Two sides to a storyPrivate and Institutional Schools Directive

2014-04-05

Binod Ghimire

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Three weeks after the government formally endorsed the Private and Institutional Schools Directive—with consent from all stakeholders—one of its signatories, the Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation of Nepal (PABSON) announced that it would not obey the guidelines unless amended as per its own recommendations.  


Their main objection is that the Ministry of Education (MoE)—the authority responsible for formulating the guidelines— ‘betrayed’ PABSON by failing to incorporate the concerns it had raised earlier on in the guideline development process. The reality though, is quite different from the claim. PABSON’s protest was not a compulsion brought about by the MoE’s alleged betrayal, but the result of immense pressure from ‘small’ schools—those that have less than 22 students in individual classrooms and are thus categorised as ‘D grade’. 


The new directive envisions a merger or complete shutdown of such schools, and if the government were to implement it, some 4,000 private schools across the country would be affected. “If the directive is implemented, it will severely affect the functioning of small schools like ours,” says the principal of one such school in Kathmadu, choosing to remain anonymous.  


Private schools have also expressed serious reservations on the new provision that limits the amount educational institutions can spend on advertising. A ceiling of Rs 500,000 has been fixed as the maximum sum any school can spend on publicity, and this dissenters say, will ultimately lead to a drop in the number of students who would have potentially atte-nded classes in their respective institutions. 


Of the 9,000 private schools in Nepal, around 50 percent are categorised as ‘small’ ones. The PABSON leadership was hence forced to bow under pressure and take into account the demands of small school operators. “The PABSON leadership endorsed the directive without consulting small school operators,” says the principal. “It only takes into account issues that serve the interests of big private schools.”


The directive, endorsed by the MoE on February 19, was formulated by a nine-member committee led by Tek Narayan Pandey, joint secretary at the Department of Education, with representation from PABSON, National PABSON, numerous guardian associations and education journalists. All stakeholders, including PABSON Chairperson Baburam Pokhrel, are signatories to the directive which was finalised after several rounds of discussions that lasted for four months. 


Pokhrel was forced to change his stance when his chairmanship came under mounting pressure from small school operators. A decision that PABSON had initially welcomed has become unacceptable. “The Education Ministry betrayed us by not including our concerns in the directives despite assurances that stated otherwise,” he said, speaking at a press meet on March 11. Pokhrel was compelled to announce that PABSON will not abide by the directives unless the MoE scraps a provision that makes it mandatory for private schools to have a minimum of 22 students in a single grade, with a minimum total of 115 students at the primary, 165 at the lower secondary and 220 at the secondary levels. Apart from objecting to over a dozen provisions in the directive, PABSON has also put forth a 39-point charter of demands. 


Although Pokhrel himself denies that the PABSON leadership changed tracks because of pressure from small schools, Umesh Shrestha, advisor to PABSON’s central committee clearly indicates that the decision came about as a result of immense pressure from such institutions. “PABSON district members are adamantly against the merger policy and say that mergers will not be sustainable,” said Shrestha, speaking at the March 11 press meet. He himself expressed support for the government’s plan to merge small schools.


Shrestha’s version of the story strongly indicates that PABSON’s protest against the government’s decision has come about as an attempt to satisfy small schools who are vehemently against the new directive. What the PABSON leadership has succeeded in doing with this protest is give an impression of being with smaller educational institutions. 


For an organisation that’s significantly dominated by big, financially powerful schools, this assertion comes only as a confusing gesture. On the one hand, the PABSON leadership is organising a full-fledged protest to please small school operators and on the other, it’s assuring the government support for the implementation of the directive. Joint secretary Pandey asserts that PABSON leaders had clearly said to them that “they’re committed to the directive”.

Source: The kathmandu post, published in March 22