Nepal school strike alarms parents, educators
Mar 9, 2007 - 3:51:57 PM

Kathmandu, March 9 - The fate of tens of thousands of students in Nepal hangs in balance with hundreds of schools remaining closed for over two months.

Already reeling with transport and industry strikes, the Himalayan nation suffered a fresh blow Friday when an organisation of private school teachers enforced a strike in all private and high schools.

The Independent School Teachers' Union - is demanding better pay, permanency for contract teachers and other perks. It called the strike to put extra pressure on the government, which has already started talks with its officials.

There are about 9,000 private schools and 1,200 high schools in Nepal. While about 2,000 of them in Kathmandu valley were closed Friday due to the strike called by the ISTU, 90 percent of schools in the Terai plains in southern Nepal have been shut since mid-January due to a separate socio-political agitation.

The School-Leaving Examination, that moulds a child's career in Nepal and is known as the Iron Gates because of the high failure rate, starts from April 4.

However, a dark cloud hangs over the most decisive examination in a Nepali student's life with an organisation, the Madhes Janadhikar Forum, having called an indefinite general strike in the Terai plains from Tuesday.

The Forum is demanding an autonomous Madhes state for people from the plains. Prior to the general strike, it had called a transport strike and blockade of trading points since last month, paralysing life in the plains and hitting educational institutions.

'Schools are not business,' said Umesh Shrestha, president of Private and Boarding Schools Organisation Nepal -.

'We have a curriculum to complete in a specified time. Parents are increasingly concerned how exams will be held in April.

'Thousands of children are being held hostage by a political agitation.'

But the Forum says the temporary inconvenience caused by the disruptions is nothing compared to the exploitation of the plains people for nearly 250 years.

'We do not want to strike,' Upendra Yadav, chief of the Forum, told IANS. 'We want to resolve issues through talks. We suspended our protests earlier so that the government could create a conducive atmosphere for talks.

'However, the government did nothing.'

The Forum wants Home Minister Krishna Prasad Sitaula to resign because of the death of at least 31 people, mostly protesters, during the Terai movement.

It also wants the formation of a commission to bring to book those responsible for the deaths, including Maoists.

However, with the Maoists poised to join the government soon, the seven-party ruling alliance has not taken any action against the rebels, who killed two teenagers during the protests, for fear of antagonising them.

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