CHATTANOOGA, Tennessee — Great strides have been made in education in Nepal since the country’s monarchy was abolished in 2008. Students begin their education with five years of primary school. Unfortunately, pre-primary school, or Early Childhood Care and Education, is only sparsely available. Following primary school, students must pass an examination and earn a School Leaving Certificate (SLC) in order to advance to secondary schooling. The SLC is sometimes referred to as the “iron gate” through which few students pass.
In 2013, merely 41 percent of the 548,000 students who took the test passed, and most who did were privately educated. As Nepal strives to meet the U.N.’s Millennium Development Goals for education by 2015, more girls are entering schools in Nepal. Enrollment has increased from 1.8 million to 2.4 million in eight years. In response to the growing demand, the country’s education budget more than doubled. But government schools in Nepal still cannot compete with private education.
In the 1990’s, a rising middle class demanded better schools, and private learning institutions began popping up all across Nepal. Now, there are roughly 25,000 private schools in the country, performing dramatically better than their government-run counterparts. Sadly, private schooling is not a feasible option for many students. About half of all Nepalese people live in poverty, on less than two dollars a day and a single month’s fees at a private school in Kathmandu are about fifty dollars per student.
Since 2008, the Government of Nepal has faced some challenging transitions, including the recent drive to improve literacy and education and democratize learning. The School Sector Reform Programme (SSRP) was a 4 billion dollar initiative to improve government-run schools and prevent attrition. About 8 percent of Nepalese Grade 1 students stop attending, and 23 percent must repeat the grade entirely. Less than one-third of students who begin school will reach Grade 10.
Since SSRP, more funds are being put toward education in Nepal and more students are attending schools. Unfortunately, these quantitative changes have done little to alter the educational quality Nepalese public schools provide. Ill-prepared teachers, inadequate learning materials and understaffed classrooms remain some of the greatest hindrances to the school system, and much remains to mend.
Through a program called Capacity Development for Education for All in Nepal (CapEFA Nepal), the U.N. is assisting the Government of Nepal to reach national literacy goals through December 2016. In a 2011 survey, literacy rates for Nepalese people over the age of 15 were merely 56.5 percent. The U.N.’s Educational, Scientific, and Cultural Organization (UNESCO) hopes to dramatically improve these literacy rates, primarily through highly structured teacher training and education.
Nepalese literacy rates will drastically improve with the increased education of women and girls Huge strides toward equal education have been made already, but girls’ literacy and education in Nepal still lags behind national averages. Almost 40 percent of the male Nepalese population benefit from at least some secondary education, but only 17.9 percent of the female Nepalese population have any exposure to secondary school.
Projects like UNESCO’s Empowering Adolescent Girls and Women initiative promotes equitable education, literacy and lifelong learning. While nonprofits such as Room to Read, expand both formal and informal educational opportunities for girls and women throughout Nepal.
– Robin Lee