Private solutions

  • One viable solution to the poor performance of students in the SLC is to expand the choice of schools available
Private solutions

Jul 21, 2014-

The ritualistic furore prompted by the School Leaving Certificate (SLC) results has more or less settled for this year. The number of students failing the exams is almost always greater than those who make it through the ‘iron gate’, perhaps the most popular metaphor for the rigid exam every Nepali tenth grader takes. The tradition has continued this year as well with a staggering 56 percent of examinees failing the test.

If schools are evaluated on par with the SLC grading scale, private academies would secure high distinction since more than 93 percent of their students made it through the gate. Public schools, on the other hand, would have been an utter failure. Only a meagre 28 percent of their students were able to make pass. It is evident that the public education system is a complete disaster. Timely debates and a dramatic overhaul is needed.

Increasing the budget

In electoral politics, public education is the most easily sellable asset for political actors. If the ruling parties are able to markedly increase the education budget, they will have one more ‘achievement’ to add to their parties’ résumé, regardless of the outcome. If the definition of insanity is doing the same thing over and over again but expecting different results, then our lawmakers might qualify.

The opposition parties have certainly put the entire blame on the ruling coalition for the disgraceful result. The UCPN (Maoist) fundamentally loathes the private (read: bourgeois) education system. The stellar performance of private institutions must have deeply irked them.

Baburam Bhattarai had put forward a proposition to levy five percent tax on private education institutions. Economics 101 tells us that taxes decrease supply and result in higher prices. I presume that understanding the positive externalities resulting from taxation on educational institutes can be understood only when one reaches the heights of intellectualism that only Dr Bhattarai has been able to conquer.   

Similarly, the Madhes-based parties have interpreted the dismal performance as yet another point in case that exemplifies the continued marginalisation of their people. It is in the best interest of all political parties, be they ruling or opposition, to expend more on public education. So, who loses here? Clearly, the public!

Private incentives

If public education was a product and if it was competing in a well-behaved market, the firm would have ceased to exist long ago. Thanks to the corrupt system and a lack of public awareness, we have created a monster that refuses to die.

The reason why an increase in public education has not been able to translate into better-performing public schools is mostly because of rampant corruption. I would not be wrong in saying that sizeable chunk of the public fund allocated to public education is siphoned off.

According to Transparency International, Nepal ranks 116 out of 177 countries on corruption with a score of 31/100—failing yet again in the SLC scale. The January 27 issue of this magazine extensively discussed irregularities associated with the education sector, such as misuse of the school development fund, appointment of fake teachers and fake students, among others. It is therefore imperative for the government to pursue policies to curb corruption in the education sector. Increasing the budget without proper oversight is akin to pouring water on sand.

The one viable solution to this problem is expanding the choice of schools available to students who enrol in government schools out of compulsion. If the bureaucratic red tape is eased for private educational enterprises, they will certainly flourish, even in the remotest part of the country. The government could also introduce the provision of education vouchers equivalent to what it would cost to put a child through school in public education. Providing monetary incentives to best performing private schools with the highest number of students enrolled through education vouchers will also be in line with public-private-partnership.

The solutions are manifold but the willingness is meagre. Since the advent of republican Nepal, all political forces have promised a ‘Naya Nepal’. Education alone is the true seed of change. In the words of the late Nelson Mandela, “Education is the most powerful weapon which you can use to change the world.” To unleash the weapon of change, public education must be reformed.

- BIMAL ADHIKARI

Adhikari is pursuing a PhD in Political Science at the University of Missouri—Columbia, the US

Published: 22-07-2014 09:06

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