The high-profile student leader heading the student organization working under the tutelage of the UCPN (Maoist), Himal Sharma, created a wave last month when he reportedly called back his son who was pursuing studies in medicine in the People’s Republic of China. This move on the part of Himal Sharma is said to have been taken to set an example to discourage and deter the Maoist leaders from educating their children in both private posh institutions and colleges overseas as well.
Dual education system
Needless to repeat, Maoists had opposed the establishment and operation of privately-owned educational institutions, arguing that these institutions have given rise to a dual education system to the detriment of the poor and underprivileged groups of people. The "haves", according to the Maoists, have been able to monopolise power and resources as they are enabled for this by the elite-oriented education imparted in private schools whereas the poor and underprivileged groups are barred and deprived from this access and entitlement.
There was a time when the Maoists forced the shut down of private schools completely. They used to proclaim that they would nationalise the private schools when they won power to rule the country. However, the Maoist opposition to private schools and colleges got subdued and silenced after they entered the peace process. This became further feeble and weak after the Maoists participated in governing the country as constituents of coalition governments. The Maoist ministers and ruling apparatchik did choose not to provoke hostile confrontation and bring jeopardy to the private schools.
None can dispute the fact that the private sector’s share in the education sector has increased effectively and exponentially. Moreover, it has occupied a prominent place as the catalyst for quality education, pushing the public sector to the margin. The private schools have organised and consolidated themselves into a strong and powerful lobby to influence the politics and administration of the country. The private schools have been able to resist and foil any attempts that hit the interests of the school owners and operators. Even power politicians and party functionaries are found involved in running the schools, enhancing and strengthening their levers in the corridors of Singha Durbar.
When the UCPN (Maoist) held the rein of the government following the elections to the Constituent Assembly more than three years ago, the then Finance Minister Dr. Babu Ram Bhattarai introduced the provision of education tax for the private schools to generate and mobilise resources and funds for the public schools in the country. However, the measure was not allowed to succeed fully due to the strong opposition mounted by the private schools. Though some provision to pay the education tax exists in a modified version, it has not been able to achieve the intended results due to the reluctance and lack of support from the community of private schools.
The Maoist opposition to the private schools stems from the spirit of ideology that basically forbids the role of the private sector in such crucial sectors as education and health. Moreover, the issue pertaining to leading a Spartan and proletarian life style by the Maoist leaders is intertwined with the question of private schools as educating one’s own children in the expensive private institutions is construed as an indication of bourgeouisie temperament and elitist lifestyle and manners.
However, the growing consumerism among the party leaders and the allegedly increasing intents of the leaders to amass wealth has become a subject of controversy and contention in the rank and file, much to the dismay of the purists who are votaries of the simple and less consumption-oriented style of living.
Similarly it is alleged that the Maoist leaders educate their children in the posh private schools whereas they tend to oppose the private schools where a big majority of sons/ daughters of the ordinary Nepalese citizens are preferably sent for education for no rhyme and reason. In order to offset this widespread criticism directed at the Maoist leaders, the student leader, Himal Sharma, must have called back his son studying in one of the prestigious Chinese universities.
However, thanks to UCPN (Maoist) Prachanda’s intervention, the student leader’s son has already gone back to China to resume his studies, saying he won’t come back again even if his father calls him back. The Maoist position on and interest in regulating and disciplining the private schools cannot be fully overruled as the private schools have turned themselves as profiteering institutions without taking cognizance of the need of quality education for which they claim to offer.
However, the interest of the public schools as argued by the Maoists would be better served only when the quality of education imparted in these schools is ensured. A situation needs to be created when the guardians would prefer the public and community schools to the private schools. Realistically speaking, the government-aided community schools can do better if the management aspects are strengthened and teachers are made responsible to their respective duties and obligations.
Quality is the key
Partly this is possible if the institutions are depoliticised and quality-oriented criteria are applied to assess the school as an institution and teachers as individuals to catalyse changes and transformation. It is in this context that the Maoist leaders and other stakeholders are expected to set their sight.