Robust leadership can transform challenges into opportunities- Tika Ram Puri

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Tika Ram Puri is the President of Central Executive Committee of PABSON who believes that the contributions of private schools to the impartation of quality education for preparing skilled human resources are highly commendable. The role that every private institution is playing is worthy of veneration.

Mr. Puri shares his perspectives on the harsh effects of the Covid-19 pandemic and its devastating aftermath. Despite insurmountable predicaments, the PABSON took a leading role in easing the teaching and learning activities via virtual platforms from the first phase of Covid-19 pandemic. Since Mr. Puri is fully confident that institutional collaboration and teamwork play a pivotal role in strengthening the reciprocal relationship among the institutions, his effective leadership role has established an amicable camaraderie among the PABSON member schools in making the PABSON a strong organization to deal with the rights of institutional schools in Nepal.

Mr. Puri has shared his views on hardships and setbacks that each private institution had to endure during the pandemic crises and the steadfast determination of the PABSON and its members to endure the excruciation of discriminatory policies of the government. Excerpts:

Could you share with us your journey to academic excellence and your role as the President of the Central PABSON?

I came to know about PABSON in 2050 BS. I was just an observer of the PABSON Conference in Biratnagar in 2051 BS. Our partner Dhruba Subedi had represented our school in the conference of the PABSON. In those days, the organization was neither organized nor was it systematically managed and operated. Truly speaking, individual schools used to perform all the executive, legislative and judicial functions by themselves. Most of them had individualistic performances and were not familiar with team-work and organizational hierarchy. Thus, the individual outlook used to reflect in the PABSON too.

I started participating actively in the PABSON functions only after 2054 BS as an executive member of district working committee. Witnessing all the activities of the members during my two years of tenure as a member, I took a strong commitment to bring the organization to the right track. I was elected the secretary in the district executive committee in 2056 BS. Since I believe in coordination and teamwork, I coordinated well with the team and entire member schools that resulted in making the PABSON a strong organization to deal with the rights of institutional schools.

During that time, the country was in political turmoil and suffered severe Maoist insurgency. Private schools were struggling to survive. It was really a critical condition for the existence of institutional schools; however, I boosted the morale of those moribund schools and established a strong bond among the schools. Due to my cooperative nature and effective performance, I was elected the secretary in 2058 BS for second time. The insurgency was on the verge of cruelty. In such conditions, I worked with high morale and strengths by appealing the public for assistance and back up. As I had accomplished effective role during the leadership of Student Union, my recognition was widespread in the society. So, the civil society and the public extended their cooperation to consolidate with private (institutional) schools.

The People’s Movement-II (2062-63 BS) was organized in the country to revitalize people’s rights and prosperity. I released a notice for all the private schools to participate in the People’s Movement for the achievement of democracy and emancipation. All the schools cooperated with my steps and participated in the People’s Movement, which mounted my fame. So, I was elected the President of District PABSON (Morang) in 2064 BS. Subsequently, I coordinated with the government offices, such as district police office, district education office, district administrative office and so on. Then we were able to introduce the PABSON as an inseparable organ of educational anatomy. We laid the foundational stone in order to rectify the identification of PABSON as the stakeholder of education of the country by participating in various activities of society and the government. Later, our representation was ensured in district education committee, child welfare committee, district exam committee and so on. The practice of giving authenticity for SLC center to private schools and the appointment of superintendent from private schools are some of the examples we set in the changing paradigm of the nation’s academic sphere.

We also initiated developing games, sports, teacher training and interschool competitions and proved that the PABSON is the pioneering organization for educational programs across the nation. Due to my effective role, I was awarded the best President among the district PABSON presidents by the Central Committee of PABSON which was headed by the then President Mr. Umesh Shrestha.

The tenth National Convention of PABSON was held in Bhairahawa in 2066 BS, and I was elected the Vice-president of the Central Committee of PABSON from the eastern development region. No sooner had I been elected the Vice-president than I made a target to enter the national network of PABSON. We brought about very significant reforms in PABSON and endorsed many regulatory Acts and the Constitution of the PABSON. In addition, we made the provision of establishing regional committee of PABSON which is overlooked by the vice-president.

