Room to read

Nov 3, 2014-Every time I pass by Durbar School opposite Rani Pokhari in Kathmandu, the sheer magnificence of the building amazes me. Last week, I took a detour and walked into the compound for the first time. I knew the school was neglected, but only then did I realise to what extent. Durbar School, however, is not an exception. There are many public schools that need some serious monitoring to check whether children attending those schools receive quality education or not. It is time for the government to take stringent measures towards restoring and protecting historical architecture, like the Durbar School, while also monitoring public schools that are in dire need of students, mainly due to their dilapidated condition. The rate of admission in public schools is minimal, which should be a matter of serious concern.

No to public

Although the drive to upgrade secondary schools to higher secondary seems like a right thing to do, I was lucky to visit some public schools and I noticed that many schools in Kathmandu and other districts are facing more serious and bigger problems—students are not enrolling themselves in public higher secondary schools. So where are they going?

I spoke to a few schoolteachers in Kathmandu, Chitwan, and Bardiya and although they were quick to respond to my questions, everyone requested that their schools names be withheld. This is ridiculous, I thought, but then nobody wants trouble. One of the higher secondary schools in Sanepa has received only 15 students in grade XI this year. Last year, they received only six students. It’s a bigger shame that students in grade XI and XII do not have a dedicated class teacher. The Education Department does not ensure that the schools have teachers assigned to teach various subjects. In the meantime, we have schools being registered haphazardly by District Education Offices without proper verification to ensure that they meet minimum government criteria. One graduate from the school, Sikha (name changed), was approached by the school’s teacher to help. Sikha agreed but she does not receive any salary for teaching these two grades and she is considered a paid volunteer—Rs 150 per day. There are four such paid volunteers at this school.

One higher secondary school in Madi, Chitwan and another in Jagatpur, Chitwan have been resigned to similar fates. Maintenance funds allocated to each public school is minimal, to the extent that schools are forced to seek exam and admission fees despite the fact that all public schools cannot charge a single paisa to students. There are students whose parents cannot afford to pay the admission and exam fees, which forces many students to drop out. One principal of a higher secondary school in Chitwan said, “We are doing everything we can to keep the students in school. But we also have to charge minimal admission and exam fees, otherwise we won’t be able to pay our teachers.”

A lower secondary school in Banghusri, Padnaha VDC, Bardiya is facing a host of funding problems. “One of the main reasons we have been able to attract students is because of the lunch money we provide through the day-meal programme initiated by the government—Rs 2 per day,” said a member of the school board. Although the LS school is a public institution, it also faces similar problems—lack of teachers for all classes. The school is forced to hire part time teachers who are paid through the community fund and the forest user’s group fund.

It is illegal to charge students’ admission and exam fees but schools have to hire private tutors and the burden ultimately falls on the students.

Absent teachers

One student studying in a higher secondary school in Chitwan said, “We have all managed to pass the SLC with great difficulties. My parents cannot afford to pay the admission fees for grade XI so I will either go to Malaysia or Qatar. My future is sealed.”

The principal nodded in agreement and added, “We have lost many students because they know that even if they study through high school they won’t get a proper job, so their parents prefer foreign employment for their children. And many families are building concrete houses with the money their boys are sending them from abroad.”

With more than half of potential high school students leaving for foreign employment, public high schools will continue to see declining enrollment rates. This situation reminds me of the higher secondary school in Sanepa which managed to enroll only 15 students this year.

I asked Sikha why there isn’t a dedicated teacher for grades XI and XII and the reason for the drop in enrollment, and she answered, “There are many reasons. This school in Sanepa falls in the route where none of the public vehicles ply, because there aren’t any dedicated teachers for the higher grades, and classes are irregular. Almost all teachers are affiliated to one or other political party and hence no one cooperates. The children suffer and those who can afford it will by all means go to a private high school.”

While Parliament members are struggling with the much-delayed constitution writing process, the state is overlooking the crucial need to ensure quality education for our future generation. Going by the state of affairs, assuring education remains a dream still

farfetched.

Giri Bohara is Communication Coordinator at Save the Children

Published: 04-11-2014 09:08

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