|Photo:Hira Bdr Gharti Magar|
When the CPN (Maoist), now split into the UCPN (Maoist) and the CPN-Maoist, fought a decade-long war against the state, they ran their own schools in rural villages of Nepal. Ostensibly, the objective of the Maoist schools was to create what the rebels described as a ‘scientific’ and ‘progressive’ education system. In reality, the Maoist schools were run to develop a new breed of young communists by indoctrinating children. The Maoists believed that it was necessary to sustain their war.
The self-styled schools of the Maoists, locally referred to as ‘Janabadi Vidhyalayas’, were mostly operated in what was deemed to be their base area, particularly in the mid-western hills where the state forces, like the Nepal Army (NA) and Nepal Police, could hardly reach. In Rolpa alone, which was the epicenter of the Maoist insurgency, as many as 23 schools were run by the Maoists. Around 40 more schools were run by the Maoists in other districts like Rukum, Kalikot, Salyan and Jajarkot.
The Maoist schools were different from other ordinary schools, like those owned by the government, communities and private parties, in many ways.
They had their own curriculum, which defined nationalism in an entirely different way. The Maoist cadres would double as teachers. They did not need academic qualification to be teachers at the Maoist schools. In the name of teaching, they would teach children about political ideals of the Maoists. In the Maoist schools, the NA and the police would be dubbed as the enemies of the people.
Even until two years after the Maoists joined open politics by signing the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA), a landmark deal that formally put an end to the bloody war, with the government in 2006, their schools were still in operation. According to Guna Raj Lohani, chairman of All Nepal Teachers Organization (ANTO), which is affiliated to the Maoists, they downsized the number of schools following the CPA. “The number of our schools was downsized to 29 after signing of the CPA,” says Lohani. “It would cost us about Rs 60 million every year to run our own schools.’
However, after signing of the CPA, even the remaining Maoist schools began to vanish. Some were simply shut down while the rest were merged with other ordinary schools. Today, the Maoist schools have become a thing of the past. The Maoists are now bracing up what was once denounced by them as ‘unscientific’ and ‘bourgeoisie’ education system.
During the insurgency, the Maoists had run two types of schools: ordinary ‘Janabadi’ schools and the model ‘Janabadi’ schools. In ordinary ‘Janabadi’ schools, the students, as in other ordinary schools, would attend classes from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. They had a different curriculum, though. They would read ‘revolutionary’ books prepared by the Maoist themselves. On the other hand, Model ‘Janabadi’ schools would have boarding facilities as well.
In general schools, Democracy Day is a public holiday. But, in the Maoist schools, the students would get a public holiday on the anniversary of the launch of the “People’s War”. In addition, whenever the Maoists would organize programs, their schools would remain closed. All the students would be escorted to the venue where the Maoist leaders would deliver their ‘revolutionary’ speeches. In the name of text books, there were only political pamphlets, posters and calendars. Most of the students in the Maoist schools were children of Maoist cadres. Those who lost their parents in the insurgency would also study in the Maoist schools.
There were no certain standards for the Maoist cadres to qualify as teachers. Dhan Kumari Dangi, a fifth grade, worked as principal of Martyr Memorial Model School run by the Maoists in Jankot, Rolpa.
“All you needed was knowledge of politics and current affairs,” says Dangi. “You do not need to have a formal certificate to be head of a Maoist school.”
The school where Dangi worked has now been registered with the District Education Office of Rolpa. Harka Bahadur Dangi, who was chairman of the management committee of the school when it was run by the Maoists, says, “There was no point to continue with the school after the war was over. So, we decided to get it registered with the government office.”
Another Maoist school run by the same name in Thabang of Rolpa has now been merged with Bir Bhalbhadra Secondary School three years after the CPA.
Around 80 students and 3 teachers of that school were also accommodated in Bir Balbhadra School. The local people feel that the merger of the Maoist schools with ordinary schools has sent a message that their revolutionary slogans about ‘progressive’ education were hollow.
Lal Chandra Magar, who happened to be the chairman of management committee of a Maoist school during the insurgency, says they had to merge their schools with other ordinary schools as the Maoists, even while leading the government, did not care for them. “When the war ended, it became increasingly difficult for us to run our schools,” says Magar. “We were left with just two options: either close our schools or merge them with the ordinary ones.”
Today, whether they are merged with others or registered as independent community schools, all the Maoist schools follow the same curriculum. According to him, unlike the wartime, now the local people do not want their children to study about Maoist ideologies, their leaders, martyrs and their sacrifice. Earlier, the students would have to read about Maoist martyrs such as Tejman Gharti Magar ‘Dirgha’, Kim Bahadur ‘Sunil’ and Krishna Sen ‘Ichchhuk’.
Most of students who had enrolled in the Maoist schools have now quit their studies. Some discontinued just when their schools were closed or merged with others while others dropped out later. Raj Prakash Roka Magar, a resident of Thabang-7, is one of them. He says he quit studies mainly due to the lack of money. “Another reason was: I could not keep up with other students,” says he.
Like Raj Prakash, many students quit study as they felt they were not at the same level as other students in ordinary schools. Too much focus on political ideologies barred them from learning other subjects well. Sahas Rana Magar, of Thabang-2, who studied in a Maoist school and was later enrolled in a community-based school, says, “When I changed the school, everything was different. Curriculum was different. It was very difficult for me and my friends to adapt to the change.”
Bijaya Pun Magar, who hails from Fagham VDC-8 in Rolpa district, is now in Kathmandu to pursue higher education. He did much of his school-level study in a Maoist-run school. He says the Maoist leaders used to frequently visit his school and encourage them to learn their ideology during the insurgency.
“It has been a long time since I met them last,” says he. “When I run into them next time, I will definitely ask how relevant it was to teach us about their ideology.”
It was, of course, out of the question to expect budget from the government for the Maoist schools before the CPA was signed. But, even after the CPA was signed, the government did not spend a single penny for the sustainability of Maoist schools. In the last fiscal year, however, the government allocated Rs 1 million for one of the three schools developed by the Maoists as model schools. But, by that time, the school was already merged with another school. Santosh Budha Magar, a Maoist lawmaker from Rolpa, among other people, tried to transfer the budget to Thabang Higher Secondary School, where the Maoist school was merged. But, his efforts failed. Eventually, the budget was frozen.
When the Maoist schools were merged with other ordinary schools, teachers working there were also transferred to those schools. But, as their students, the Maoist teachers also did not find it easy to continue with their job in new schools. Madan Kumar Sharma of Dang, Prakash KC of Pyuthan and Hurmat Roka Magar of Rolpa, who were teachers at a Maoist school, were transferred to Thabang Secondary School. But, none of them are working there now. KC left the school shortly while Sharma returned to his home district. Roka Magar went overseas to work two years ago.