Print Edition - 2014-09-27  |  On Saturday

Private good, public bad

  • Public schools around the country are losing students to private institutions at an alarming pace. And unless the government starts demanding quality teaching from their teachers, public schools will not be able to stem the flow
Private good, public bad

Sep 26, 2014-

It’s got everything: well-compensated teachers, eight well-maintained classrooms and a library housed inside earthquake-resistance buildings, huge playgrounds. Nateshwori Primary School, built on five ropanies of land in Chhaling VDC of Bhaktapur, is among the very few public schools in the country to boast such facilities. And yet this six-decade-old school, once considered a model institution, is deep in the doldrums: over the last three years, no new students have enrolled at Nateshwori.

The coming academic session, the District Education Office (DEO) will

thus merge Nateshwori with Gyanjwoti Lower Secondary School. That’s the

only recourse left: last year, the DEO transferred three teachers from the school to other parts of the district because they

had no pupils to teach and were thus merely showing up at work to sign the attendance register. Currently Manoj Thapa is the only teacher left. But instead of looking after kids, his duty now entails looking after the school property, maintaining the laboratory and library and signing the attendance registers.

The irony of the situation is not lost on Thapa. “Many schools fold up for lack of proper resources, but that’s not the issue here,” says Thapa, who rejoined the school a few months ago after a hiatus of six years. Thapa, who taught at the school for 17 years in his earlier stint, believes that the decline in student numbers at public schools stems from the locals’ growing attraction for private schools and their preference for the English-medium curricula the private schools teach. He also blames the government’s penchant for handing out licenses to build new schools without doing their due diligence. It is illegal to issue a license for a new school within a kilometre of an already existing school. However, says Thapa, that rule has not been followed in the districts, and thus there are sometimes too many schools clustered in some areas.

The past decade has seen four private schools crop up in Chhaling VDC and it’s at these institutions that the local parents choose to send their kids. These schools already have an aggregate population of around a thousand students. The locals prefer these private schools even though they are not as well-equipped and even though they are taught by teachers who are not paid as well as the public-school teachers.

“The villagers have started sending their wards to the boarding schools because the public schools have failed to maintain the quality of their teaching,” says Usha Karki, an inhabitant of the VDC.

And just like Nateshwori School, the other public schools in the area are starting to feel the effects of the exodus. Mahakali Primary School, Bhim Primary School, Jana Bikash Primary School, Janasewa Primary School,  too who haven’t had a single new enrollment in the last couple of years. Apart from them, 26 other schools in the district will also be forced to merge with other schools this year because their enrollment numbers have dipped to single digits. The number of public schools in the district will thus go down to 106 from the existing 137 this year, after the mergers are completed, while the private schools with multiply threefold--about 275 more private schools will be setting up shop in the district. And the premises of the problematic schools will be used to run Early Childhood Development classes, while the schools’ libraries will be used for other community purposes.

Education experts believe that there are mainly two reasons that the guardians prefer private schools to public ones. The first is the lack of commitment shown by the government teachers towards imparting quality education; and the second has to do with the aspirational goals of the students’ parents. “Sending children to private schools has now become a way to acquire social dignity,” says Bishnu Karki, an education expert.

It’s a problem that’s not just confined to Bhaktapur and the district’s outlying

areas. Government records show that some 300 schools across the country don’t have a single new enrollment. And overall, the enrollment numbers for public schools

in the country have declined by more than 300,000 students in the last two years.

As of now, to stanch the bleeding, the Ministry of Education has decided to just focus on pushing the school-merger plan, which is to be implemented through the national budget.

But these are merely stop-gap measures that do not address the heart of the matter. Bishnu Karki is of the opinion that the only way the government can remedy the problem of declining enrollments at public schools is to work at improving their quality of teaching.

Published: 27-09-2014 10:35

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