Wednesday, 17 May 2017

Tug Of War

On the basis of physical facilities, teachers' quality and qualifications, responsibility and transparency, operational procedures and educational achievement private schools in Nepal are categorised into A, B, C and D categories. The government has decided the definite fee structure for these schools.
However, there are still fears over fee hikes at the beginning of every new academic year. Considering the policy document, it clearly says that once any private school increases the fee the school cannot increase it for three years; and for this also there is a system.
As per the Education Regulations, private schools can review their fee structure as per their classification. For instance, B category schools can charge fees up to 25 percent higher than C category schools while A category schools can charge fees up to 50 percent higher than C category schools, by taking permission from the District Fee Determination Committee. To monitor this there is a Fees Monitoring Committee located in all District Education Offices as well.
Despite these rules, this year has been no different when it comes to unregulated fee hikes; there are a number of private schools that have been accused of increasing fees unlawfully. As a result, student unions affiliated to various political parties are protesting against this hike. On the other hand, the Ministry of Education claims that it has already begun monitoring private schools in Kathmandu after being informed that they were charging students irregularly.
Why is there this mismatch then? According to well-known educationist Prof. Dr. Mana Prasad Wagley, "Private schools have virtually colonised the country’s education sector. Now they have their organisations like PABSON and N-PABSON which have become stronger than government bodies." This may be one of the reasons that private schools are ignoring the government directives and hiking their school fees haphazardly. Another reason could be the obvious gap between public and private schools' quality of education.
It is clear that, in most cases, the academic performance of private schools surpasses that of their public counterparts. Therefore, almost all Nepali parents prefer to send their children to private schools ranging from A to D categories according to their financial capacity. The private school operators are acutely aware of the fact that parents do not have other options but private schools, so they practise monopoly in the absence of strong competitors.
Doubtlessly, money matters substantially; if you pay more you will get more. However, private schools cannot raise school fees with complete disregard for the law. As indicated above, transparency is one criterion that is used to assess the “grade” of a private school, yet it is a trait that many schools to be lacking to a large extent.
It is good that the student unions are raising their voice against this irregular fee hike, but at the same time they should make sure that their protest is not affecting school children's studies. I also suspect that they may have put pressure on institutional schools just to collect donation for the upcoming local election, and as soon as the election is over, their protest may also disappear. If not, they should come up with a permanent solution as early as possible so that the issue of absurd fee hikes does not have to be brought up every year.
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 12, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

Thursday, 11 May 2017

What Is Going On?

I was more terrified than shocked when I recently read a news story about community schools in Baitadi where girls avoid going to the toilet for the entire day because of the pathetic condition of their schools’ toilets. Not only this, but the girls were also deprived of good menstrual hygiene management skills. They did not even have sanitary pads, and this led to two girls who were on their period while sitting for an SEE exam being compelled to stay back at the examination centre until everybody else had left due to their embarrassment.   
If we consider the policy document of the government of Nepal (GoN) regarding school sanitation, it says that it is committed to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017. It further states that GoN is committed to prioritising and promoting child and disabled friendly services and menstrual hygiene management in schools and monitor this in standards, design and delivery. Therefore, to ensure school sanitation the programme WASH (Water, Sanitation and Hygiene) has been implemented in community schools in Nepal.
 WASH highlights that at the very minimum, there will be separate toilets for girls and boys, every 50 students will be entitled to a set of toilets with running water – one for urination and another for defecation. Without a doubt, a huge amount of money has also been allocated to improve WASH at schools. Then, why is the situation of WASH so pitiful in Baitadi? This exemplifies the real condition of WASH in most of Nepal’s community schools. An investigation conducted by WaterAid in association with Ministry of Education indicates that currently one toilet serves 166 female students on average. Even though the number of toilets has been increasing -- one school in Baitadi has been recorded as having ten toilets -- the actual problem remains the lack of water.
No water and female-unfriendly toilets cannot particularly serve the girls who have their periods. Because of this, such girls either do not go to school while they are menstruating or they come back home early. This hampers the girls’ education program too. A world virtual conference on WASH in Schools Empowers Girls' Education highlights the relationship between menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and retention of girls in schools. 
MHM is defined by Colombia University and UNISEF as, "Women and adolescent girls use a clean material to absorb or collect menstrual blood, and this material can be changed in privacy as often as necessary for the duration of the menstrual period. MHM includes using soap and water for washing the body as required, and having access to facilities to dispose of used menstrual management materials."
As discussed, most of the community schools do not fit the MHM definition above. Apart from this, WASH is a right of all school-going children. Why has the government's commitment to ensure access to safe drinking water and sanitation for all in Nepal by 2017 disappeared? We are nearly midway through 2017 and school girls are still restraining their natural toilet-going urges for the whole day merely because of a lack of toilet facilities! Is it something worth being proud of?
 (Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, May 5, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]

Wednesday, 3 May 2017

All About Commitment

I feel that the "NO Horn" policy of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Department and the Kathmandu Metropolitan City has been implemented quite effectively; this is not something that I’ve had the luxury of getting used to as a long time resident of the valley. These days the valley roads are found peaceful in the absence of unnecessary and haphazard honking, and it is impressive. These are the same motorists who used to blow the horn of their vehicles as loudly as possible until the last day of Chaitra; how come they suddenly stopped this from the first of Baishakh?
This was all made achievable due to the high level of commitment of the Kathmandu Metropolitan Traffic Police Department. They seem to be determined to make the Kathmandu valley as "horn free" as possible.
 Some people might have thought that this policy would also fail like the majority of other government policies and they habitually blew their horn, but unfortunately they got caught and fined. A report by the Metropolitan Traffic Police indicates that from the first of Baishakh up until the fourth of Baishakh, 657 motorists in Kathmandu, 161 in Lalitpur and 33 in Bhaktapur were fined. Considering the massive numbers of vehicles on the roads of the Kathmandu valley, this number is very nominal. All in all we can say that the "No Horn" policy has been successful so far.
Another such a successful example is "No Load-shedding in Kathmandu." This has been made possible by the continuous efforts of a single person, Mr. Kul Man Ghising, the managing director of Nepal Electricity Authority. This time last year, we had to put up with up to 18 hours of load-shedding every single day. It is amazing that people are not suffering from even an hour's load-shedding this year. Mr. Ghising has managed to do all of this through developing internal management and some import of electricity from India. Furthermore, he has also taken an initiative to control leakage of power and the practice of unfair distribution. His ultimate goal is to make the entire nation load-shedding free.
On the other hand, there came other policies like ‘no use of plastic bags’, ‘no littering on the roads’ and ‘no spitting through bus windows’. Even though there were fines declared for those found infringing upon these rules, people did not care to comply. Why was this the case? The answer is as simple as there was a lack of commitment on the part of the concerned people, so the general public did not bother to follow what the authority said.
It can be concluded that announcing policies is not that big of a deal; the effectiveness of implementation is what really makes a difference. If the people who are responsible for implementing something are really committed to bringing about change, then nothing can stop them as the above "No Horn" and "No Load-shedding "examples show. However, if they are reluctant towards implementation and follow up sides, history shows that policies alone cannot succeed. 
(Published in an English Daily The Rising Nepal on Friday, April 28, 2017 
[The pictures on this blog are posted here with permission from their owners or have been gathered from various sources on the Internet. If you are the copyright-holder to any of the photographs herein do not hesitate to contact me. They will be swiftly removed if desired so.]