We must Narrow down the Gap between Private and Government Schools

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Tikaram Puri, the former National President of PABSON, is the Founder Principal of Everest Secondary School, Biratnagar. He is committed and dedicated to quality education. Under his leadership, the school grew rapidly and has become one of the leading educational institutions in the region. During his tenure as the President, PABSON played a key role in advocating for the rights of private schools and promoting educational reforms in Nepal. He proved himself an able and successful leader for making PABSON a prestigious organization.  An interview with Tikaram Puri, was conducted by Keshav Nepal for College Readers, focusing on the education and contribution of private educational institutions. Excerpts:

Though the private sector has been flag-hoisting education and its quality for long in Nepal, the state mechanism has been reluctant to realize it. Is it because of the policy or its implementation? Where does the water log lie?

After the political change of 2046 B.S., a wave against the private schools spread on the pretext that education and health are fundamental rights and must be undertaken by the state. It should not be commercialized. The political parties created a whim through their student fringe organizations. Meanwhile, the Maoists led the issue and magnified it as the main agenda to shut the private schools applying various means like bombing, arson and extortion of money. Their activities and provocative slogans created an impression that the private schools and hospitals in Nepal are looters. The subsequent governments after the Maoist insurgency held the very psyche and monitored and isolated the private sector through a lens framed over the time. Now, the aggression in the public has warred and drastic correction in the political parties has been observed. However, an environment against the private sector is still prevalent in Nepal. The parties strategically blow it time and again to motivate the voters. Nonetheless, there are enough obstacles and gaps in the policy, too. 

You mean, there is a problem in the policy and implementation because of the apathy of the political parties, as claimed by Dr. KC.

Yes, private schools have been made scapegoats of political parties for vote collection, threatening them through their student unions. But in recent days a positive perspective has evolved at people’s level. We are well supported and understood by the people.

Who do you think is responsible for streamlining the situation? 

There may be weaknesses and limitations of the school owners as they think of schools as pure business forgetting their social responsibilities and ethics. As education and health are parts of service sectors, we must be more focused on service delivery and inter-dissolution in the society. As the community schools have been replicating the best practices of pedagogy of private schools, the government should implement the voucher system so that most of the students get benefitted. If the state is not in this stage, we request the provision of free competition to wipe out the disparity between the two modes of education. Even government-owned community schools are levying fees in different rubrics. We can see biased scholarship schemes in technical education. All sorts of disparities must be wiped out to enhance quality education in both types of schools.

You mean there should be state monitoring and control along with certain autonomy?

State monitoring and control is essential, but it must be applicable and practical. It would be better if the government controlled the curriculum and evaluation and leaves us free to take decisions in certain other aspects. There are varying gradings and tough competitions among the private schools, too. So, to minimize the disparities, the government must clutch curriculum and evaluations.

Education Act has often been the business of every subsequent government, but none has materialized it yet. Where is it entangled?

The unstable political scenario is responsible for the total mess that has become an obstacle to formulating and implementing the Federal Education Act. Various governments have drafted the Act, but none was able to table it for endorsement in the parliament though K.P Sharma Oli led the government attempted it for the first time. Act formulation and endorsement has a long and due process which the government that succeeded Mr. Oli couldn’t sufficiently prioritize. I have heard a draft act has been tabled in the Upper House. Hopefully, it will be made operational very soon. 

You have clearly articulated that education and health must be the undertaking of the state without discouraging the private ones. Could you kindly elaborate this? 

We must be practical and responsible. We should not come to any type of provocations as we have invested our lifetime and resources in the education sector. There are private schools in highly developed countries and even in the socialist countries like China. But Nepali political parties are playing with people’s sentiment, and are framing clumsy slogans that education and health sectors must not be privatized; it must be free! But is it possible? Do we have sufficient resources? No, even government schools lack the approved posts and other resources. How does the government manage to educate all the students? Political parties are playing a hoax. Why doesn’t the government improve pedagogy and other etiquettes of community schools? Let them be enabled to complete with the private one smoothly and continuously. One day when the public/ community schools surpass the private ones in quality infrastructure and service, the doors of private schools will close on their own. But the state should not overtly discourage the morale of entrepreneurs. 

What roadmaps would you prepare to rescue the education sector if you are assigned the responsibility based on your decade-long experience and expertise?

My first and foremost effort will be to narrow down the gap between private and government schools in both policy formation and its implementation and create an atmosphere for fair competition between the two. If the state can afford, it should provide free education even from private schools with the help of a voucher system. Next, I would initiate the building Nepal an education hub of South Asia as we have been gifted with favorable climatic conditions and picturesque and scenic landscapes. Detaching the education sector from political intervention is another reform I would work for.

You have envisioned turning Nepal into a hub of education in South Asia. Thousands of students line up to study abroad each year, causing alarming situations and bringing long-term effects on Nepalese socio-economic and political superstructure. Isn’t it the pair-point for us?

Of course, it is. It shows us the tacit pictures of Nepal. How it affected the private school is insignificant in the national scenario. Each year, thousands of students procure NOC and head for foreign lands, draining a large amount of resources. It’s increasing every year. Colleges in the UK, Australia and Japan are filled with Nepali students while their counterparts in Nepal are running without students. It shows us the condition of Nepal, a country filled only by an aging population. The students flying abroad are leaving the country not because of academic reasons but because they could not see their future secure here. Moreover, parents feel proud of their children studying abroad and the government shuts its eyes and issues NOC indiscriminately without assuming the upcoming dangerous call.

Where is the lapse? Why can’t we assure the students about the quality of education? Or is it because we could not link education with values, skills, and productivity?

All the students who go abroad do not complete their studies. They turn out to be educated but cheap laborers there. Quality of Nepali academics is not inferior, but it is insecure. Students are fed up with petty politicking, impurity, nepotism and lawlessness. They go abroad because they get jobs and employment. There is a guarantee of life, liberty, and property rights. They can enjoy the latest facilities, good pay and wonderful parks. We, at home, are way far behind in connecting knowledge with skills and technology, though we are slowly improving. The political instability and unethical behavior of our politicians are not tolerated by the new generation. So, they queue up for foreign countries where rule of law and system prevail. Our political leaders must realize this fact and be practical.

Final remarks, if any?

We must be optimistic that some signs of positive changes have been seen in Nepal. We must link education with skills, technology, value and the soil to make our students realize our pride and dignity. We must head for good governance, development and prosperity and transform Nepal into a corruption-free developed and peaceful country in which sense of national pride and hope germinates in young minds.

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