Nationalize Nepal’s schools?

The proposal that the government take over private schools in Nepal is an ideological trial balloon from the far left

According to a broadcast on state-run Radio Nepal last week, the government is considering nationalizing all private schools in the country and standardizing textbooks. The broadcast quoted Minister for Education and Sports Mangal Sidhi Manandhar as saying the policy would eliminate the gap in quality between private and government schools. The following day Nepal’s Maoist rebels reiterated their demand for nationalization, and Maoist student groups renewed calls to slash school fees.

Nationalization would create a measure of equality, but by bringing good schools down to a lowest common denominator. The enormous popularity of private schools at every price level shows that they provide better education than the public schools. If private schools can’t offer – and charge for – better facilities and teachers than government schools, then the children attending them will suffer in the name of equality. If only a standard curriculum is available, very few students will be able to pass entrance examinations for universities abroad.

Of course parents who can afford to send their children to boarding schools in other countries will do so. Unless the government anticipates banning that, the brain drain and hard-currency outlay would be a terrible waste. It ought to be obvious that educating students at home in first-class schools is better, and more democratic.

Minister Manandhar may privately agree. He has spoken in the past about improving public schools, and as recently as May 25 he said that the government was not considering nationalization but instead would revise the public school curriculum. The minister is a leftist, a member of parliament representing the Communist Party of Nepal, United Marxist-Leninist, but he’s a professor and an intellectual, not a radical.

The proposal is radical: It’s straight from the Maoists’ playbook. The minister’s floating of it is surprising, and it is an indication of how much influence the Maoists have in the current government. That influence will grow. Expect more of the same to come: radical proposals for a new Nepal, some positive and progressive; some dead-on-arrival clunkers like school nationalization.

What everyone concerned about the state of education in Nepal has to do is to work to improve the calibre of the public schools, not drag down the private schools. Nationalization will only hurt the best in Nepali education. It’s absolutely the wrong way to help the poor or to build a new nation.

John Child is The NewsBlaze Nepal Correspondent, a journalist in Kathmandu who writes about goings-on in and around Nepal and her neighbors.