Nepal: trade unions unite around fighting privatisation and commercialisation of education

Organised as part of Education International’s Global Response against the commercialisation and privatisation in and of Education, the Convention on Privatisation of Education and Right to Education in Nepal helped further raise awareness and disseminate international research on education privatisation in the country.

National Convention on Privatisation of Education and Right to Education

On 23 June, over 80 participants representing local governments, teachers’ unions, government officials, parent organisations, civil society, and MPs assembled in Kathmandu to take part in a national convention on the impact of privatisation on the right to education organised by the three EI member organisations, the Nepal National Teachers' Association (NNTA), the Nepal Teachers' Association (NTA), and the Sansthagat Vidyalaya Schickshak Union Nepal (ISTU).

In his inaugural speech, Vice-Chairperson of the National Planning Commission Dr. Puspa Kandel commended the teacher unions’ actions against the privatisation of education in Nepal, undertaken in the framework of the Education International (EI) Global Response against privatisation and commercialisation of and in education.

Emphasising low budgetary allocations to public education as one of the reasons for the deterioration of the national public education system, he called upon trade unions to mobilise public opinion around the need for good quality public education.

Education International’s Asia-Pacific (EIAP) Regional Committee member and NNTA President Babu Ram Thapa asked for details on how constitutional commitments for free and compulsory education will be implemented, given meagre budgetary allocations.

Explaining that the issue will be not be solved until such laws are implemented, he raised questions around Nepali politicians’ involvement with private providers of education. He went on to affirm that education for all can only be achieved through a strong public education system, not through for-profit education providers.

EI research

During the panel discussion that followed, Dr. Promod Bhatta shared the findings of the EI research, “Nepal: Patterns of Privatisation in Education.  A case study of low-fee private schools and private chain schools”.

The publication highlights the low funding of public education which is leading to its decline and consequent growth in privatisation of education. The study also focuses on the private schools’ failure to follow the norms and regulations set out by the Nepali Constitution, as well as the government’s failure to ensure the implementation of these requirements. It also warns that private schools are leading to greater segregation and gaps within the society, between rich and poor, and boys and girls.

Need for public sector’s efficiency

Dr. Hari P. Lamsal, Joint Secretary at the Nepal’s Ministry of Education, described the key features of state or non-state actor’s education services. Concluding that privatisation/commercialisation is not the solution, he reminded that efficiency of the public sector is essential.

Following the presentations, participants discussed Dr Lamsal’s remarks and EI Research’s findings.

Commenting on Lamsal’s intervention, former EIAP Regional Coordinator Sagar Nath Pyakuryal highlighted three key issues for the consideration of the participants; the content and values of the right to education; hybrid economic models, public-private partnerships; and market theory applied to education, insisting that education should not be related to the market, rather available to all and not subjected to resources conditions.

The ISTU leaders also addressed the issues of the violation of rights of teachers in private schools, and of regulations of fees, infrastructure, salary and other benefits in education.

Education unions to be involved at policy-making level

Seeking information on governmental plans towards achieving the right to education, participants asked for teachers’ union representatives’ active participation at policy-making level; involvement which they regretted has been gradually shrinking.

The NNTA women’s leader Kamala Thapa also questioned the role of private schools in providing equitable and inclusive education as private schools are excluding girls and children from marginal families.

Expressing his support to the trade unions, Ex-Deputy Ministry of Education and MP Dilendra Pd. Badu called on unions to protect the right to education of every child in Nepal and called on them to get ready to combat Government’s possible undemocratic moves against the unions. 

MP Rajbahadur Budha advised the education unions to get ready to deal with the impact of the decentralisation set in motion nationally. Education unions will need to protect themselves, as well as public education, he warned.

In his conclusions, NNTA President Laxman Sharma shared future plans of teacher unions to collectively fight under the umbrella of EI’s Global Response the challenges brought by the commercialisation and privatisation of education.

Education unions’ mobilisation and advocacy with MPs and public authorities

Demanding collective action against private education providers whose actions are against the constitution and undermining efforts towards the achievement of global commitments such as the Education 2030 Agenda and the sustainable development goal 4, Sharma called on participants to support and mobilise for the NTA, NNTA and ISTU high-level education commission’s campaign, including planned meetings of education unions with MPs and public officials and the submission of memorandums demanding adequate funding for education and the regulation of private schools.

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