Nepal provides access to schooling to children in the most disadvantaged districts
March 16, 2020 by Aya Kibesaki, Global Partnership for Education and Jimi Oostrum, UNICEF Nepal |
7 minute read
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Nepal’s Consolidated Equity Strategy for the education sector is removing barriers to access, participation and learning for children facing the starkest and most complex disparities.

Two years ago, Barsha, a 12-year-old girl living in the Pipara Municipality of Nepal’s Mahottari District, was not enrolled in school.

Barsha belongs to an ethnic community (Dalit) classified as one of the lowest in Nepal’s caste system . Although many children have gained access to education over the past years through the efforts of the Government and development partners, including through the support of GPE, certain groups have less, or not benefitted from these gains, increasing the gap between them and the rest of the country’s population.

In Barsha’s community, it was common for girls not to enroll in school or drop out before secondary education, in many cases due to arranged marriages well before the current legal minimum age of 20. Both Barsha’s mother and older sister got married and had children before they reached their mid-teens.

Barsha’s parents, neither of whom had been able to go to school, felt they could not afford sending her to school. Although public education in Nepal is free, there are costs for transport and uniform that families need to cover. Also, Barsha going to school would mean she was no longer able to help with household chores.

“We thought, ‘Who will look after the children and the goats?’,” says Barsha’s mother. “We just thought we needed her to stay home and help with the work around the house.”

Convincing families to send girls to catch up classes

Barriers to Barsha’s schooling began to look a lot less formidable when Chandra Devi Mahara came to the family’s home and convinced Barsha’s parents to allow her to join 24 other unschooled girls between the ages of 10 to 14 in a non-formal catch-up class that met two hours a day, six days a week for nine months.

By using adapted curriculum and teaching methods, the girls attending these classes are brought up to an age-appropriate level before they continue their learning in a regular school. These classes are part of the Girls' Access to School (GATE) program, which is jointly funded by UNICEF and the Nepalese Government.

Barsha in class at Shree Ram Narayan Ayodhaya School, Pipara rural municipality, Mahottari District, Nepal
Barsha in class at Shree Ram Narayan Ayodhaya School, Pipara rural municipality, Mahottari District, Nepal
PME/Kelley Lynch

Over the past two years, the GATE program has facilitated the enrollment or re-enrollment of over 10,000 out-of-school girls who were too old to join schools through the regular enrollment.

The program closely collaborates with the girls’ parents and with the surrounding schools to ensure the girls who complete the program are supported in their transition to formal education, resulting in over 85% of them retaining and completing their basic education, despite their challenging circumstances.

Through several interactions with Mahara, Barsha’s parents became convinced of the need and the benefits for Barsha to enroll in the program in order to go back to school.

When they let her know, Barsha recalls, “I was so happy [knowing that] I will go to school!”.

What excited her the most, she says, was having books. “I had seen my friends’ books, and I wanted some of those books. I liked the pictures.”

A flyer of the annual enrollment and welcome to school campaigns
At the beginning of each school year, local authorities launch a campaign using posters, flyers, newspaper and radio ads to create awareness and encourage parents to send their children to school. After the campaign and the start of school, information comes in from the different districts about the actual enrollment rate.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Educating parents
In Province 2, data point to two main drivers of inequity: parents’ education and ethnicity. Many parents, who have never been to school themselves, do not understand the importance of education, especially for girls. So home visits to parents of out-of-school children are undertaken to explain why their girls and boys need to be in school.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Bikes being unloaded form a truck outside the offices of Pipara Municipality
Nepal's central and local governments are working to achieve 100% enrollment and retention in Mahottari district, one of the country’s 15 poorest performing districts, including by distributing bikes to girls so they can easily get to school.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Girls playing in the school yard at Shree Ram Narayan Ayodhaya School, Pipra, Mahottari District, Nepal
The government gives an annual scholarship of NPR 400 to all girls enrolled in government schools to encourage their schooling. Families can use the scholarship for notebooks, stationery or uniforms.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Mohammed Ashik Khan, Maulavi (and head of) Madrasa Darum Kerat Garvin Nawaz, Mahottari with a student
Many Muslim children are often considered as out-of-school. Parents usually send them to madrasas to learn about Islam. Madrasas can be registered by the government, which can support them with teachers if they add English, Nepali and math to what they already teach: Urdu, Farsi, Arabic and Islamic education. The government provides Madrasas with scholarships for girls, supports teachers' salaries and provides textbooks if the schools add the broader curriculum.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
A female teacher during a lesson at the Shree Ram Narayan Ayodhaya School, Pipra, Mahottari District, Nepal
Having female teachers, especially at the primary level, is very important to ensure girls enroll in school. When schools come to register with the government, they are always asked how many female teachers they have for their primary section.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Students receiving fruits as snack during a school day
To increase enrollment and retention, providing lunch and/or snacks to the students helps a lot. The government has prepared a healthy menu with specific items to be cooked on specific days. Schools have started their own canteens where they cook and serve food to the children.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Separated toilets and the provision of sanitary napkins
When schools are building latrines, the district authorities check that there are separate stalls for boys and girls. They also mandate that girls’ toilets should be in an area where girls don't have to pass through the boys' area. Sanitary napkins are also provided to girls. These measures make parents more willing to send their girls to school.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Suggestion box
Each school has a suggestion box to allow the community to share what the students and teachers need, especially girls and female teachers. Twice a week, the box is opened and the suggestions read to see how the school can address them.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch
Non-formal education
The GATE program (Girls Access to Education) is a flexible schooling program for girls aged 10 to 14. The 9-month course allows the girls to quickly catch up with the basics and then, according to their age group and ability at the end of the program, to join mainstream education in whatever class is determined to be appropriate.
Credit: GPE/Kelley Lynch

Nepal acts to improve equity in education

The GATE program is one of many programs emanating from Nepal’s 2014 Consolidated Equity Strategy for the School Education Sector.

