Nepal: Privatisation does not ensure equal access to education, more investment in public education is needed

published 26 August 2022 updated 30 August 2022

The Research “Lessons from the COVID- Pandemic in Nepal” analyses the impact of COVID-19 on education, highlights the role of teacher unions in protecting the rights of teachers and calls for policy measures to protect decent learning conditions for students and decent employment conditions for teachers.

The research was led by Raj Kumar Baral and commissioned by the Institutional School Teachers’ Union (ISTU), the Nepal National Teachers’ Association (NNTA), and the Nepal Teachers’ Association (NTA) – all three affiliated to Education International –, the German Foundation Friedrich Ebert Stiftung (FES) and the Education International’s Asia Pacific (EIAP) regional office. It was launched on 17th June 2022 in Kathmandu. The research was undertaken in the framework of the Education Internationals Global Response campaign against the privatisation and the commercialisation in/of education, with financial support from FES.

Research launch

ISTU representative Moti Ram Phuyal facilitated the first half of the launch, while NTA representative Yam P Bhusal facilitated the second half.

Addressing participants, FES representative Jonathan Menge highlighted FES activities around the globe and in Nepal in particular. He compared the education system in Germany with the Nepalese one, stressing the need for all children to see their right to education respected and for all teachers to get effective trade union rights.

EIAP Chief Regional Coordinator Anand Singh, in his remarks to the virtual launch reaffirmed the importance of the Global Response campaign against privatisation and commercialisation in education. He also stressed the need to protect children's right to education. Singh also presented the Global Response campaign activities in the Philippines, South Africa and Brazil.

NTA, NNTA and ISTU presidents all highlighted the importance of such a campaign to counter education privatisation in Nepal and shape the policy landscape of education. They noted that teachers, especially those in the private sector, are confronted with many difficulties. The unions, despite their many efforts to address issues linked to education privatisation, obtained little success.. They They argued that there is a need to develop a mechanism allowing unions and the government to collaborate in the event of future pandemics and other disasters.

NTA President Rajendra Raj Poudel explained: “About 50 thousand teachers lost their jobs during COVID, and privatisation increased in education. The Government must allocate at least 20% of the national budget for education. Privatisation is increasing inequality.”

For NNTA President Bishnu Prasad Bhandari, “due to COVID, almost 25% of all schools have permanently closed. Besides, poor digitalisation of public schools made learning difficult for students, and teachers’ rights and welfare were blatantly violated during that period.”

"Investors in private schools did not care about teachers during the pandemic. Many teachers did not receive salaries. Education is not business - it is service. Government must stop privatisation and improve public education,” insisted ISTU President Hom Kumar Thapa.

In his address, the representative of the Nepalese Ministry of Education, Hari Prasad Lamsal, emphasised the need to increase the education budget and improve the quality of public schools to reduce privatisation and commercialisation of education. He maintained that the public nature of education is defined by the possibility for all to access education, rather than only education provided by the state.

Reminding the audience of the findings of the recent UNESCO Global Education Monitoring Report on inclusion and non-state actors in education, UNESCO representative Dhruba Regmi said that privatisation and commercialisation represent a worldwide challenge and must be considered in terms of education-funding as well as many other aspects.

Introducing his research, Raj Kumar Baral warned that public education is under threat from multinational investors in education. He also highlighted that the research shows that private institutions in education do not contribute to the public nature of education or enhance access to education as suggested by the Ministry representative. The research clearly points out a lack of political commitment to publicly fund education, allowing private institutions to take over public education, he said.

He went on to stress the oppression and exploitation of teachers and education workers in private and public schools. He also discussed union programmes that supported teachers and facilitated learning for students during the COVID-19 pandemic.

The research underlines that, “from a broader perspective, the COVID-19 pandemic also affected the ways private schools were managed as businesses and, more importantly, the job security, salaries, working conditions, and wellbeing of teachers and non-teaching staff. Consequently, the quality of education of millions of children has been affected. However, less of this effect has been observed in the high-class private schools in the Kathmandu Valley. Still, nearly 70 per cent of school-age children in Nepal have been affected and deprived of learning.”

It also shows that the pandemic highlighted how deleterious the privatisation and commercialisation of education are to the aims of teacher unionism. Education union leaders have a stronger case for public education as the pandemic has brought the shortcomings and inadequacies of privatised and commercialised education into sharper relief.

Research recommendations

Serving as an evidence base for the need for increased domestic investment in public education, the report recommends that education unions take the lead and take the following actions in critical areas to guide the post-pandemic recovery of the education sector and resist the further commercialisation and privatisation of education in Nepal:

  • Launching a vigorous campaign, accompanied by lobbying and collective action at the grassroots, for increased state funding of public education to reverse the increasing trend of education privatisation.
  • Initiating a campaign to improve not only the quality of education in schools, both public and private, but also the wellness, welfare, and working conditions of all education workers. Achieving such changes requires building a broader coalition within schools and among education unions pushing for strengthened public education in Nepal.
  • Remaining vigilant on and resist plans for adopting public-private partnership models in education.
  • Demanding transparency from authorities regarding public education expenditures to minimise the misuse of funds and ensure the observance by private schools of their financial obligations to help to identify possible undisclosed or unpaid tax liabilities to the government for which they must be held accountable.
  • Lobbying for fair and equal representation in social and policy dialogue, governmental bodies’ working groups, discussions, negotiations, communications, and other relevant spaces to engage policymakers and private owners, employers, and stakeholders in relation to the oversight and regulation of private schools.
  • Conducting regular consultations with other education stakeholders, including students, parents and education support personnel, on the relationships between students’ and teachers’ rights, equity and inclusion, and the increasing privatisation of education in Nepal.
  • Consolidating their goals, within their organisations, by reorienting members towards the immediate needs and challenges linked to post-pandemic recovery, engaging in discussions around universal quality education, and expanding their networks with other likeminded organisations and unions in Nepal.

The report also recommends that the federal government of Nepal, among other things:

  • Substantially increases domestic funding of public education to improve its overall quality and ensures that public schools are adequately equipped with a large range of teaching and learning materials, facilities, and the digital or ICT infrastructure required for remote education.
  • Subjects private education providers to stricter financial and operational regulations.
  • Provides education workers in the private sector with the same legal protections, social safety net, and benefits as those in the public sector. For example, the federal government should make the enrolment of teachers and non-teaching staff in a contribution-based social security fund mandatory.
  • Sets up an effective transitional strategy for emergencies in the education sector to prepare for future crises of the same magnitude as the COVID-19 pandemic. This process should involve laying out detailed policies and programmes, including strategic contingencies, alternative teaching-learning methodologies, safety protocols, and clear and comprehensive work plans for all stakeholders.

In his concluding remarks, Education International representative Sagar Nath Pyakurel condemned the fact that corporations are investing in education because of the possibilities of huge profits and turning education into a commodity.

Next steps in the fight against education privatisation

In the framework of the Global Response campaign, the second and third provincial planning meetings for this year – the first one was held from 18-19 June in Kathmandu – will be held in September.

The three Nepalese unions have formed a joint committee to conduct activities with FES, SASK-Finland and ActionAid. For the FES programme, ISTU representative Moti Ram Phuyal is working as a focal person for all three unions.