More for education: The government needs to invest more in public school education

The rage over privately run educational institutions would have been perfectly in place if the rage took the form of improvement of public schools where any child can get a free education.

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SHYAM K.C.
Just a few months ago, there was much ado over foreign names of privately run educational institutions. Such opposition may have been politically motivated in a country that lacks political vision and direction. But one outcome of the stir that one must appreciate is the awareness it created in restoring public schools to their initial glorious days. The Durbar High School of our parents’ days enjoyed unblemished fame, popularity and was revered as a temple of learning. The teachers, some imported, were a dedicated lot and were not running after money, may be because the meagre pay they receive each month was enough to meet the everyday needs of their families. Whatever the reasons, the public schools in our country have not been performing as they should, both in terms of dedication of teachers and the quality of education imparted.

The result has been the proliferation of privately run schools and educational institutions. It is quite understandable that all parents and guardians would want their children to have the best possible education. And public schools do not figure among the institutions where they would want to send their children, but for many there is no choice because of the high cost of education at privately run schools. As one that collects tax from the people it is the primary responsibility of the government—local as well as central—to ensure that all Nepali children have easy access to education. This means that not only should primary and secondary schools should be free for Nepali children but also that the government must ensure that adequate facilities are provided in every public school so that children get to develop their talents and contribute their share to national development. The literacy rate in the age group 15-24 in Nepal has been placed at over 80 percent. This is a laudable achievement, but literacy by itself does not, in any way, indicate the kind of education one receives at the pre-primary, primary and secondary levels.

For a person who is convinced that education is the key to human and national development, I feel that the construction of physical infrastructures alone such as bridges, highways, dams and others, by themselves does not develop a country. This is not to say that they are not important or that they are not needed but the fact is that they should proceed along with human development efforts possible only through education. The latest Economic Survey puts the expenditure in the education sector in our country at 4.5 percent of the National Domestic Product (GDP). According to available World Bank figures, Nepal’s GDP is just over US $18.8 billion which means that Nepal’s outlay in the education sector—if the economic survey figures are correct—would be around US $845 million. Over 70 percent of the education budget goes to the primary level while the share of the secondary level is just over 9 percent.

It has to be admitted that improving the education sector is a Herculean task in a country like ours where budget allocations for education are easily funnelled into other areas based on ethnicity or political considerations. And therein lies the problem if only because our party governments tend to forget that a government must serve the interest of all the people and not those of a single party or group. In the process of appeasing party cadres and supporters, those who run our governments have no problems in finding loop-holes and diverting funds for essential sectors like education and health to other areas that might yield short-term benefits for the parties but no long-term benefit for the nation. One would certainly hope that political parties, if they cannot agree on many other things, should at least agree not to divert budgetary allocations from essential sectors that have long-term impacts on the country. State investment in education is never wasted.

The rage over privately run educational institutions would have been perfectly in place if the rage took the form of improvement of public schools where any child can get a free education. The private educational institutions should have spurred the public schools—and the government—to try to improve the quality of education that is imparted there. But this has not happened. Instead, the only response political cadres have is to force shutdown of private educational institutions which, unfortunately, is not the answer. The proper answer would have been for the public schools to compete fiercely with the private ones and, if they can, force them out of business. In a country like ours, most parents and guardians have to bend their backs to the extreme in order to educate their children in expensive private schools but, since the quality of education in public schools today is wanting, they have no other options. Yet the fact is that the vast majority of those enrolled in primary and secondary schools are in government or community-run schools. This fact should awaken the authorities to do more for the education of the country’s children. Many educational experts have visited western countries to get firsthand knowledge of how primary education is handled there—they might try to emulate some of the facts they learnt.

It may not be possible to spend as much in our country as they do in Western countries but some of the basic principles can be put to practise. In the recent past, the present government had indicated it would try to improve educational standards in primary and secondary levels. Let’s hope that the government is at least sincere and that it would do much more in the educational sector than it has been doing so far.  

source: K.C. Shyam(2012),"More for education", The Kathmandu post, 22 Nov 2012

photo courtesy: The Kathmandu Post

2012-11-23 | EducateNepal

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