KATHMANDU: Over the past three decades, education has become one of the fastest growing industries in Nepal. Private educational institutions currently form 30 per cent of the count-ry’s total schools and command over 50 per cent share in higher level education sector. Although a major player in the service industry, it is often condemned for being selfishly business oriented while stakeholders point to the government and its ineffective regulations for the unpleasant scenario. “Private education has emerged as a powerful sector, yet it does not pay due taxes to the government,” alleges Bishnu Karki, an education expert.
“Students of private schools have to foot the bills of expansions besides their regular monthly fees, which is quite unethical,” says Karki. However, Baburam Pokhrel, president of Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation of Nepal (PABSON), argues that private institutions are in fact contributing a portion of their earnings to the state coffer. “Besides paying one per cent as social security tax, every private academic institution pays 25 per cent of its net income to the government,” he says.
Pokhrel also challenges the public outcry that private schools and colleges arbitrarily set monthly fees imposing various undue charges on students. He informs, “Before fixing a monthly fee, every institution submits a proposed fee structure to the concerned District Education Office (DEO) as required by the prevalent law, and this can be implemented only after the DEO’s approval.” He also adds that the law entitles private institutions to charge students for repair and maintenance, first aid facilities, and laboratory equipment besides the regular monthly fees. “But it’s true that private institutions can’t charge students for cons-truction work like building expansion. PABSON has issued a code of conduct to its members to abide by the rule,” says Pokhrel.
However, whether legal procedures and code of conduct are followed is highly questionable. Most educational institutions lack fully developed infra-structure such as library, playground, spacious classrooms and laboratories. On the other hand, due to lack of trained teachers, infrastructure and poor management, government institutions have remained infamous for dismal performance. In turn, private institutions kept on growing stronger. Private institutions outperform government institutions during the School Leaving Certificate examination or Higher Second-ary Education Board exam-inations. Therefore, though disenchanted with expensive charges, the public tend to enrol their children in private institutions.
Variance exists in the type of private institutions, especially schools. The country’s private schools are categorised as A, B, C and D by the concerned DEOs. The institutions surpassing the ‘A’ category are termed under special category. While institutions under the groups A to D should structure monthly fee under the law, those in special categories are under no obligation to set their fees and charges. In the current context, monthly tuition fee of private schools range from Rs 300 to Rs 40,000, depending on the category.
Operators of private institutions have their own set of grievances, starting with lack of government acknow-ledgement for their contribution to the education sector. “Our contribution is most visible in the results of the board exams, but our input is not credited,” laments Umesh Shrestha, president of Higher Secondary Schools Association Nepal (HISSAN) as well as founder principal of Little Angels’ School.
Meanwhile, Pokhrel admits of the presence of unhealthy practices among private institutions in their attempt to draw students. To stop this and impart quality education, Shrestha suggests that the government review the 1971 Education Act and form a separate one to govern private schools and tighten their monitoring and regulation. “Since a majority of private institutions lack basic infrastructure, they should go for a merger,” he opines.
Stressing on the need for an education policy with a clear vision followed by strong regulatory mechanism, Pokhrel asserts that it will not only curb existing malpractices but also transform the country into an educational hub.