Sinking ships

  • Government must straighten out public schools to ensure free education for all
Sinking ships

Apr 14, 2015-According to the report of the Office of the Auditor General released on Sunday, 47 District Education Offices (DEO) spent more than Rs 30 million in the fiscal year 2013-2014 on ghost students. These students, whose name only appeared on paper, numbered in the hundreds of thousands (201,383 to be precise). On their behalf, the DEOs collected Rs 19.17 million in per capita funding—grants provided to schools to hire teachers when the student:teacher ratio exceeds the one defined by the government. The DEOs also ‘spent’ Rs 10.88 million on textbooks for these paper students. The irregularities in the education sector do not end there. Thirty-nine DEOs ‘paid’ teachers Rs 46 million more than was needed. Twenty-two ‘paid’ salaries in full to teachers who had already retired. And nineteen DEOs disbursed money to ‘feed’ mid-day meals to students on days the schools remained closed. The report also highlighted that more than half of the Rs 5 billion invested in school infrastructure was unaccounted for.

Apart from rousing anger, what these financial irregularities do is harm the reputation of public schools further. It is a well-known fact that aside from a few exceptions, public schools nationwide are facing a crisis, with most of them struggling to survive. As fewer and fewer students enrolled in public schools pass the School Leaving Certificate exams every year (28 percent in 2014), parents are sending their children to private schools. Since 2012, the number of students enrolled in public schools has decreased by 317,084, forcing 627 schools to shut down and 443 to merge. A thousand more are expected to merge in the upcoming 12 months.

Public schools, which currently number more than 29,000, are the backbone of the country’s education sector. But right now, they are where the poorest go. The ones who can afford it send their children to private schools. And as more private schools crop up in villages and more households earn a little extra, more parents will follow suit. On Sunday, the Fee Determination and Monitoring Committee in Kathmandu increased tuition fees at private schools by 22 percent. But the expensive cost will not deter the parents, and they are not to blame. The government must realise that its mismanagement of public schools has turned them into sinking ships that everyone wants to flee from. But if run properly, these very schools could turn into the country’s wealth, erasing the current divide between the rich and the poor. The government must, therefore, clamp down on the corruption rampant in the education sector and make those responsible for financial irregularities pay for the damage. It must be remembered that every child has the right to free and quality education, and the first step towards ensuring that is to straighten out public schools. 

Published: 15-04-2015 08:38

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