AN upsurge in Maoist activity has plunged Nepal's desperate education system further into crisis.
Many remote areas are now without functioning schools, while all schools in the Kathmandu Valley were again hit this week by a one-day national strike.
More than 50 government schools in rural areas were deserted as their principals and teachers abandoned their posts for the comparative safety of district headquarters. One secondary school in Surkhet in the west has closed indefinitely as seven of its eight teachers have departed.
Fearful of enforced recruitment by Maoists, children as young as 12 or 13 have also fled their villages, some travelling to district headquarters with their parents, others seeking refuge over the border in India or in the country's capital, Kathmandu. There they look for casual work to pay for accommodation and food.
Maoist atrocities against teachers are now regularly reported in the press.
An international development specialist, who asked not to be named, said: "There have been some headline-grabbing killings by the Maoists recently, like the teacher who would not stop teaching Sanskrit - regarded by the Maoists as a reactionary language reflecting the hegemony of a Hindu Aryan elite - who was shot and left tied to a tree as a lesson to others."
The headmaster of a school in Kavre was taken from his classroom, doused with kerosene and set alight."They killed him because he refused to provide shelter and food to the Maoists," a local said.
Many teachers find themselves isolated and living under impossible pressures. Maoists demand a percentage of their salaries and insist on an end to certain practices like the singing of the national anthem. If they do not comply, they face humiliation, punishment and possibly death. If they accommodate Maoist demands, they are treated as Maoist sympathisers by the security forces.
At the beginning of August, 75 per cent of the 342 schools in Rolpa district, regarded as the Maoist heartland, did not have enough teachers and 40 schools had only one. In Maoist-dominated areas there have been reports of schools being taken over and used as political headquarters and centres for mass gatherings.
Fears are now widespread that the months leading up to the November elections will see further violent action.