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Threat to Education in Nepal

Threat to Education in Nepal

By Kamala Sarup

(Kamala Sarup is a Co-Ordinator of a media watch group - The Peace Media Research Center - and can be reached at peacemedia@gmail.com )

Maoists attacks on schools exact a huge cost in terms of the damage and disruption they cause. The full impact of the war and almost total neglect of the national education system leave a staggering challenge for students. Since the Maoists started their war, schools in Nepal have been among the targets and hundred of schools in Nepal have been destroyed or abandoned. There is a general scarcity of teachers. It is only in Kathmandu that children stand a chance of receiving an education, but here too there are severe constraints. Unsurprisingly, failure rates are high, and few students even enter high school. The government has consistently spend small amount of its budget on the education sector.

Nepal's long and brutal war has robbed thausends of students and their futures. Students are paying the price of a war that has reduced the country's health, education, justice and social structures to ruins. The Maoists have been forcing students and teachers in large numbers in different parts of the country to take part in their ‘re-education’ and ‘people’s militia’ programme. They forced many teachers to resign, and those who did not comply were kidnapped and even murdered. Attacks on schools in Nepal by the Maoist is both shocking and brutal.

Many school days were lost because the Maoists forcefully closed the schools. Many parents, fearing for the safety of their children, chose not to send their children to school and confront the Maoists. Because of violence there is no teaching-learning environment. Many children in Nepal become psychologically wounded. However, it has created widespread panic among the students and their parents. Even in different parts of the country, parents have started forbidding their children from attending schools. The threat is slowly forcing the school to shut down. The Maoists even organised a cultural programme in the school. Meanwhile, the Maoists also have ordered all teachers in different part of Nepal to wear combat dresses and hand over their salaries to them.

Some schools are standing empty not because there are no students to use them, but because students are scared to go to school while other schools are closed completely. Moreover, children could no longer attend schools in areas dominated by Maoists. The human, material and financial resources have been significantly reduced, which directly affects the educational sector. Because of this, the Nepali educational system shows difficulties of access, high desertion and failure rates.

The armed conflict raging in the country since the past nine years has hit the educational sector hard. Especially after the second breakdown of the ceasefire in August, the battle ground has extended to the educational institutions. Even the education policy of the government is very poor. Thus education in the countryside has been thrown into chaos.
Strikes and closures have taken a severe toll on the number of school days available. Last year schools in urban areas functioned for about 150 school days, while in rural areas, even 100 school days are rare. Furthermore, the closure of schools because of political instability was a common phenomenon in Nepal. Schools and colleges also remained closed during transportation strikes, blockades, rallies and other strikes. With the frequent strikes disturbing the smooth running of schools and colleges in Nepal, more and more Nepalis are opting to send their children abroad for higher education.
The political violence and political instability are prompting thousands of students to head for safer, and also is threatening to destroy Nepal's educational system. A large degree of political tension in Nepal continues to revolve around questions of labels, identity, and political categorization.

Even politicians are always keen to use the teachers and students to further their own selfish motives. The educational institutions should not be used as tools to pressurise the other party to fulfil the political demands. Deuba government is ultimately responsible for security of the students, and must ensure that students and teacher are not put in the position where they are used as human shields. Deuba government must act for the protection of the students and teachers as a whole, regardless of geographical location. The indiscriminate killing of teachers and students must end. The terrible impact of the war on the country’s students is still everywhere to be seen. The government should now involve all schools, guardians, civil society, political parties, and their student unions to hold an open discussion. The Maoists should immediately stop abducting the students and no armed force should be allowed to enter schools.
Political strikes never address national problems and issues such as corruption and poverty. Although much of the political violence directed toward students happens. Students are experiencing much higher levels of violence because political violence in education has a bad legacy. The Strikes and closures cannot be a solution to the problems faced by any political or non-political organization. Past experience has revealed that such activities have further aggravated the problems at the cost of the economy.

Political violence in schools and universities began to escalate and the policy vacuum surrounding the issue must be addressed. Political violence violates student's human rights and has been condemned by international and regional human rights treaties and national legislation. Political violence also damages student's physical and psychological health and makes it more difficult for them to deal in a positive way with their life. This would be a tragedy for all of us, since, as we have learned, student’s security is tied to national security. Even recently a joint press statement issued by the donor agencies said they were gravely concerned over the interruption of school education and undermining of the future of Nepal's children. The statement has urged the Maoists and concerned parties to abstain from rampant mobilization of children and teachers for political purposes and intimidating interference and harassment. The donors have also called on the Maoists to commit themselves to respect the schools as 'Zone of Peace.' School education, as a basic right, must be declared a zone of peace.

Our schools and colleges have become a political battlefield. It is time to take a serious look at what the real impact of such strikes, closures or blockades on the economy is?. This is a very important issue because educational institutions are suppose to be safe places of growth and learning. Without this commitment, much of what has been achieved may be lost.
Education institutions are places where students learn values, as well as the information and skills they need to pass exams. It is the government’s responsibility to provide security to the students. In the past year alone, the Maoists have torched and destroyed at least 41 educational establishments. A disturbed academic environment for one year can retard the future of a student by ten years.

Lack of adequate and proper education certainly is one of the things that are fueling Nepal's plight. Government does not spend nearly enough on education, despite the fact that millions are in need. Even most of the schools lack toilets while many of them are deprived of drinking water. Most of the school buildings are old and often water oozes from roofs during rainy season, hampering the studies of the students. Yet another problem the students are facing in remote parts of the district is considerably long distance they have to cover to reach school. On the other side, the government schools have not been able to find adequate teachers to run the schools even as the new academic session is beginning next month.
Fortunately or unfortunately, even after pursuing democracy, Nepal has not yet overcome the social, economic, political and environmental crisis prevailing in the country. All the political parties talk on value based politics, but they hardly talk how to achieve it.
Nepal's political parties and leaders appear incapable of solving national problems. More than that, they have not even begun to identify the issues and problems to be addressed.

Deuba government should know that military solution does not seem feasible, new avenues must be explored, in consultation with civil society and the international community, to create and maintain a lasting peace as soon as possible. Today's children are tomorrow's future, so they ought to be able to go to school without fear. They need to argue with pens rather than with guns.

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