Political instability in the last six years has hit the education sector hard. The situation was pretty dismal before 2006 as well, as political parties resorted to shutting down entire country on the flimsiest of pretexts, leading to countless lost days in the academic calendar for school-and college-going students. Things were not expected to change overnight with the political changes brought about by Jana Andolan II. But there was hope that the political parties had finally internalized the crippling effects of strikes and bandas on education of millions of students, and no less importantly, realized that such disruptive activities that hamper education prospects of young minds could have a counterproductive effect on their own popularity. Alas, the hopes seem to have been misplaced.
Friday’s half-day general strike enforced by CPN-Maoist affected 6.8 million school goers, for a worrying 15th time in the current academic year that started mid-April. Government estimate puts the number of students enrolled up to university level who are directly affected by a nationwide strike at 9.3 million. Last year, schools in one or the other part of the country were affected for 140 days, putting paid to any hopes of finishing courses on time; under normal circumstances, school academic session spans over 220 days. The situation with higher education is worse still. Although the TU academic calendar makes it mandatory to run at least 155 classes a year in each level, its constituent colleges were able to run regular classes for less than 100 days last academic year.
This has made a mockery of political parties’ promise to recognize education sector as a zone of peace, a pledge the government signed into law on May 26, 2011. This irresponsibility on the part of our political class has had serious ramifications for the education sector. Whereas 56 percent of students passed School Leaving Certificate exams last year, just 47.16 percent cleared the ‘iron gate’ this year. More than anything else, educationists blame the decline in pass percentage on heightened political instability in the lead up to the May 27 constitution deadline, as political expedience easily trumped educational concerns. To get a measure of the utter disregard of political parties towards the future of Nepali youth, consider the May 7 education strike, called by CPN-UML affiliated All Nepal National Free Students Union over a gang-fight between rival student bodies at Pashupati Multiple Campus, Chabahil. Or the fate of the Satya Secondary School in Bajura district that has been shut for two and a half months due to disputes between student organizations affiliated to Nepali Congress and UML.
The dismal situation of our education establishments, crippled by strikes and bandas, are proof that political commitments are not enough to bring about desired changes. Unless there is a system in place to hold politicians accountable for their failure to live up to their promises, our education establishments will continue to suffer from undue political meddling, when their proceedings are not hampered by the all too frequent strikes and bandas. Perhaps the political class forgets that not even they, the torchbearers of democracy, have the right to deny children their right to education. As experiences around the world show, hundreds of thousands of uneducated and undereducated youths roaming about in search of jobs is a recipe for an impending disaster