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.