding solutions for education. (please don't get cynical with this)
Fourthly, education as a need (and often with ineffective governments a fundamental right) is recognised everywhere in the world. Yet, schools fail, education policies in most developed and developing countries are in tatters. Scandinavians benefit from super stability and extremely large government coffers, but what makes their schooling good is a combination of effective monitoring, parent participation and stringent regulation. All of that requires some effort, who is making it?
Fifth, has anybody wondered why parents have to send their children to private schools? I think it is partly because of lack of awareness and also because common sense is dying. Evidence, collected all over the world, clearly suggests that more than schools it is the home environment which determines whether a child makes it in life or not.
Maybe that is the reason why I sympathise with Indu, even my neighbours kids like to tease dogs, one of them got bit. There is a lesson in that somewhere, but I forget what.
02 MAY 2010 | 6:52 PM NST
11. K. K. Sharma
No problem. The message of this process is simply the following.
Send your children to private schools in India. Costly or otherwise.... Nepal should not develope private educational sector.¬†
02 MAY 2010 | 1:52 AM NST
All of us, including me, like to rant...whether something gets done about it, is¬†another matter...but, never the less,¬† let me put my points of view down.
First, I wonder how many of us here,¬†author and commentators, are not products of private schools in Nepal? Second, why did our parent's enroll us to these school despite whatever the fees structure?
Answer is good education of course.
I don't disagree¬†with any points made in the previous comments, but I truly believe this (and other things in Nepal) are just unnecesarily created chaos. Simply because someone saw a profit to be made from the chaos. To hell with everything else.
Where were the private and public schools say 15 -20 years ago? Same and¬†actually in a better place than they are now. Wasn't it this warfare and 'propaganda' education that completely destroyed whatever public school sector there was? Weren't these schools rampaged, burnt, closed, children converted, teachers murdered, educational text converted to teach Maoism ?!!¬† and now the solution is to padlock whatever schools are left?¬†I could go on a bit more about how bad it was to cultivate a political seed of your freaking belief into an innocent¬†child's head without letting the child make a choice about it in the future, but I'll save that topic for another day.
Why don't they work on creating a correct and effective solution? Raise the level of education in public schools to such a level that parents have a¬†CHOICE when deciding their child's future. Wouldn't the private sector have to come down in pricing to 'compete', at that point?
¬†As I recall,¬†these committes like PABSON etc were made by these private sector educationists to safeguard their interests many year ago, when private schools were being shut, extorted etc by you know who. One way to see it is that the private education sector has to 'give in' to demands, and I am sure lots of money exhanges hands in the background. Wouldn't that be one reason to hike up fees? After all the losses have to balanced somehow. So who is to blame? the money giver or the money taker? I think it boils down to the 'create chaos and profit' theory I mention above.
If this ANNISU-R outfit was so caring towards the cause of education, why not put an indefinite strike¬†to counter the¬†May 1st strike? After all, a political (really?) party's egoistic shenanigan to grab power is deferring thousands of students from taking their Higher Secondary exams no? Isn't that an important matter? Supposedly not, what matters is 'finish the process of constitution writing and restoration of peace a.k.a¬†my turn to be¬†the prime minister now'.
Now that I am ranting, I must conclude by saying that Nepal's fast become a place of less work and more comittees, can't take a bold decision and do something? make a comittee. Defer the decision, keep going back and forth, create unneeded unions, groups, parties , affiliations, activists and more groups and unions..whose sole mission seems to be 'do nothing, just think how we can profit from the situation'...starting right at the top with the High Level something freaking comittee of ineffecient leaders whom we keep reading about every now and then, and whom we keep allowing to mismanage our country.
02 MAY 2010 | 3:45 AM NST
There was a time when the Ranas and Purohits sent their kids to "Durbar" high school. Today, it's been replaced by Rato "Bangalow". So what's new? One Durbar replaces another Durbar. The picture is hideous.
03 MAY 2010 | 9:15 AM NST
Thanks wtf, that's clear and straight, simple and easy, good stuff. I am from a Gov (PB) School by the way, I turned out alright.¬†¬†
# 11 - Thank you, but I was driving at something much simpler. I think the responsibility of a child's welfare rests on parents who don't really pay as much attention as they need to. If this one bit is sorted, we would have a better country to live in with politer (and brainier??) people in it.
By the way, I checked and the fee in one of the lower end schools in my home town is Rs 1,000 (Rs 7500 admission fee), steep for the town. But the school I went to no longer is what it used to be. It has become a place of politics. And, the college, the less said the better.
03 MAY 2010 | 9:04 PM NST
15. K. K. Sharma
Why wrangle on this. Just send the children to private schools in India. Parents know their purse, and will send their children where they will like.
Then no hassel, no wrangling. Prevent private educational institutions form developing. Then there will be no one envious of ¬†either the private institutions earning money [ depends on supply and demand ] or envious of parents who are capable of spending money in India.¬†
Those envious of others who are capable of spending and earning money, will be satisfied. No need for them to justify their envy. Simple..
04 MAY 2010 | 2:15 PM NST
16. pravasi nepali
All now; nepal needs is a big natural calamity like chile,haiti; everything will faltten down. Then only the gauless will go back to their villages. Why don't they understand that farmers as well as engg. play imp role in national economy. The economy is on brink of collapse; what do these people think. They will continue dancing drunk on the streets of capital; not doing work themselves and not letting others work too; how will the essentials from in and outside country come. Chinese and indians wont come with masu bhat in plate to feed you.So, live and let live. They are just being used as pawns by prachande, baburame, hisila kichkandi,etc. Once they get power; all will be forgotten.
And how can maoists be so stupid. Their leaders' children study and work in west;earning in dollars and living lavishly on wealth looted by kiiling nirdosh juntaa; and they are playing with nepali bucchabucchi's career by blowing schools; tearing exam papers; etc.
And kewal political parties and king aren;t liable to non-kathmanduites' plight on their lack of cvil amenities. Didn't maoists blow up powerhouses;kill innocent rural teachers and nurses;kidnap businessmen;blast health centres that were existing.
Hey bhawan; india,china,uk,usa lai bhannuss ki one of them comes and annexes nepal and kill all these thugs.
05 MAY 2010 | 12:46 PM NST
An institution where students come to learn the very quintessence of life ought to have been left way out from adult's wrangling. But our Maoists leave no stone unturned to dilapidate the proud legacy of groundbreaking foundation of Nepal's future elite as the taliban in Afghanistan are doing.
We have had the possibility to commence a new era of educational system with the special assistance of the likes of Finnish government, which is effectively known as the best system in comparison with ¬†all other countries, after a due adaptation according to our mores and time dispatching meant for the rural farming life.
But our take on ethnicity so dear to Maoists would burn that to the ground as no adequate infrastructure to such aspirations will be possible while we are playing the hide and seek drama on the streets of our capital and other grown up towns. ¬†
So only alternative left for those who can afford is to making a beeline for the USA, Britain or Indian schools.¬†
Another dark point to stain the reputation of Nepal as a failed state.
05 MAY 2010 | 4:43 PM NST
probably the only article where everyone seems to be on the same wavelength opinion wise? thats good to know actually, at least we care about the upcoming generation and their education.¬†The tragedy is, these comments are rants can be applied to any article in this publication (or elsewhere), and they'll hold true, such is the state of things... the only time I get an opportunity to commend¬† positively is when there is a rare¬†article here and there about good individuals doing their bits in their little communities. Only if our leaders could learn.