Remote learning of around two million students from private schools hampered as government fails to decide on fees
The indecision of the Education Ministry on resolving the tuition fee row has led to a halt to the online classes run by a majority of privately owned schools across the country, hampering the study of thousands of students.
After enforcing the lockdown in March as an attempt to contain the spread of the Covid pandemic, the government asked all private schools not to charge tuition fees for the month of Chaitra (March/April).
In return, it announced a soft loan for private schools. The teaching-learning activities, stopped after the enforcement of the lockdown on March 24, formally resumed from mid-June after the ministry made public the guidelines for running virtual classes.
Some private schools, however, had been operating virtual classes even before the guidelines were issued. Though the ministry asked the schools to engage the students in teaching learning activities through virtual platforms, it directed them not to charge tuition because it was not part of the formal instruction.
The parliamentary committee on Education and Health had asked the government to ensure that the guardians, who are already affected by the pandemic, don’t have to bear the additional burden of paying the school fees.
The associations of private schools, however, on June 28 issued a statement, asking the parents to clear the fees starting March/April and get their wards enrolled for the new year. The ministry was quick to counter it, saying that private schools cannot pressurise parents over the fees and enrolment.
However, after the warning of the private schools to stop online classes, the ministry sought a plan from them to resolve the issue. In their joint proposal, Private and Boarding Schools’ Organisation, Nepal (PABSON) and the National Private and Boarding Schools Association (NPABSAN), two umbrella bodies of private schools, said they would collect fees from parents who can afford and allow others to pay whenever they are comfortable.
The ministry and the school representatives held several rounds of talks where the officials said they would seek a solution with the Covid-19 Crisis Management Centre. “After the centre failed to take any decision two weeks back, we were told the Cabinet would be deciding on the tuition fees. However, two successive Cabinet meetings took no decision, forcing us to stop virtual classes,” Ritu Raj Sapkota, the NPABSAN chairperson, told the Post.
The private schools have stopped online classes starting Thursday. Around two million students, among a total of seven millions, study in 6,300 private schools across the country.
Private school operators say since the money paid by the guardians is their only source of income, they have no option but to raise the fees. They also charge the government with not standing by its commitment to providing the promised soft loan.
Sapkota said online classes do cost money, as they have to pay the teachers, run the administration and pay for the buildings rented. He agrees that they have not been able to pay the teachers because they have gone broke.
The Institutional School Teachers’ Association, an association of teachers working at private schools, says most of the schools have not paid their teachers and staff since March. “Some of our friends haven’t received their salary for the last five/six months. We want the government, school operators and guardians to find a solution,” Hom Kumar Thapa, chairperson of the association, told the Post.
The two school associations said in a statement on Wednesday that they have sent teachers on unpaid leave starting Thursday, as they are not in a position to pay them. Guardians’ associations say it is the duty of the Ministry of Education, as the line agency, to find a solution. Suprabhat Bhandari, chairperson of the Guardian’s Federation Nepal, said they strongly oppose the decision to stop online classes adding that the ministry had also failed to perform its duty.
“The guardians are not in a position to pay the fees in full as demanded by the private schools,” he told the Post. “We want the ministry to evaluate the cost of running online classes and determine the fees accordingly. The ministry’s indecision has hampered the study of thousands of students and this situation must end.”
Bhandari said the ministry also should come up with a relief package for hundreds of guardians who have lost their jobs due to the pandemic so that they can continue the study of their children.