In keeping with the old tradition, private and boarding schools in the Valley have issued notices for entrance examinations for the new academic session immediately after the end of final exams.
Only this time around they are violating a recently adopted government directive that bars them from charging excessive fees for entrance exam forms.
Defying the Private and Boarding School Directive 2013 issued by Ministry of Education (MoE), the education institutions affiliated to Private and Boarding School Association of Nepal (PABSON) are charging fees for entrance exam forms in an arbitrary manner.
The Department of Education (DoE), which had warned private schools on Wednesday to follow the directive, raided four private schools of Kathmandu and Lalitpur on Thursaday and found that they were violating the government directive by charging fees for entrance exam forms.
The Kathmandu-based Paragon Public School and Pathshala Nepal, Lalitpur-based Shuvatara School were found to be charging Rs 500 per admission form despite the legal cap on the admission fee at Rs 100 and for admission form at Rs 25.
Following the raid, the two capital-based schools have signed a written pledge to charge only valid amount and return the money to those who have paid higher fees.
But the District Education Officer of Lalitpur has also sought written clarification from the schools on why they ignored the government directive in the first place.
Earlier, Budhanilkantha School was found charging Rs 1000 per entrance form, but the school later reduced the amount to Rs 100 bowing to pressure from the guardians. The school also promised to return Rs 900 to the parents who had been charged excessively.
Though the government this time has shown willingness to act tough on the private schools, it is hard to implement the law at a time when the PABSON has openly said that it has no intention to accept the government order and the Supreme Court verdict. The association has instead called for amendments to the new directive to turn it in their favor.
PABSON, which was involved in writing the draft guideline, had participated in every discussion sessions organized by the MoE until the preparation of the final directive. But now, following the immense pressure from its district-based executive committees, the organization is taking a contradictory stand.
The directive states that schools with poor infrastructures and less than 22 students in each class would be forced to undergo a merger. If the directive gets implemented, around 4000 private schools face merger. The number represents 40 percent of the total schools in the country.
Similarly, the directive also includes provisions on earthquake sustainability of school buildings, playgrounds, practical labs and libraries. It also limits the weight of bags students carry depending upon their grade. Likewise, the standard distance the students commute for the Kathmandu Valley-based students and across the country has been set and the District Education Offices have been authorized to monitor the implementation.
PABSON chairman Baburam Pokhrel has also said that the association opposes the limitations on how much schools and colleges can spend on advertisements arguing that any organization registered with the Office of the Company Registrar is free to spend any amount it wishes on publicity.
"The government directive does not prioritize quality education,” he said. “The private sector needs at least five years to create the infrastructure that would conform to the guidelines.”
The nine member committee that drafted the law included the director of the Department of Education, representatives of the guardians, student leaders, journalists, PABSON and N-PABSON. The directive came into effect from February 19, after the Supreme Court verdict cleared the way for its implementation.
The government officials, meanwhile, have been cautioning PABSON and those private institutions of strict actions if they refused to fall in line.
“The parallel stand of PABSON will exist unless the government shows will power to scrap the registration of those schools which have set a wrong precedent by commercializing the social service,” says the chairman of the Guardian Association of Nepal Suprabhat Bhandari.
Valley private schools 10 times costlier than community schools
The combined expenditure of the government and guardian on the education of one student through grade 1 to 10 at a community school is estimated at around Rs 100,000. Whereas, anywhere from Rs 3,60,000 to Rs 10,00,000 has to be spent on a student for the same in a private institution in the Valley, says the guardian association chairman Bhandari. Most of the schools in the Valley charge Rs 2500 to Rs 4500 per month, whereas the high-profile schools charge Rs 7000 to Rs 20,000 every month.
Private school´s SLC results attracts students, guardians
The community schools saw just 36 percent pass outs in the SLC exams last year compared to the overall rate of 47 percent. Valley-based private schools record the highest number of pass outs each year.
Learning English is top most priority
The guardians feel that their wards can´t compete at international level if they do not learn English from early childhood. At the same time, many guardians feel that sending their children to private schools is a matter of pride, whereas they think friends and relatives will look down upon them if they sent them to community schools, shares the Lalitpur DEO Manakaji Shrestha.
Community schools less attractive
The government needs to come up with certain strategies to regain the lost faith in the community schools. The weakening community schools in the Valley have become worrisome with the number of students plunging to zero at some two dozen schools within the last two years.
Community schools, which form the backbone of the state promoted free education system, are losing students for various reasons with the lack of quality teachers due to political meddling in the appointments being the most serious.
According to data available at the District Education Office, Kathmandu, four schools have unofficially shut following lack of students interested in studying at those schools.
The capital has seen 10 school closures in two years including six closed in last academic year. Likewise, 50 primary schools with less than 20 students are also on the verge of closure, according to the Kathmandu District Education Officer Baikuntha Aryal.
He admits that that the student enrollment at the schools has declined due to the irregular presence of teachers as the schools become platforms for power plays by the various political parties,” Aryal added. Out of the total of 1,463 schools in the district, 1,167 are private and boarding schools and 296 are community schools.
The scenario is similar in Lalitpur where eight schools closed in Lalitpur during the last academic session whereas Bhaktapur saw the closure of six schools this academic session which is about to come to an end. Similarly, 34 community schools in the district have student enrollment of less than 30, including 14 schools which have 10 or less students. There are 337 schools in Bhaktapur, including 137 community schools.
The situation could worsen in the next few years if the government does not come up with an aggressive plan to improve the overall quality and structure of community schools so that they can attract students again.
According to Educationist Mana Wagle, the teachers are the most responsible for the failing of community schools.
“The government needs to appoint capable teachers who can apply new techniques of learning rather than hire people based on political affiliations if it wants to improve education in government schools,” he said.
Guardians protest PABSON´s decision to defy regulation
The Guardian Association of Nepal, which has been protesting against the private schools since the PABSON announced to defy the regulation, staged protest in front of the PABSON office on Friday. There is no doubt that the education quality will dramatically improve if the government succeeds in regulating the private.