Remodelling public education financing

-This article has been originally published by Ashesh Shrestha in The Himalayan Times on September 17, 2017.

Quality basic education can increase productivity of the people and induce growth in income and output. Researches have also shown that an additional year of schooling can lead to a 20-percent increase in income in low income countries like Nepal. Other studies hint towards how lack of basic education is a powerful determinant of poverty, and how unequal access to educational opportunities has strong correlation with income inequality. An argument for publicly-funded basic education, then, can be drawn from this.

Education is also considered to be a social good as it yields positive social and economic output for the society. It is thus that the argument of public funds for public education comes about. However, low income countries also face a budgetary constraint. This greatly limits their capacity to make investment in education sector alone. Therefore, it is imperative that the government utilize the limited resources that go into education optimally. One way to test that is using the results that public education has been producing.

Cost of public education and the resultant outcomes

In Nepal, government has been spending a significant portion of budget in public education. The government expenditure on education comprises a major portion of the national budget. Education budget for the fiscal year 2015/16 is Rs. 98,642,826,000. Between 2007/08 and 2015/16, education budget has grown by 8.76% per annum, adjusted for inflation. This is a massive increase in government’s education expenditure. However, results seem dismal.

If we only use the results of public and private schools in School Leaving Certificate examinations as an indicator of quality of education, public schools fare very inadequately. In the year 2015, their SLC pass rate dropped to a decade-low of 25.33 percent. Higher spending has not delivered better results.

Government’s educational expenditure and enrollment

One of the primary reasons behind increment in government expenditure is to increase the enrollment and ensure education for all. However, if we look at the current trend of enrollment in the public schools, we can see no correlation between the government’s education expenditure and the enrollment. The government’s spending on education might not have negative effect on enrollment but it does not have any positive effect either

Comparing public and private schools

One of the reasons that government has been spending so much on education is to offer an alternative to so-called expensive private education. However, government’s claim that private education is more expensive is not tenable. Accounting for all the costs of education, cost of education per child are comparable to each other.

To the extent possible, parents also seem to prefer private schools. Parents perceive English language, which is the primary language in private schools, as imperative for their children’s successful future. They also believe that private schools provide better education.

Enrollment in private schools has increased by 57 percent in last 10 years.

Remodeling the current method of education financing

Dismal educational outcomes and declining enrollment in public schools while private schools flourish builds a case of remodeling current method of financing public education. Many countries have successfully tested alternative means.

One of such popular alternative means is school voucher. In school voucher system, government instead of directly funding public schools, funds individual students. Government provides a voucher worth certain amount of money to the parents which they can use for sending their children to the school of their choice. As the parents can choose from any private or public schools, it creates competition among schools to attract students, inducing them to perform better.

Prior to the voucher program that was started in 1992, only 1 percent of the students attended private schools in Sweden. This increased to 11 percent by 2009 due to the expansion of choice made possible by school vouchers. Also, districts having higher percentage of voucher students had significant positive effect on test scores and grades, and likelihood of attending college.

Other innovation in the public education financing is charter school model. Charter model is basically privatization of the management of the public schools. The private management is given full autonomy with respect to making decision regarding teaching methodology, hiring teachers and management of the school resources. The school is financed by the government on the basis of the number of students enrolled in a particular school; the funding increases with the increase in enrollment and vice versa. The idea of the charter school is to increase competition which induces schools to perform better for securing more students and hence the funding.

Charter schools have produced mixed results. It has been successful in some countries and has not been able to generate substantial positive outcome in other parts of the world. But, given the robust performance of the privately-managed schools, charter model very well may be a possible method of financing education in Nepal.

These are some alternative models that currently exist. In order to ensure quality education to all, these models can be tested in Nepal. Both of these could be piloted in different areas of the country and their effectiveness could be tested. Furthermore, these models can also be modified according to the local context.