The eleventh National Convention of PABSON was held in GEMS in which I was elected the national Vice-president. The committee was headed by late Dr. Baburam Pokhrael. I think I managed to play a significant and co-coordinating role in Ministry of Education as a representative of PABSON in order to bring about reformations and establishment of a system in the private education sector. However, at the 12th National Convention, I couldn’t be elected the senior vice president and thus remained out of committee for three years. Similarly, I was defeated by Mr. Bijay Sambhamphe at the 13th National Convention in the presidential post but was nominated as an advisor.

Subsequently, I paid visits to different schools of the various districts, district executive conferences and provincial conferences. The voices were raised, and moral pressure was created upon me to be the president of the Central PABSON to negotiate with the government in the policy making level regarding education and private education.

The government formed a 27-member high level national education commission for preparing national education policy with the full authority, but the representation of institutional schools was excluded. The commission consisted of most members who were guided by anti-private schools’ sentiments and prepared anti-private education policy which was a strenuous challenge for the existence of private educational institutions. Most of the investors of private schools were in humiliation and embarrassment that resulted in security threats to their investment in private institutions. I took the leading role and had a one-to-one dialogue with the then Prime Minister, KP Sharma Oli regarding the issue of private schools and the discriminatory policies prepared by the Commission. The Prime Minister promised us to have a discussion on the issue and to give appropriate solution. The PABSON was still in a deadlock for a decade, and the government was also unaware of the sufferings of the private schools across the nation. The policy of the government was discriminatory and suppressive towards private educational institutions. As a result, strong voices were raised from everywhere showing the need of my leadership in the PABSON, and thus elected the President at the 14th national Convention of PABSON. I am confident that I have been able to bring remarkable achievements in terms of ending discriminatory and suppressive policies imposed upon private schools in Nepal.

Could you tell us about the main objective of establishing the PABSON at that time?  

After the success of the Mass Movement-I, democracy was restored in 2046 BS in Nepal and the Constitution of the Kingdom of Nepal-2047 was promulgated.  Subsequently, many schools were established in various parts of the country in private investments. The Constitution had ensured the right to form an organization along with other democratic rights. Due to this provision, our seniors established the PABSON in 2047 BS with the two main objectives:

  1. To ensure all the private–led institutional schools run smoothly with the assurance of owners’ investments.
  2. To contribute to the development and quality enhancement of education from the combined efforts of the private sector.

The organizational impacts made lasting impacts on the private institutions of several districts, such as Kathmandu, Lalitpur; Bhaktapur, Morang, Sunsari, Jhapa, Chitwan, Kaski,Banke, Kailali etc. Currently, the PABSON is working purposefully as the guardian of private-funded institutions across the nation.

The PABSON was established with the objectives of ensuring security of the investment and contributing to the development and enhancement of the benchmarks of quality education in the nation. To what extent, do you think that the PABSON is carrying the motives of its objectives?  

The PABSON has been unquestionably following the spirit of the objectives of its establishment. The National Education System Plan-2028 BS nationalized all the schools but could not upgrade the quality of education. The government schools could not deliver quality and time demanded education; as a result, many students, particularly from the families having high economic status, compelled to leave the country in pursuit of quality education in foreign lands. A large number of students from Nepal had to go to different parts of India, such as Darjeeling, Sikkim, Nainital, Kumau, Gadwal, New Delhi, and other south Asian countries in search of quality education.

Now, most institutional schools have proved themselves to be trustworthy academic institutions for imparting international standard quality education at local level. Due to such a provision, the number of students going abroad for higher education has tremendously dwindled. So, the PABSON and its member schools have played a significant role in controlling the outflow of huge amount of money in foreign universities and campuses. In fact, institutional schools are far better than community schools in terms of quality education assurance and availability of modern teaching mechanisms. Community schools are just following the technology and approaches used in institutional schools. Hence, I am sure that PABSON is fully successful in accomplishing the objectives of its establishment.

You have asserted that the PABSON was established to ensure the investment security of private institution owners and to contribute to the national education system. What challenges did you have to endure in the incipient days of the formation of the PABSON?

