KATHMANDU: Over the past two decades, the general Nepali public have realised the significance of education. With massive involvement of private sector in education, debate about the best way to provide quality education has also emerged. Following this, talks about new registrations of private schools being temporarily stalled was discussed sometime ago.
When comparisons are made between the private and public sector, private schools are unanimously preferred by parents and students alike, not only in urban but rural areas as well. Public schools are known for incompetence and bad service delivery. So, it is not only the richer segments of society who insist on sending their children to private schools, even the lowest earning population cut down on
basic necessities to send children to private institutions.
Number crunchingOver the years, the private sector has responded to this demand and as of 2010, there were 53,337 private schools as compared to 42,859 public schools. If the pass percentage in the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) is any indication of performance at all, the pass percentage of private schools was 82.9 per cent whereas the public schools stood at 36.4 per cent (Ministry of Education and Sports, 2005).
This data shows that public schools produce 36 students out of 100, who are qualified to venture into higher education or pursue some professional activities based on that level of education. However, it has been alleged that rather than focusing on overall skills
development of students, private schools are so obsessed with getting SLC results up that they train the students for SLC almost to a point of torture. Regulatory bodies of the government are supposed to ensure government schools increase quality and private schools do not push too hard to get the numbers up at the cost of practical skills.Basic necessityThere is no disagreement that education is a basic
necessity. However, disagreements arise when the discussion is about education as profit making venture. With the idea of ‘Education For All’ and ‘Right to Education’, the general concept is that public sector should take a lead in providing better education.
However, in Nepal’s context, when it comes to quality, the vote unanimously goes to the private sector. Following that, it is often argued that private schools may be better at providing quality education, but they are guided by profit motives. They do not reach people in rural Nepal, who also have a right to education.
Affordable optionsDr Anand Jha, in his article ‘Regulating private schools is policy gone wild’ writes, ‘Quality private education has become accessible to the masses. What was confined to Kathmandu Valley has now trickled down to Hetauda, Chitwan, Janakpur and Surkhet. Increasingly, more students from outside Kathmandu are attending colleges around the world that were accessible only to the elite of Nepal until a decade ago.’ Guided by profit motive, private schools have made quality education affordable to a larger mass. Pluck the profit away and public school education becomes the only choice.
Hence, the market and the profit motive have enabled delivery of education with plenty of choices, affordable quality and access. It might be a slower process compared to the government announcing plans, programmes and policies but considering the time taken to implement
them and taking inefficiency into account, the market option proves to be much better suited.
Government roleWhile the private sector plays an important role, ‘unhealthy competition’ suggests irregularities in service delivery such as institutions not providing promised services, unqualified teachers, creating barriers in switching schools, hidden charges and others. In such cases, the government should concentrate on regular monitoring. The way profit works in a marketplace is that customers give up their money to receive something they consider more valuable and both parties are involved in a voluntary transaction. For such transaction to be possible, customers should be able to make informed choices and receive services paid for. This is where the regulatory role
of the government comes in.
The legal provisions provide a role for the government, but implementation has been weak. Regular monitoring will help private schools become more accountable. Also the government can ensure competition, which is one of the reasons behind the success in the sector.
Established institutions might advocate for stopping new players, but the government should ensure that competition is maintained. However, caution should be taken to ensure that over-regulation does not make it difficult for entrepreneurs to get into this service sector.
(The author is a research officer at Samriddhi, The Prosperity Foundation and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org)