“Every citizen shall have the right to get compulsory and free education up to basic level and free education up to secondary level all from the state”. With this statement, the right to education has been enshrined in the Constitution of Nepal, and the government has committed to ensuring that all citizens have access to quality education.
Even though the government has traditionally been the primary source of education in Nepal, private schools have grown to be significant players in the field, serving a sizable portion of the enrollment. Despite spending a substantial budget, the performance of government-funded schools is subpar. On the other hand, over the past 20 years, the number of private schools has grown significantly. The lack of proper and satisfactory results from public schools encouraged private schools to grow and meet the need, which led to this expansion.
According to the eighth Amendment of Education Act recently proposed by the government, new private schools in Nepal must be registered as non-profit entities (trusts), which mean that any surplus generated from their operations must be reinvested in the school or used to support charitable or educational purposes. These funds cannot be distributed as profit to the school’s trustees or directors.
In addition, the bill, which was approved by the Council of Ministers last week and is presently being registered in the Parliament, mandates that all private schools that are currently in operation be converted into public or private trusts within five years. The bill states that new institutional schools may only be founded using a trust model or for service purposes. The umbrella bodies of private schools like PABSON and NPABSON have threatened to hold a protest program leading to school closures if the bill’s provisions are not amended.
While promoting equity for all students may be the goal of the bill, it is vital to take into account any potential negative effects it might trigger. Some of the potential drawbacks are mentioned below:
Limitation on investment and resources: Nonprofit private schools typically rely on donations, grants and limited fee collections to cover their expenses. Without the profit incentive, these schools may face challenges in attracting significant investments and may have limited financial resources. As a result, they may struggle to provide adequate infrastructure, modern technology and sufficient learning materials.
Limitation on competition and innovation: For-profit private schools often introduce healthy competition among schools. This competition drives them to continuously improve their offerings, innovate teaching methodologies, and invest in professional development for teachers. In fact, competition will likely raise the quality of both private and public schools. Non-profit may not have the same incentives to compete and innovate as for-profit schools.
Restrict school choice: Every student has unique educational requirements, and parents often seek schools that align with the educational teaching styles or extracurricular activities. By restricting the availability for for-profit schools, parents and students may have fewer options to choose from, potentially leading to dissatisfaction and compromise.
Teacher’s salaries and motivation: For-profit schools often have the ability to offer required salaries and benefits to attract and retain skilled teachers. These higher salaries can serve as an incentive for teachers to excel in their profession and contribute to the overall quality of education. By eliminating for-profit schools, there may be a potential decrease in the overall competitiveness of teacher’s salaries. This, in turn, can affect the recruitment and retention of qualified teachers.
Donor influence: Non-profit schools often rely on donations and funding from external sources, including individuals, organizations and foundations. While these contributions can support the schools’ operations, they can also lead to challenges. Depending on the extent of donor influence, there may be pressure to align with specific agendas or priorities that may not necessarily align with the best interests of schools and students.
Carteling and monopoly to overprice fees: According to common sense economics, prices rise along with rising demand. On the other hand, if supply rose as well, prices would start to decline yet again. Therefore, until the law of not letting new private schools to be registered as a company is changed, few private schools will open in the upcoming years.When new for-profit private schools are not allowed to open, the number of educational providers in the markets becomes limited. In terms of education, this indicates that the school’s fees won’t decrease as long as all other factors stay the same.
Why we need profit-oriented private schools
While historically only wealthy families have chosen private schools over the public system, in recent years low-income families have also begun to follow the same trend.The ability of private schools to experiment with innovative methods of instruction is constrained by stringent regulations, while many talented skilled youths of Nepal are reluctant to join the education profession at present. A concerted strategy is required in Nepal to draw talented young people into the teaching field.
Promoting entrepreneurship in educational settings can be a successful strategy to draw talented young people to the field. By exposing young individuals to entrepreneurial concepts, they acquire a mindset of creativity and are more likely to pursue an occupation in the education sector. In addition to addressing the issues surrounding unemployment, this encourages the creation of new educational models, technologies, and methodologies that have the potential to revolutionize the field of education.
As per the Millennium Development Goals, Nepal wants to provide primary education to all citizens by 2030. The solution does not lie just in putting money into public schools. Private schools should be acknowledged as a potent weapon for improving Nepal’s literacy initiatives. Only then the nation will be able to meet its educational goals.
Shristika Neupane is a researcher at a think tank working on education sector.