There were many challenges concerning private schools, and one of the challenges was to bring them under the effective stewardship of the PABSON. Similarly, there was another challenge for private institutions to get recognition for their existence and ensure the security of their investment. The PABSON endeavored to amplify the trodden voices of private schools and intensified the moral pressure on the government for the assurance of security of private investors. In fact, collective voices are addressed in democracy. So, with our long struggle and tireless efforts, private schools got a legal recognition as well as assurance of ownership and security of their investment. However, there are a few factors that do not ensure the guarantee of private institutions like political turmoil, instability of government and sluggish pace of development. The government is often changed, and the education policies are influenced with the change of the government. Moreover, various natural calamities, such as earthquakes, pandemics etc. have been hard-hitting to private institutions. So, the PABSON is working on addressing the problems and uncertainty created due to the political upheavals and natural hazards. 

What remarkable reforms have you made following your appointment as the President?

My candidacy has become a breakthrough in the leadership level of PABSON since all the previous presidents were from the Kathmandu valley only, but when I was elected the President, the PABSON was able to change the anti-private government education policy. Prior to this, the Commission had made a provision of not admitting the children of government schoolteachers and civil service to private schools. Scholarship was not provided to students completing SLC from private schools and many more. I strongly debated with the government; as a result, the PABSON was able to eliminate the disparities exercised by the government and equality was ensured in national education policy. It was the first and great achievement for us all.

Similarly, my leadership was successful in activating all the private schools and bringing them under the umbrella organization of PABSON by preparing regulatory act and Constitution of PABSON and giving existential support to those moribund schools, which was another phenomenal achievement. Similarly, our team could ensure the security of investment in institutional schools and boosted the morale of investors, which is the third achievement. Another significant achievement is related to physical development of the Central PABSON.

The PABSON was established in 2047 BS.  Many district executive committees had their own building but PABSON committee was being operated in a rented building. In such a condition, it was inevitable to construct a separate building for the Central PABSON. So, we purchased 14 anas of land and constructed 3 and a half storied building in Tinkune which is the heart of Kathmandu city.

The PABSON had organized a conference at Hotel Hyatt on 9th and 10th Magh 2076 BS which reinforced the education policy comprising skills, technology and ethics. No sooner had we started strengthening the life-changing skills in our education frameworks than the Covid-19 pandemic spread worldwide, and Nepal couldn’t be its exception. So, the government imposed a nationwide lockdown from Chaitra 2076 BS and lifted the restrictions only in Poush 2077 BS, but the restrictions on academic operation reinstated from Baisakh 2078 until Bhadra 2078 BS. We are not totally free from indirect lockdown and restrictions. In this regard, we have not been able to complete our pre-scheduled tasks amid uncertainty. In spite of such terrifying situations, we were able to boost the morale of private schools and their investors with an initiation of alternative way of teaching and learning activities virtually. The government was strongly against our steps but gradually our initiation was appreciated. Moreover, each private school had to pay one percent education tax, but we were able to convince the government to amend the policy during my leadership.

Your leadership was able to construct a separate building of the Central PABSON. How was it possible for managing such a huge fund?

The total cost of our building was around 110.1 million Nepalese rupees. Funds were collected from the member schools and the selling of the previous properties of the PABSON. We also asked the district PABSON to recommend any financially wrenched schools to us for any sorts of help. We would certainly help them revive their academic activities with our available resources. So, it is not compulsion but moral responsibility of the member schools. Previously, the PABSON had purchased 25 Annas of land in Khumaltar during the time of Rajesh Khadka as President. But we had drawn a huge loan to launch a book project by keeping the land as a collateral in a bank. So, we had to sell the land and manage some funds from the PABSON member schools and district level PABSON offices.

To what extent have you completed your commitment which you made at the time of your presidential candidacy?

At the time of the presidential election, I had committed to securing the investment of private school investors and eliminate all types of discriminatory policies owing to private institutions which, I believe, is one of my great successes. However, due to political instability and disturbances in the Legislature the Education Act has not been endorsed yet. In addition, the case that was filed 10 years back against the 45 percent reservation seat in higher education only for the students from government schools is still languishing in the Supreme Court because of their internal disputes. I am hopeful that the Supreme Court will give the judicious verdict in our favor soon.