The strategy was launched with the aim to allow assessment and comparison of disparities in education outcomes across Nepal, and based on this, develop targeted interventions that respond to identified needs to reduce these disparities.

Accordingly, the “Equity Index” was adopted by the Government to allow comparison of districts and municipalities based on their disparities in access, participation and learning.

The districts with the highest disparities, including Mahottari where Barsha lives, where identified and provided with additional resources (including Government budget) and interventions.

The implementation of the equity strategy, including the identification of districts through their equity index ranking and the provision of additional budget and targeted interventions, were selected by the Government and development partners to be an indicator for the results-based financing component of the GPE grant to Nepal.

With the recent introduction of a federal structure in the country, the previous 75 districts have been replaced by 753 municipalities.

Accordingly, the Government has calculated the Equity Index for all municipalities, allowing further targeting of resources. Pipara Municipality, where Barsha lives, is one of the municipalities within the country’s 15 most disadvantaged districts.

How the Equity Index works

The Equity Index draws on Nepal’s Education Monitoring Information System (EMIS) data and household survey data on gender, geography, socio-economic status, ethnicity, caste and disability.

The Index was developed by the Government with support from the Data Must Speak Initiative, which aims to strengthen the quality and use of data for need-based planning, funded by GPE and implemented by UNICEF in Nepal, Madagascar, the Philippines, Togo and Zambia.

The Equity Index allows education planners to understand the nature of barriers to access, participation and learning outcomes and compare the severity of these across communities. Looking at disparities rather than averages in the Nepal education sector is crucial to ensure efforts are targeted to those most in need.

For example, a child in Nepal on average gets 6.7 years out of the possible 10 years of schooling. This is of course not optimal, but it places Nepal above many other countries in the region, including India and Pakistan.

However, when disaggregating this number into groups of children based on gender, location, socio- economic status and caste and ethnicity, you’ll see that there’s a group of girls from a certain ethnic group that has less than two years of schooling on average.

With Nepal having made significant strides in the past decade on enrollment, it is important to support the Government in evidence-based strategies to target the limited resources to those that have not benefitted from this progress, allowing them to access education, participate and effectively learn. The use of the Equity Index allows the government to justify targeting these resources.

Education planners within the local governments that have been selected based on the Equity Index score are supported with unpacking this score to understand where the disparities are the largest (access, participation or learning outcomes) and which factors relating to the index’s dimensions are the most dominant.

Barsha responds to a question from her teacher. She excelled in catch-up classes, gaining access to class 5 in the formal education system.
Barsha responds to a question from her teacher. She excelled in catch-up classes, gaining access to class 5 in the formal education system.
PME/Kelley Lynch

Based on this analysis, the planners then develop implementation plans that allow to utilize the additional budget for targeted interventions to reduce these disparities. When selecting these interventions, they rely on interventions that have been proven to be successful in similar contexts, including:

  • separate toilets and sanitary napkins for girls and teachers
  • the availability of female teachers, who typically give girls the confidence to learn and stay in school
  • support for teachers in madrasas (Islamic schools) with materials and training to also teach secular subjects in line with the official curriculum
  • school feeding programs that provide lunch and/or snacks to the students
  • scholarships that make schooling affordable for girls
  • annual enrollment and welcome-to-school campaigns
  • education for parents about the value of schooling
  • bikes to ease girls’ treks to and from school.

In just a few short years, the Equity Index has already generated impressive progress. More resources than ever have flowed to municipalities within the 15 districts identified for targeted interventions.

In 2019, independent verification confirmed that there has been a 60% reduction in out-of-school children since the introduction of the Equity Index within the 15 targeted districts in 2016.

Finding the hardest-to-reach children

Based on this success, the government and development partners are now looking into how to use the equity index and equity strategy implementation plans nation-wide.

There are still 2.7% of children – about 900,000 in total – who are out of school in Nepal. Armed with information generated by the Equity Index and through the analysis carried out by the planners, the Government is now conducting a major campaign intensifying outreach to get those children into schools.

Barsha is thriving and has decided that: “I will be getting married only after I am 20. In my social studies book, it says that girls should not get married before they are 20.”

Asked what would happen if her parents insist, she looks at her mother and says, “I will say no. I’m only getting married after I’m 20.”

Barsha does her homework next to her younger brother Badal
Barsha does her homework next to her younger brother Badal
PME/Kelley Lynch

A chance to improve the odds of disadvantaged children

Through the GATE program, Barsha got the opportunity to learn Nepali, English, math, social studies and science. She attended every day and took her studies seriously. Where most girls who complete the program end up moving into formal education in class two or three, Barsha did well enough to place in class five.

The program has helped Barsha step out from a life that offered her few opportunities to one where she has more ways to set her own path. Her dream is to someday become a teacher in the same school where she studies now.

As Nepal continues to work on meeting its commitment of ensuring all children have access to quality education in a child-friendly and sensitive learning environment, the children who remain unable to attend school are expected to be the ones facing the biggest and most complicated barriers.

Applying evidence-based and need-based approaches (i.e. understanding who these children are, where they are, why they are not in school and what is needed to change this), like with the use of the Equity Index and the planning processes based on its data, will be crucial to fulfill this commitment.

In the words of Kamal Pokhrel, joint secretary at the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology in Nepal:

“Children are and have always been ready to go to school and learn, it is their context that creates barriers to do so. Our duty is to detect and take down those barriers, even if it becomes increasingly complicated to do so as we are getting to those children that are the hardest to reach”.

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Does the Organisation have a Volunteer Service program for Teaching in those remotest field in Nepal and others?

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