Nepal’s road to ensuring equity in education

Alice Albright recently traveled to Nepal to get a firsthand view of the country’s education progress and remaining challenges.

December 11, 2014 by Alice Albright, Global Partnership for Education
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7 minutes read
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Alice Albright at a Primary School in Kathmandu, Nepal (c) Nayantara Gurung Kakshapati

I recently traveled for the first time to Nepal to get a firsthand view of the country’s education progress and remaining challenges. While Nepal ranks 145th out of 187 countries in the UNDP Human Development Index with a gross national income per capita of just about $2000, the country has made good progress in the education sector over the past few years.

During my visit, I had the opportunity to meet with the Nepali Minister of Education, the Secretary of Education and ministry staff to discuss implementation progress of the national School Sector Reform Plan. I also met with the Development Partners’ group, including several civil society partners. It was very encouraging to see the solid and constructive relationship between the government and its partners.

A focus on children with disabilities

I was particularly impressed by a school I visited on the outskirts of the capital Kathmandu for its work on inclusive education. 

Children with lighter disabilities were learning in classes with other students.  Children with more severe visual, audio or cognitive impairments were in a special class of about 25 students with three dedicated teachers. One of the visually impaired teachers was even a former student of the school.

The school’s teachers have developed special learning materials for the children and it was wonderful to see them using a Braille device provided by the government while others communicated in sign language. The interaction between teachers and students confirms that it takes passionate and well-trained teachers to provide a good quality education in a safe environment for these children.

Making equity part of the education agenda

Nepal has come a long way in improving equity in education. In most countries, factors like income, geography, gender, language and disability contribute to inequitable access and high drop-out rates.

In Nepal, there is an additional factor of caste and ethnicity which further aggravates this situation. While the caste system was legally abolished in the 1960’s, its legacy continues to impact the population for many years thereafter, and people considered low-caste are often economically and socially disadvantaged. In the past, children from such castes did not have access to schools.

This has now changed with government initiatives such as school enrollment campaigns and scholarships for marginalized children.

It is encouraging to see that children from so-called low-castes now represent 20% of the primary school population, which is the same proportion as in the general population.

Gender disparity was also a prominent issue in the past, but thanks to initiatives like girls’ scholarships, construction of school latrines for girls, and a quota system to recruit more female teachers, Nepal now has the same number of boys and girls in preschool, primary, and secondary education levels.

The overall enrollment rate for primary education is at 96% (up to grade 5), and at 86% for basic education (up to grade 8).

The Global Partnership has helped Nepal to make progress

This progress is truly impressive.  The previous GPE grant of US$ 120 million, alongside funds from other development partners, has supported the government in making such important strides forward.

Now, the government and its partners have begun to take their equity-promoting initiatives to another level. Looking behind the overall headline of good progress, they are now reviewing disaggregated data at the sub-national level to identify pockets of persisting inequities.

Data is crucial to know where exactly girls, poor children, minorities, disabled children or other disadvantaged groups are located and hence, where funds should be targeted.

A new national comprehensive equity strategy will focus on outcomes and the ultimate results of education – in addition to disparities in school access.

As important as evidence-based decision making is the change of cultural norms and attitudes. If teachers do not treat disadvantaged children the same way they treat other children, and don’t provide encouragement, these children will not thrive in school.

Moreover, Nepali officials are critically aware that work needs to continue to improve learning outcomes, and to ensure that progress is made also at secondary education levels.

Nepal will pioneer the new funding model of the Global Partnership for Education

Nepal is also one of the first countries planning to apply for a GPE program implementation grant under our new funding model that encourages transformational results in equity, efficiency and learning outcomes. While 70% of the funds will be released on traditional terms, 30% of the funds will be results-based, meaning that funds will be disbursed upon the achievement of results in these three key areas.

Looking at Nepal’s work on equity, I cannot help but be confident that this new funding approach will create momentum for further progress in education -- not only in Nepal but across many developing countries.

Nepal is an excellent example showing that with strong government leadership and the support of national and international development partners, countries can make significant improvements in education and ensure access to a quality education to marginalized children.

Alice Albright is the Chief Executive Officer of the Global Partnership for Education.

