Life is hard for eight-year-old Kasilal. From his village of Daraphai in the poor, mountain district of Humla, over 750 km northwest of the Nepalese capital, Kathmandu, he has to walk over three hours to reach Simikot district where he collects rice for his family, airdropped by the government to help those in remote, food-deficit areas.
He spends the rest of his day fetching wood - the one source of fuel in the district, reachable only by plane given a lack of navigable roads. Kasilal has been unable to attend school for over six months. Hundreds of children like him are deprived of education due to their hardship and impoverished state.
On April 15, the government launched a national ‘Welcome to School’ campaign to enroll every Nepali child in primary school which ended one week later. However, development workers and teachers say that the government has failed in its campaign, particularly in remote villages.
“The campaign was a failure, especially because the central government delayed in mobilising grassroots organisations and local communities as it had planned,” social worker Jai Bahadur told IRIN.
This ambitious campaign was aimed at going door to door in the villages with admission forms to ensure that children of disadvantaged families, especially girls, were enrolled for free education in government schools.
“This is not an impossible campaign as we are involving not just government personnel but everyone who bears responsibilities towards the children,” Ram Swaroop Sinha, director of the Nepalese Department of Education, told IRIN just prior to the campaign's launch, adding that enrolment committees had been formed both in urban and rural areas.
But village-based development workers believe otherwise. Raja Ram Shahi, a community school teacher in Daraphai, told IRIN: “Nobody showed much interest as there is hesitation among government workers about visiting remote areas due to fear of Maoists.” [The Maoist insurgents have been waging a nine-year war against the Nepali state]
Remote villages like Daraphai have been largely neglected by the government
The District Education Office (DEO) blamed the lack of interest among the ‘resource persons’, who were supposed to work as education monitors to supervise and motivate the local community to enroll their children.
“We don’t have enough manpower. So far, there are only two resource persons in the district to help in monitoring school enrolment,” district education officer Mohan Prasad Upadhaya told IRIN. But Upadhaya added that even if there were adequate resource persons, it would be quite difficult to convince the parents to send children to school.
“People see no value of education. With an empty stomach, the whole family has to engage in finding food. Children have to work equally hard as the adults,” said Bal Bahadur Shahi, a local teacher from Daraphai.
However, the village-based teachers explained that even if enrolment was successful, it would be difficult to keep children of impoverished families in school. “Most of the children drop out of school by the end of year,” government school headmaster Buddhi Sagar Neupane said. During last year’s “Welcome to School” campaign, around 235 children were enrolled in one village alone. By the end of the year, nearly 200 children had dropped out, he explained.
School dropout is the main problem. The national enrolment rate is still not bad. According to government estimates, nearly 6 million children, or 82 percent of those supposed to go to school, are currently enrolled. The problem, however, is that the dropout rate is 40 percent or higher, according to some NGOs.
Nepal’s 2004-2009 Education For All (EFA) project aims to increase primary school enrolment from 81 to 96 percent. The US $158 million project is funded by a consortium of agencies, including the World Bank, the International Development Association (IDA), Finland’s Ministry for Foreign Affairs, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID), the Danish International Development Agency (DANIDA) and the Norwegian Development Aid (NORAD).
“This campaign also focuses on retaining children in schools, attention to quality education and creating child-friendly environments and child-centred teaching methods,” Samphe Lhalungpa, an officer with the UN Children's Fund (UNICEF) told IRIN in Kathmandu.
The poor quality of public education is also a key obstacle to children completing primary school. According to government statistics, 15 percent of students enrolled in grade one are underaged and nearly 40 percent repeat the same grade. The survival rate to grade five is 67 percent. Less than a third of students who begin primary school enter lower secondary school and only about 12 percent enter higher secondary school.
“The government is making efforts to address quality education, especially [through] giving orientation to teachers so that the children can at least complete their primary level education,” Sinha, from Department of Education, told IRIN.
But in the village, the problem is not a lack of trained teachers but their frequent absence in the classroom, and this has been exacerbated in the past few years due to the Maoist insurgency, educators maintain. Local people in Humla, however, claim that the teachers are not so much at threat if they fulfil their duties responsibly.
“Many teachers are making Maoists an excuse and have been absent for a long time,” a local primary school teacher working in the remote Thehe village, five hours hard trek from Simikot, told IRIN.
“Teachers are becoming irresponsible. If they go on leave for 15 days, they disappear for months,” Madhu Bilas Khanal, principal of the Man Sarowar High School in Simikot, said.
Newly enrolled children in the classroom in Daraphai. Many of them later drop out
Kathmandu invests around $1 million on education in Humla, with more than 50 percent being spent on the salaries and allowances of 420 teachers in the district. But despite such an investment, only a handful of students ever complete their school education. Local community leaders and social workers explained that the education sector had been a failure in the district due to a lack of commitment by teachers, poor attendance and a lack of quality schooling.
According to the DEO, only 32 days of classes were held in most of the schools in 2004 in the district. “Monitoring in schools has been difficult which is why the teachers have become negligent,” Upadhaya told IRIN. “Some teachers who went on dasain (a significant Hindu festival in October) holiday have still not returned,” he added.
Nepal has less than 10 years to achieve the Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education. “If Nepal is not able to meet the challenge of getting all children into school and keeping them until they complete primary level education, then we may not achieve the goal,” rural education activist Sudarsan Ghimire told IRIN.
But some institutions, such as UNICEF which has been actively supporting the government in school enrolment, believe that there is hope. “Every year, there will be such a campaign so that every child will be brought to the education system as a contribution to the EFA programme,” UNICEF’s Lhalungpa told IRIN.
This article was produced by IRIN News while it was part of the United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs. Please send queries on copyright or liability to the UN. For more information: https://shop.un.org/rights-permissions
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