Nepal’s equity index: innovations in financing to reach the children most in need
Nepal’s efforts to reduce disparities across the education sector are bearing fruit: in the last year, 24,090 children were enrolled in school.
June 21, 2018 by Wenna Price, Global Partnership for Education, and Jimi Oostrum, UNICEF Nepal
9 minutes read
Primary wing of Adarsha Saula Yubak Higher Secondary School, Bhainsipati, Lalitpur, Nepal. Credit: GPE/NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati
Primary wing of Adarsha Saula Yubak Higher Secondary School, Bhainsipati, Lalitpur, Nepal.
Credit: GPE/NayanTara Gurung Kakshapati

Ensuring an education system that is inclusive and equitable in terms of access, participation and learning outcomes is a key dimension of Nepal’s School Sector Development Program 2016-2023.

This builds on the success of the previous decade, in which equitable access to school increased significantly in Nepal. In 2006, girls were under-enrolling in primary school, which led to a gap in net enrollment of 3.8% between boys and girls. By 2016 the gender gap in primary net enrollment had closed to 1%.

Nepal’s commitment to equity

While Nepal experienced significant success in the period leading up to 2016, the government identified remaining disparities that continue to limit the ability of some children to access quality education.

In response Nepal created the Consolidated Equity Strategy for the School Education Sector in Nepal, adopted in 2014, which now underpins its policies and interventions. A core tool of the equity strategy is the equity index, which was designed to operationalize the equity strategy, by measuring deprivation across districts. The equity index was launched in 2017.

An innovative tool covering the whole education sector

Nepal’s equity index is an innovative tool designed to capture data related to disparities across the education sector. The index enables the Ministry of Education to use data to rank prevalence of disparities in education outcomes (disparities in access, participation and learning outcomes).

This allows for analysis and evidence-based planning against the drivers of disparities to ensure that public resources are allocated according to need in order to reduce these disparities.

This ensures that activities are undertaken to respond to the needs of children facing barriers to access and/or stay in school, identify these barriers, and ensures funds get to where they are most needed.

Nepal’s basic education sector encompasses 35,000 schools, and approximately 8 million students between Grades 1 and 10. At the launch of the equity index in 2017, there were approximately 770,000 children of school age who were not in primary or secondary school across the country.

Data about children and communities across the country is captured in the equity index, to ensure that sector planning makes provision for all children, including those not currently enrolled in school.

Data collected, analyzed and shared to impact resource allocation

The equity index was developed by the Ministry of Education with support from UNICEF Headquarters, South Asia Regional Office and Nepal Country Office (through the Data Must Speak" Initiative), the World Bank and GPE. It uses the disparity-based formula known as the Human Opportunity Index (HOI) and draws on both household and school-based census capturing data on gender, geography, socio-economic status, ethnicity and caste, and disability.

The data are analyzed and converted into an equity score by district. This creates a picture of the intensity of inequity by district across the country.

The data are then used by education planners and policy-makers to rank districts according to their composite index score and inform resource allocation and equity-focused sector analysis and strategy formulation.

Strengthening need-based planning and reducing disparities

The equity indexes and the ‘unpacked’ data that allow stakeholders to understand their score are computed and shared at all levels of the education sector. They are reflected in school, municipal and local and provincial education profiles that are made available to education stakeholders, including parents and guardians.

The Ministry of Education is using the data to rank districts and allocate additional budget for targeted interventions in the least equitable districts (from 5 out of 75 in 2016, to 15 in 2019). The interventions are proposed by the district stakeholders, and so far included communication campaigns and community mobilization for out-of-school children.

In Nepal’s new federal structure, the targeting of resources is envisioned to be partly devolved to the provincial level in the provinces with the highest disparities and include more substantial strategies (including for example pro-poor targeted scholarships) to address root causes faced by the remaining out- of-school children.

At the same time, the data are provided to implementers and decision makers at sub-national workshops along with Equity Strategy Implementation Plans to systematically unpack and analyze the data and institutionalize a systematic need-based planning approach to reduce disparities.

This strengthens the local governments in using both the additional resources that have been made available for districts recognized as having the highest disparities in education, but also other resources available in a more targeted manner.  

Results: more children in school and learning

The targeted interventions that were undertaken in 2017 as part of the regular enrollment cycle in the 5 districts that experience the highest disparities were done based on a household level census that verified the number of out-of-school children and their characteristics.

Through these interventions, the government was able to enroll 24,090 children (22% of the total out-of-school children in these 5 districts, of which 61% are girls). An independent verification was done to ensure the children enrolled were the ones previously identified through the mapping exercise in these districts.

Across Nepal, a school’s budget is calculated using a per capita formula. This allocation is the same for all students across the country, so each school receives its budget based on the number of children enrolled, without taking any other factors into account.

However, each school has different needs. For example, a very remote school may need to provide food for the students at lunchtime. In an area in which incomes are low or unpredictable, the local community may not be able to provide additional supplies or resources for teaching and learning, and the school may need to finance these.

To address these problems, additional funding can be provided to supplement the basic budget for schools that need it most. The equity index can be used to support additional targeting, by ensuring that the data used to calculate additional funding is accurate and up to date.

Expanding the use of the equity index

As efforts to enroll out of school children in the 5 initial districts continue in 2018, the equity index will be used to inform targeted interventions in an additional 10 districts, extending the additional allocations to local governments representing 20% of the total municipalities in Nepal.

Although the equity index remains quite new, it is hoped that its success in the first five districts can be gradually replicated to improve school attendance and learning among children all over the country.

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