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South Asia: Nepal

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We are truly inspired by your thoughts and observations. Your visit to Nepal has proved remarkable and has opened ways for our engaged partnership in education. We are deeply impressed by your commitment to providing support to ensure our children's equitable access to quality education in Nepal. Warmest greetings.

In reply to by Lava Deo Awasthi

Many thanks for your kind words, Lava. I have been inspired by all your hard work. The Global Partnership for Education stands ready to accompany you throughout the next phase of education reforms in Nepal.

I write as the founder of Nepal Schools Aid (www.nepalschoolsaid.org) and the first Nepali woman ever to receive a PhD from my country. This self congratulation and pouring of money into Nepal's Ministry of Education is doing nothing to improve education in my country. Money does not bring expertise, or competence, or skills, or ..... transformation. The facts prove this, provided the REAL facts are examined without selectivism. Mutual congratulation about enrolments or having provided some teacher training is ignoring the real issues and avoiding causes and potential solutions.
Some real facts:

Almost 30% of children who enrol in primary school drop out before secondary.
Fully 72% of children fail the School Leaving Certificate exams, which is a HIGHER failure rate in government schools than that occuring in 2009 before billions of dollars were spent on the School Sector Reform Plan. Dropout rates and failure rates have been steadily increasing over this period.

However, let's focus a little more, despite these statistics:
The government and bilateral donors spent billions of dollars on the School Sector Reform Plan from 2009
The government and international agencies congratulate themselves that 95% of children now enrol in school, but ignore the dropout rates.
They also congratulate themselves that 95% of teachers have been trained but ignore the difference between a "trained teacher" and a "teacher who has received some training".Very little training gets implemented with a range of reasons available and in evidence.
One international agency recently spent a considerable sum of money gathering data to tell us how many more teachers would be required around the globe to meet various numerical targets without any focus on quality. According to their figures Nepal is doing well!
Another international agency recently congratulated itself on running ONE 5 day course for teachers in a remote region to "introduce them" to child friendly (whatever that is) education.
One more international agency recently ran some workshops on continuous assessment in the classroom for teachers, but couldn't answer how the process would be implemented in actual lessons because they hadn't trained teachers in child centred facilitation skills.

Amongst the more bizarre Nepal government pronouncements over the past couple of years are:
A former education minister who returned from a trip to Europe and said that interactive whiteboards was the key to solving the quality education problem.
A policy of giving all new children enrolled in school a personal garland.
A policy of not allowing teachers to take professional training from organisations other than DEOs.
A policy of naming and shaming absent or under performing teachers.
There are many more..........

There are small organisations in Nepal who have built a very high standard of intellectual capital and expertise in teacher training, school development, community development and quality education research. But we/they are ignored by government, INGOs, bi-lateral donors and major aid agencies. How can it be better to give money to a needy country instead of giving expertise, skill, competence? The answer to the education problem is to evaluate "real delivery inputs and results" then to scale up the best, NOT to fund the largest on the assumption that biggest is best!

In reply to by Dr C H Tuladha…

Dear Tuladhar,

Many thanks for your comment and your engagement in helping to improve education for the children in Nepal. We agree with you that there is still lots to do regarding the quality of education and ensuring that all children are in school and stay in school in Nepal. Indeed, this is the reason why the Global Partnership for Education is supporting education in Nepal. But we also need to recognize that there has been a lot of progress over the past years. Enrollment rates have gone up at early childhood, basic, and secondary education levels. The percentage of out-of-school children is going down. Primary completion rates are improving. We all need to work together to ensure that Nepal’s education system gets stronger and is sustainable for the years to come.

GPE team

In reply to by Dr C H Tuladha…

Dear Dr. Tuladhar

While acknowledging the achievements and commitments in improving the access and quality of education, our joint reviews and planning processes remain critical as we all know that although we came a long way, we at the same time have a long way to go in reaching the goals set out within the education sector. As such, we would like to invite you in discussing your thoughts further. Also, the Association of INGOs, the NGO Federation of Nepal and the National Campaign for Education are members of the SSRP Sector Wide Approach consortium, which has taken on the role of Local Education Group in Nepal. So please feel free to get in contact by sending a mailto the SSRP as they will be able to provide you our contact details as we will be looking forward to discuss this further with you.

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