Access, equity & quality in school education a must

The government has allocated 10.9% or Rs 196.38 billion for education in the ongoing fiscal year. Along with the execution of the federal system in the country, local governments are responsible for looking after public schools, and ensuring the quality of education through efficient management and quality human resources. The federal government transfers grants directly to local governments for this purpose. The federal government allocates a total of Rs 121.01 billion for 753 local governments to spend on education as the government delivers school-level education free of cost.

In a bid to execute the fundamental rights enshrined in the constitution, the government has been making huge investments in education, however, the quality of the education being provided is often overlooked. Article 31 (2) of the constitution says every citizen shall have the right to get compulsory and free education up to the basic level and free education up to the secondary level from the state.

However, much needs to be done to ensure school enrollment and retention of students in school-level education. According to the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, 96.3% of eligible children enrol in schools, however, the dropout rate is still high due to multiple reasons – only 85.1% continue education till grade eight 66.1% till grade 10, and 33.1% till grade 12.

According to Dr Biswo Nath Poudel, Former Vice Chairperson of National Planning Commission, poverty, remoteness, affordability, lack of literacy among parents, household workload, income shocks, lack of availability of schools for children of special needs and disability, negative attitude towards LGBTQIA+ community, violence in family and school, other family and social obligations besides discouraging factors for females, marginalised and low caste, family responsibility (death of senior member of the family), early marriage, lack of secure girls’ hostels are major reasons hindering school enrollment and retention of children.

There are a total of 34,368 public schools operational in the country. Among them, 10,962 are high schools (1-12 grade) and 17,228 schools have middle school programme (1-8 grade). Similarly, one teacher has to look after 21 students from grade 1 to 5, 31 students from grade 6 to 8, 22 students from grade 9-10 and 57 students from grade 11-12.

Due to lack of quality education except in a few public schools, a large number of private schools are in operation contributing to strengthening the country’s education system. However, there have been endless debates at different levels of authority and among the public about the demerits of operating health and education institutions as private and for-profit businesses. Rabindra Mishra, journalist turned into a politician, termed private education institutions as ‘factories for producing human resources for developed countries’. He urged the government to delve into the education system of the country that has been producing average human resources and talent due to lack of quality education in public education institutions despite investing huge resources from the annual budget of the government.

Nepal is aspiring to be a developed country from its least developed country status. The country is set to graduate to the league of developing countries by 2026, however, the country needs to invest in technical and vocational education as it requires more technical human resources for achieving its development goals. The country must focus on STEM (science, technology, engineering, and mathematics) in academic disciplines. Likewise, vocational education is needed to alleviate poverty and create more entrepreneurs and employees, as per experts. Some of the private schools have started extra courses on top of the government-approved curriculum to train their students in IT, mathematics, science, sports and other extracurricular activities.

It is quite common for a private school to have a computer lab and some schools have been teaching coding techniques to their students to enhance their logical capacity and familiarise them with computers, a prerequisite for nearly all today. New techniques for teaching and learning are also being explored. However, basic labs and quality human resources are still a far-fetched notion for public schools.

The government has envisioned to leverage IT services in every sector. The Digital Nepal Framework was unveiled by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology (MoCIT) in 2019 with the objective to unlock Nepal’s potential for growth by leveraging IT services in eight sectors and 80 initiatives. The verticals include digital foundation (digital infrastructure including legal foundation), agriculture, health, education, finance (fintech), energy, tourism and urban infrastructure. For effective execution it requires almost 50,000 IT graduates, however Nepal produces around 8,000 IT graduates annually. Many of them go abroad while many are not competitive enough to enter the job market with numbers standing at only 3,000. At the school level, the government has yet to ensure basic computer education. According to the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development, only 25% of public schools have computer labs so far. Suresh Kumar Joshi, Spokesperson for the Centre for Education and Human Resource Development, under the Ministry of Education, Science and Technology, the government provides Rs 650,000 to a thousand schools every annum to establish such labs, but this is being done in a phase-wise manner. Computers are not accessible to all students.
Apart from the requirement of IT professionals for the country, Nepal has equal prospect in developing as the back office of the world operating under different time zones. Companies based in the US can be operated for 24 hours and European companies for 16 to 18 hours if they establish their satellite offices in Nepal, according to Bijaya Shrestha, a researcher in the ICT sector.

Nepal needs to refurbish its education system to ensure quality, accessibility and realignment to meet specific needs of the country’s prospects. However, excessive politicisation of teachers in public schools, lack of basic facilities (hostels, labs, safe classrooms), profit-centric motive of private education institutions are impeding a clear vision to make education afforadable, accessible and relevant to the times, according to Mahasharm Sharma, Former Secretary of the Government of Nepal who served in the Ministry of Education for a long period of time during his career in civil service as Joint Secretary.

The government has been trying to bridge the gap through the President Educational Reform Programme, however, the intervention is deemed inadequate and insufficient according to Kedar Bhakta Mathema, Former Vice Chancellor of Tribhuvan University.

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Pushpa Raj Acharya

Pushpa Raj Acharya writes on private sector development, governance reform, taxation, trade/investment and financial sector. He is in journalism since 2007. He had served for Karobar Daily, Republica, The Himalayan Times and Annapurna Post before he started writing for Business 360. He is former president of the Society of Economic Journalists- Nepal (SEJON). He has interest in multimedia journalism & advocates for ethical and responsible journalism.

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