Nepali Times Asian Paints
Nation
A classless society


HEMLATA RAI


Half a million children from more than 4,000 schools in the capital are bearing the brunt of adult politics. And it is not just ordinary politics. It is the demonstration of raw and violent power: close down, or else we bomb your school.

It has become fairly clear by now that the indefinite valley-wide school strike that began on Monday is not so much about reforming education as furthering the Maoist revolution by bringing the disruptions and hardships to the capital. And the method used is terrorising children and parents, so that the schools are forced to close.

To be sure, the education sector seriously needs reforms. Schools in Nepal reflect gross inequities in society: high levels of illiteracy, disparities between expensive private institutions and deprived government schools. So, education threatens to perpetuate the rich-poor gap.

The Maoists are exploiting this disparity with their 13-point demand which includes nationalisation of private schools, free education, admission for underprivileged, scrapping Sanskrit and the national anthem.

The government tried to defuse the strike ultimatum by meeting some of these demands with its own education reform package of 6 December, which the pro-Maoist All Nepal Free Student Union (Revolutionary) rejected. There is now a new non-education demand: lift the "terrorist" tag. The government says give up violence first.

"There is a possibility that the Maoists are using school closures as a tactic to ensure young people entering their struggle," suggests rights activist Krishna Pahadi. A recent Nepal country profile by the International Coalition to Stop the Use of Child Soldiers showed that a third of Maoist militants are underage children, many of them school drop-outs. The Maoist leadership, from the very beginning of the "people's war", had identified students as the "reserve force" in a future "mass uprising".

The main worry for children, parents and teachers is what will happen to this year's SLC exams, due next month. At a time when tenth-graders should be preparing for their tests, schools are closed. "This year, the SLC results will be even bleaker," cautions educationist Hridaya Ratna Bajracharya. Every year, at least six in every ten young Nepalis fail their high school exams, and only 17 percent of the students from government schools pass their SLC. Some rural government schools have a zero pass rate.

The private school association, PABSON says the idea should be to improve government schools, not punish the ones that have good results. But as the strike enters its second week, children are staying home or playing in the streets. Given the rigid positions on both sides, this "class war" is likely to drag on.


LATEST ISSUE
638
(11 JAN 2013 - 17 JAN 2013)


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