Similarly, we are intending to develop the existing status of Nepalese education and link it with life-enhancing skills, technology and high ethical standards by following the good trends of developed countries, such as Norway, Finland, Denmark, South Korea and Japan and are willing to make a visit to these countries. Similarly, we have not been able to extend international relations of PABSON to foreign institutions due to the unprecedented pandemic crises.

How should the further education be according to the concept of PABSON?

We are fully committed to imparting quality education. In our concept, education is linked with skills, technology and ethics which are considered to be quality benchmarks. In other words, proactive education with ethics can be defined as quality education. We (private schools) and the umbrella organization (PABSON) are fully committed to bringing a drastic change in the Nepalese education sector and enhancing the quality of education we deliver by coordinating with the federal, provincial and local governments. Our dream is to make Nepal a hub of world-class education even for foreign students.

Due to the rampant pandemic impacts, education impartation is in mess which resulted in permanent closure of many schools. In such a condition, what efforts has the PABSON made to resolve such anomalies?

In the first phase of Covid-19 pandemic, education sector was in deadlock. The government had no clear vision and policy to unlock the deadlock by introducing an alternative way of teaching and learning activities. Amid such predicaments, the PABSON Central Committee made a bold decision on conducting virtual classes with a view of not wasting one academic year in limbo and thus released a press statement, but sadly we were criticized and mocked; nevertheless, we did not show any concerns about such unwanted rumors and initiated the online teaching and learning activities via local and national level radio and television and later used globally accepted services of Zoom, MS Teams etc. Even the government treated us unpleasantly, but our aim never let us stop our progressive step. As a result, we launched online classes with huge participation of most schools, teachers and students. Our appeal to parents to pay monthly tuition fees was strongly criticized from the public and the government. Subsequently, when the online classes were proved to be effective, the government gradually became positive, and the local government permitted us to collect tuition fees from the parents. Eventually, our approaches were followed by most community schools as well.

During the pandemic, private schools were facing massive financial crises. We made several talks with the government, particularly with the Prime Minister and the Finance Minister. So, the government compelled us to address the issue through monetary policy, and we introduced the provision of facilitating schools with a loan at an affordable interest rate which had borrowed a bank loan of more than 20 crore. Similarly, the Central PABSON signed an MOU with Mega bank and Prime Commercial Bank for giving a minimum of one crore loan to affected schools at reasonable interest rate and lobbied with the central bank for providing a loan to the pandemic-affected schools according to their loan policy.

Moreover, the Central PABSON took an initiative of developing ICT and laid the cornerstone to make teachers fully updated, familiar and efficient enough in ICT for delivering techno-friendly education. The technology proved to be an effective alternative to continue teaching and learning activities smoothly during the pandemic. We have estimated that some schools with a low number of students cannot exist in the coming session. So, we have advised them to embark on a merger process for their sustainability.

What is the further plan of PABSON to address the issue of the pandemic?

Many teachers and students are at risk since they are not fully vaccinated yet; therefore, our demand is to get all students and teachers vaccinated and run the physical classes smoothly. Our demand to the federal government is to allow the local government to make a right decision instantly at the time of pandemic to smoothen teaching and learning activities in schools.

What message would you like to convey to the PABSON member schools as the President of the Central PABSON?

We encountered with insurmountably harsh situations due to the Covid-19 pandemic for a long time that brought about strenuous situations in the academic sector, especially in the stewardship of private institutions. Even in such challenging circumstances, the institutional schools endured showing optimum patience and willpower by extending their friendly cooperation with the PABSON, and I thank them for their perseverance and collaboration. Institutional schools are striving for their existence after a long battle with the pandemic, and we may have to resist the force-majeure of unprecedented pandemic repercussions in the future too.  So, let’s fight against any kinds of predicaments with our combined efforts. Let’s work together to develop our capabilities both financially and academically. Let’s utilize available resources in a proper way and ensure good physical infrastructures and accommodate skilled human resources. Let’s make our teaching faculty team professional and well-equipped and prepare them for imparting timely revised courses. And let’s make the PABSON a pure and staunch academic organization and raise only professional issues and agenda abstaining from political interferences!

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